Flavor Investigator: Chocolate

Chocolate like vanilla is ranked as one of the most popular flavours in North America and Europe. It can be found in a variety of different applications such as candies, cookies, cereals and milk.  Furthermore, it is able to take on different forms such as cacao, extracts, powders, oils and bricks.

The flavour of chocolate is produced from multiple different factors, most of which occur during the manufacturing process. Not only does the origin of the cocoa beans play a role but also the terroir, fermentation, roasting and conching of the beans.  Manufacturers may also choose to add additional flavours or ingredients to enhance or transform the sensory experience of chocolate.

Cocoa flavour itself comes from the type of cocoa bean and the country of origin. For example, African varieties are believed to have the “best” cocoa flavour due to the positive notes of bitterness, astringency, acidity, burnt and caramelized flavour. How the cocoa beans are treated during post-harvest will effect the fermentation flavour, while how the cocoa beans were roasted will effect acidity. Surprisingly, the inherent creaminess of the chocolate is determined by the particle size distribution and milk solids.

When working with a flavourist they can help you to determine additional flavours which might complement the chocolate such as mocha or fruit. However, the essential chocolate flavour is largely determined by the cocoa powder itself and might have to be changed if it is not to your liking. Top notes may be added to enhance certain characteristics such as vanillin as it contributes to the depth of flavour of the chocolate.

Varieties of Chocolate

Chocolate is found in a variety of forms and each of them lends their own unique flavour.

  • Unsweetened
    • This is considered to be the purest form of chocolate as it is only composed of solid chocolate liquor with nothing added. They are too bitter to eat alone but they add a great richness to brownies and cakes
  • Semi-Sweet
    • Considered to be dark chocolate by definition, this variety does not contain any milk solids. It is slightly more bitter when compared to milk due to the higher cocoa content and has a darker, rich flavour
  • Milk chocolate
    • Most of the solid chocolate eaten in the United States is milk chocolate. It is made with milk in the form of milk powder, liquid milk or condensed milk. The type of milk used largely affects the flavour as cream softens the flavour of chocolate liquor
  • White chocolate
    • This variety actually contains no cocoa solids and by definition is not actually chocolate. It has a creamy, mild and sweet flavour

Descriptions of Flavour

To better understand the product which you are trying to product it is important to understand the flavours which are seeking out. These are some common phrases which are used to describe chocolate.

  • Burnt/Smokey
    • This descriptor is commonly related to the amount of roast which was performed on the cocoa bean. One may think of the flavour being comparable to burn food and an odour associated with smoke produced when burning wood.
  • Roasted/toasted
    • Similar to the descriptor above but slightly different. Like burnt/smokey, the roasted/toasted descriptor is used to indicate the degree of roast that the chocolate product receives. The flavour is similar to roasted or toasted grain and the odour is associated with aroma produced when roasting or toasting food.
  • Fermented
    • This is considered to be an undesirable flavour in chocolate due to the unpleasant sour sensation. This is caused by the enzyme activity in the cocoa beans, changing the sugars to acids during the fermentation and drying processes.
  • Vanilla
    • A standard flavour in most chocolate applications. This descriptor provides a floral note in chocolate and a perceived sweetness.
  • Milky/creamy
    • Chocolates which contain moderately high levels of milk solids should have a milky/creamy flavour. the result of pronounced amounts of milk present in the product.
  • Fruity/citrus/berry
    • This descriptor is used to describe the reminiscent taste of fruits. Chocolates which have a high acidity may be correlated with the fruity flavour characteristic of Arriba-type cocoas from the Ecuadorian region.

Flavour Combinations

Chocolate pairs well with a variety of different flavours due to the different kinds available. When working sweet fillings which are high in sugar, dark chocolate pairs best due it’s bitterness which offsets the sweetness.

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Coffee is often paired with chocolate as both contain nutty and bold flavours. When creating a product with a darker roast of coffee it is best to go with a dark chocolate. This is because dark chocolate blends well bolder roasts.  When working with a milk chocolate it is important not to overwhelm it so medium roasts like Colombian, Kenyan or Kona pair well.

Nuts are almost always found with chocolate but knowing which to pair is important. The milder the flavour of the nut, the lighter you should pair with your chocolate. Macadamia nuts for example are a mild flavour and compliment the richness of white chocolate. Peanuts, almonds and pecans however pair well with dark chocolate due to their distinct flavour.


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