EatingWell - - SWEET POTATOES -

Un­cork the vino, put out a se­lec­tion of bars and in­vite friends to bring fa­vorites to share. We de­lib­er­ately dressed up this choco­late spread to keep things fes­tive and in­for­mal. (Purists would serve just the choco­late and a be­tween-bite palate cleanser. So if you want to do a se­ri­ous tast­ing, skip the ex­tras.) Ei­ther way, slow­ing down to sa­vor the sight, scent and com­plex­ity of fla­vor will give you a deeper ap­pre­ci­a­tion for ev­ery bar. Here, point­ers on what to buy and, best of all, how to taste. 1 Shop

Se­lect three to four choco­late bars with a lim­ited num­ber of in­gre­di­ents so you can re­ally ex­pe­ri­ence the fla­vor of the co­coa. Pick sin­gle-ori­gin bars that have ap­prox­i­mately the same per­cent­age of co­coa mass (72% ca­cao, for ex­am­ple) and sim­i­lar in­gre­di­ents. A great place to start for a va­ri­ety of fla­vors are with bars from Ecuador, Ghana, Venezuela and Mada­gas­car. Or try sam­pling a few choco­lates from the same ori­gin by dif­fer­ent mak­ers— an ex­cel­lent way to un­der­stand how the skills of a cho­co­latier are re­vealed through the bar.

2 Ex­am­ine

Be­fore you dig in, look at the choco­late’s color, sheen and shape. These vi­su­als prime you for what’s to come. Any whitish cast (known as “bloom”) is the sep­a­ra­tion of co­coa fat, not mold. This can hap­pen if the choco­late wasn’t kept at a con­sis­tent tem­per­a­ture.

3 Hear, Hear

Hold the bar up to your ear and lis­ten to how it breaks. A tight snap is a sign of good tem­per­ing.

4 In­hale

Now smell the choco­late and no­tice what aro­mas are strong­est. Most of what we think of as fla­vor comes from smell, not taste. Co­coa from Ecuador is known for nut­ti­ness, while Venezue­lan co­coa is cel­e­brated for more del­i­cate, caramel-like notes. The di­ver­sity of scents you can find in choco­late ri­val those found in wine. (If you want to re­ally geek out on all the dif­fer­ent scents, tastes and mouth­feels, down­load the Choco­late Sen­sory Wheel from renowned choco­late man­u­fac­turer Barry Calle­baut at Eat­ing­ chocolatetasting.)

5 Start Dark

Taste choco­late in or­der of in­ten­sity—from dark to milk—be­gin­ning with bars that have a higher per­cent­age of co­coa mass (and less su­gar) and work­ing your way to those with lower amounts. This en­sures the su­gar and lac­tose in the milk pow­der—or any other added in­gre­di­ents—won’t over­whelm your palate be­fore you have a chance to ap­pre­ci­ate the fla­vor of the darker co­coas.

6 Taste

Place a small piece of choco­late on your tongue and al­low it to melt and coat your mouth. Co­coa beans are about 50 per­cent fat (co­coa but­ter). The aro­mas bound up in that fat fully dis­perse when choco­late starts to melt. You will now ex­pe­ri­ence not only the smells, but tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bit­ter and umami.

7 Think Tex­ture

No­tice the mouth­feel of the choco­late. Is it creamy or waxy? Is the tex­ture rough or vel­vety? As­sess the fin­ish: does it linger or end quickly? There is no gold stan­dard in terms of tex­ture; it sim­ply in­di­cates the amount of fat in the bean and the way the co­coa was pro­cessed. Co­coa ground in a stone mill, for ex­am­ple, will have a rougher tex­ture, while the ad­di­tion of ex­tra co­coa but­ter makes a bar silkier.

8 Re­fresh

The for­mal way to taste is to have a small sip of room-tem­per­a­ture wa­ter and an un­salted cracker be­tween bites to cleanse your palate. Oth­er­wise, dig right back in and sam­ple again. And again. And again.

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