Next week is chocolate week. I’m not a chocolate nut but I am a chocolate snob. As you know, if you’ve followed us for a while, I’m a fan of savoury things: salty licorice, all things umami. It’s the same with chocolate. I like the dark stuff. So, for fun rather than profit, I decided to do a chocolate tasting to see what was available from the supermarkets I have access to. You’re welcome! Or maybe not.
We eat a lot of dark chocolate in our household. (By which I mean a bar or two a week.) I don’t pretend for a second that I eat chocolate for health. It is 100% (or, more commonly 72%) about pleasure. Good dark chocolate has so much to give.
Define good, please!
What do I consider good chocolate?
- Texture: I want it to be silky-smooth, not gritty or lumpy. Also, it should melt in my mouth. A good snap is a plus but not a must (we’ve had a warm summer. There was no snap for months).
- Flavour: I want complexity. Chocolate can be nutty, fruity, smoky, spicy. The flavours go on. Good chocolate, to me, has more than one note and is intriguing to the palate.
- Scent: It should smell of chocolate. Dark chocolate doesn’t give up all its secrets until you taste it, but it does have a distinct scent, a rich, inviting, warm aroma.
- Look: I like it to be shiny, dark, glossy.
For this tasting, I went to the supermarkets close to me at work and at home and bought the cheap and the fancy more or less randomly. I’m not being exhaustive (but I won’t need to buy more chocolate for a couple of month).
The results are in
Having eaten a lot of dark chocolate, I had to conclude that either my palate is jaded (a distinct possibility) or there isn’t that much difference from one bar to another. There’s a strong pull towards the centre: a smooth, mellow, chocolatey chocolate. None of the ones I bought offered much acidity or berry flavours. I fully understand why but was surprised. One of the things that inspired me to do the tasting was how flat we’d found our default chocolate after having eaten a couple M&S single origin bars.
Comparing them side by side over a weekend we were oddly unimpressed by pretty much everything. Overall, we liked the M&S more than the cheaper stuff, even when trying blind. We like less cocoa butter, more cocoa. But there was too much to try, it became a bit of a chore, even though we never tried more than four at one sitting (in 5-8 gram portions).
Maybe the take-away is this: too much chocolate affects my ability to enjoy it. Only have small amounts at any one time. Sound reasonable.
Light brown and smells chocolatey. Melts well but tastes of sugar more than cocoa. A thin, watery after-taste. This is what dark chocolate used to be and I’m glad we’ve moved on. If you told me this was a milk chocolate, I would have believed you.
ASDA basic dark chocolate
Glossy, medium brown. Smells of cooa. Quick to melt. Tastes of vanilla and white sugar. Flat in flavour. (50% can be delicious but I didn’t like this much.) This comes in under £1 and I think it’s worth spending the extra money to get something that tastes of chocolate.
Going up a notch: 70%
No. Cocoa content is not a sign of quality. Flavour is. Saying that, I find most milk chocolate too sweet. That’s why I’m hunting dark chocolate. Since the idea that high cocoa solids = quality has caught on there’s plenty of that stuff around and it’s what I buy.
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Belgian 72% Dark Chocolate
Cocoa and red berries on the nose. Dark, smooth, rich with a hint of coffee. Melts nicely. This is one of our go-tos and one of the reasons I wanted to do a tasting. We tried something else, then went back to this and found it…lacking.
Morrison’s The Best 72% Dark Chocolate
Deep, mellow nose. Dark, sweet with honey notes on the palate. Melts nicely and smoothly.
ASDA Ugandan Dark Chocolate 70%
Melts well, nothing special on the nose. Pleasant but creamy and light, not very interesting.
M&S Ugandan Dark Chocolate Single Estate 78%
Berries on the nose and a sharp bitterness. Dakr and deep in colour. Deep cocoa flavour with slight hint of fruit.
ASDA Peruvian Dark Chocolate 70%
ON the nose, this has something a little sharp, almost chemical. On the palate, it is light, not very dark in flavour. Melts well but is dull.
M&S Dark Chocolate Single Origin Sao Tome 71%
Has a slight smokey undertone which I enjoy, a hint of berries. A little odd but pleasingly complex. Melts well.
M&S Dark Chocolate Single Estate Los Palmas Dominican Republic
Very pure chocolate on the nose, clean cocoa with a hint of nuts on the palate.
ASDA Ecuadorian Dark chocolate 70%
Melts quickly with very light flavour and a big hit of cocoa butter. Doesn’t register on the nose.
The heavy stuff: 80% and over
After an Indian meal, or a hot chilli, your taste buds might need a little help picking up nuances. I give you: the 80+ bars. You can get 100% but I didn’t buy any since I’d be eating that entirely on my own. It’s a purity too far for Christopher.
Lindt Dark Chocolate 85%
Judging from the shape of the bars, Lindt are the makers of Sainsbury’s dark chocolate. Their own 85% offering is dark and glossy, mellow in flavour and has a balanced but not overwhelming bitterness.
Sainsbury’s Dark Chocolate 85%
Slightly nutty on the nose. Smooth but less so than the Lindt. Slightly lighter in colour too. Has sweetness, a hint of coffee and nuts. I like this because it comes in five individually wrapped bars. It feels like a treat to share one of those with a coffee after dinner.
Morrison’s Dark Chocolate 85%
Hint of coffee on the nose, or is that just the cup I just had? Clean, uncomplicated chocolate flavour.
M&S Dark Chocolate 85% Single Origin
Mild, smooth, not overly bitter. Not overly anything.