Melt into chocolate science

Choco Soufflé
Chocolate Soufflé - see recipe below

A delicious new encyclopedia, edited by world-renowned chef pâtissier Frédéric Bau, takes some of the mystery out of the dark stuff

At first sight, there is no difference between one bittersweet chocolate with 80% cocoa content and another bittersweet chocolate with the same cocoa content. Yet, there can be a world of difference. From one make to another, from one origin to another, from one manufacturing process to another, the aspect, aromas, texture, and melting quality vary radically. Where do these differences stem from?

The terroir

The concept of terroir in chocolate-making was unknown until the early 1990s. Chocolate comes from the cocoa pod, the fruit of the cocoa tree. Like all agricultural crops the beans are influenced by factors that together make up what we call terroir: origin, choice of varieties, environment, and expertise.

There are three main varieties of cocoa trees – Criollo, Forastero and Trinitario and each produces cocoa with different characteristics. Forastero, for example, is more bitter and astringent, while Criollo is mellower, with notes of berries, nuts, and honey.

These subtle differences underpin the construction of the taste of chocolate. In addition to the variety, environment is an important factor. Sunlight influences the polyphenol content, and rain plays a role in fermentation. And the work of the farmers can modify the aromas of the product. When the pods are cleaved open, and during the processes of fermentation and drying, the slightest bit of inattention might well produce an unwanted aroma, such as a taste of mould or smoke, or excess acidity.

These factors, which vary from one plantation to another and from one year to another, influence the final aroma. Yet they are not enough to guarantee the quality of a chocolate.

Just like a wine producer who makes optimal use of his terroir to imprint his signature on his wine, a master chocolatier who knows how to get the most out of his plantations will leave his mark on a good chocolate.

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