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How To Taste Chocolate Like An Expert


Now, we know you know what day tomorrow is, and while flowers or cards do make perfectly lovely gifts for your Valentine or for yourself - because, you know, self-care is important - anyone with a sweet tooth will try and tell you chocolate is the best choice. Now, if your go-to is a Hershey's or other mass-produced bar, no judgment. But you might be missing out on the full range of tastes and aromas that chocolate has to offer. Just trust the experts on this.

SIMRAN SETHI: Tasting chocolate is a full sensory experience.

MARTIN: That Simran Sethi. She hosts "The Slow Melt" podcast, where she explores all things chocolate. And she reports on the latest episode of NPR's Life Kit podcast, which is titled How To Savor Chocolate Like A Cocoa Expert. Sethi says the first step to enjoying chocolate like a pro is picking the right bar.

SETHI: In a more specialized bar that has something like a 70% cocoa content, you might have just one more ingredient. And what that will do is just give you an extraordinarily powerful tasting experience. And that's when you start to get all the flavors that are available in cocoa. We tend to think about chocolate as one flavor, but it's actually many flavors if we allow it.

MARTIN: Now, if you've only ever had a more traditional candy bar, Sethi recommends starting with a lower cocoa percentage and working your way up. And, she says, pay attention to where that chocolate bar came from.

SETHI: All of the countries where cocoa grows - they express different flavors in cocoa. This is what we call terroir. It's the same thing that we can find in wine, right? A wine from California is very different than a wine from France, for example.

MARTIN: Now, once you've got your bar, Sethi says it's time to engage all five senses - slowly, seriously. She says start by inspecting the wrapper with your eyes before moving on to what's inside.

SETHI: And then what you want to do is start to unwrap it, and you'll get this, like, explosion of aroma, right? As you bring it towards your nose, it'll all start to - you know, to release.

MARTIN: Next, break off a piece and listen for that satisfying snap sound. Then you can move on to feeling the texture. That's right - give your chocolate a gentle rub between your fingers.

SETHI: That's also going to give you a clue as to how it was ground. Perhaps it was ground on stones, and it's a little gritty. Maybe it's really soft or silky.

MARTIN: And finally, it's time to eat. But don't rush. Sethi says you want to savor that chocolate.

SETHI: Let it melt on your tongue, coat the entire inside of your mouth. And just notice. There's going to be something at the beginning, and then you may notice it changes. And what you're actually getting here is its taste on the tongue. But what's also happening is the retronasal system in the back of the throat, where the nose meets the throat - those aromas, those smells are also releasing again. So when we talk about flavor, it's that combination of smell and taste. And notice how it finishes and how long the finish is.

MARTIN: By the way, you don't have to have a fancy artisanal chocolate bar for any of this. Sethi says you can apply all of these tasting principles to any chocolate.

SETHI: And when you start to really pay attention to not only what your chocolate bar tastes like, but to get curious about where it comes from, how it was made, I assure you, your appreciation for this substance is only going to grow.

MARTIN: That was Simran Sethi. She is the author of "Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss Of Foods We Love." You can hear her full guide to savoring cocoa like an expert on the latest episode of NPR's Life Kit podcast at npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF RACHEL PORTMAN'S "MINOR SWING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.