National Chocolate Week – any reason for a supermarket chocolate tasting

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.

Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. I know something about my palate that I didn't before. Or maybe it's about my psychology.

Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. I know something about my palate that I didn’t before. Or maybe it’s about my psychology.

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.

That well-constructed tower fell. Turns out you can get too much of a good thing.q

That well-constructed tower fell. Turns out you can get too much of a good thing.

Baseline

Cadbury Bourneville

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.

Why a picture of my cat? Because this is how eating chocolate usually makes me feel: mellow, paws relaxed.

Why a picture of my cat? To thank you for reading this far and because this is how dark chocolate usually makes me feel: mellow, paws relaxed.

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About Caroline von Schmalensee

Cooking, eating and drinking is fun as well as necessary. I do food for fun and I write for a living. Good food makes the world a more delicious and satisfying place. Good writing, meanwhile, can make the world a less confusing place.

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