But wait, what is “good” chocolate?

Chocolate Chasing Rule #1:

Good chocolate is chocolate that makes you happy.

cat in windowsill

It could be a handful of crunchy peanut M&M’s, a spoonful of Nutella or a dense fudge truffle.  Any chocolate that satisfies you, makes you smile, or simply fills an emotional craving qualifies as chocolate worthy of eating.

Emotions, not just taste, play a surprisingly large role in how we connect with food. So, if chocolate is speaking to you, answer with enthusiasm.

Eat the chocolate you like!

Be warned, though, chocolate has changed since you were a kid. Mostly in a good way. And don’t worry, your lovable snack favorites are still here, eager to lend comfort at a moment’s notice (we’re looking at you, Reese’s!)

The biggest change in chocolate? In 2024 there are more choices. Good choices, and lousy choices. Sometimes chocolate is just candy. Other times? Chocolate, as it was meant to be, can be magic.

How to find that magic? It surprisingly starts with a cacao tree. Yes, chocolate grows on trees. And the long journey to the melted morsel on your tongue begins with a dedicated farmer.  Because every single cacao fruit in the world (known as a pod) is harvested by hand.

If you follow the rugged path of the cacao beans, from tree to chocolate bar, you’ll be amazed.  Along the way you’ll find chocolate charmers who lovingly transform just two simple ingredients, cacao and sugar, into chocolate that will nourish your soul. A two-ingredient chocolate that is unapologetic and authentic-to-its-roots with the potential to change how you see and taste chocolate. It’s called bean-to-bar (or craft chocolate), and the simplest analogy is craft beer. The goal: to let you, the customer, taste the tropical ingredient as it was meant to be.

Chocolate doesn’t have to be fancy to be good. It doesn’t need a ruffled box. Sometimes all it needs is inspiration to transform a dried bean from a fruit into something to be savoured.  And other times, it’s comfort food in a familiar package.

Chocolate Chasing Rule #2:

Trust your taste buds. They are yours.

Sweet, sour, salty and umami chocolate tasting
Sweet, sour, salty bitter and umami chocolate tasting samples

Your taste buds and your food choices don’t need someone else’s approval.

It’s important to remember: taste perception is a highly personal journey. You are your taste.

There are chocolate guides & experts who can navigate you through tasting the chocolate landscape. But no one, except you, can define what you like and don’t like in a chocoalate.

What IS taste?  Are you a little bit curious about the science?*

Taste (or how things taste to us) is a combination of:

  • Genetics: If you think cilantro taste likes soap, you can credit your grandparents.
  • Biology: Did you know everyone has different amounts and intensity of their five types of taste buds?
  • Your childhood & life experiences: Specific tastes you’ve been exposed to, your food memories, and your cultural environment.
  • Your sensory systems: How your brain processes other sensory data such as smell & sound. Over 70% of taste is based on smell. And cacao beans have almost 600 volatile (meaning aromatic) compounds which can influence the brain’s perception of the chocolate taste experience.
 “All the tastes (in chocolate) that you can identify are valid. There’s no right or wrong.  No other person has your palate. Chloe Doutre-Rossel, describing taste in The Chocolate Connoisseur

Remember:  Taste is subjective. Two people can taste the exact same food differently, and that’s okay.

*(For more about the science of taste, see Taste What You’re Missing, a great reference book by Barb Stuckey, 2012)

Chocolate Chasing Rule # 3:

Keep an open mind when eating or tasting.

You can close your eyes but keep an open mind.

Try new things. Try old things. And don’t make assumptions. Dark chocolate doesn’t have to taste bitter. White chocolate is actually made from a cocoa bean. Belgian & Swiss chocolates are good, but not necessarily the best. The chocolate world has changed dramatically in the past 20 years. Adjust your expections & leave your chocolate bias at the door.

And, be honest with yourself. If you taste something different, or unexpected, it doesn’t mean it’s bad. If you truly don’t like how a chocolate tastes, no need to apologize. But, if you bite into a chocolate that tastes ‘bad or ‘off’ to you, it could be a chocolate that took a wrong turn somewhere. There’s lots of technical reasons why chocolate may taste lousy, and that is the lengthy subject of another blog post.

As mentioned above, bitter tasting is a different story. A chocolate myth that should be destroyed? Dark chocolate does NOT have to be bitter.  If the farmer, fermenter & the chocolate maker have done their jobs well, a dark chocolate can be as mellow as a warm June evening.

If, it is indeed a bad-tasting chocolate, trust your instincts. However, if it simply tastes different, keep an open mind & always ask when in doubt!

Chocolate Chasing Rule #4:

There is no wrong way to eat chocolate.

Just like there’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s. Don’t be intimidated.

Chocolate can be comforting. And chocolate can be captivating.

Are you curious about a cacao tree’s ability to capture a taste of that region?  Or how two ingredients, just cacao and sugar, can transport you to the heart of a jungle in just one bite?  If you’re open to learning,  a little guidance and knowledge may lead you to make some new chocolate choices.

Chocolate tastings & experts can help you to better understand and appreciate nuances of chocolates, with tasting vocabulary & helpful tools. But in the meantime, if chocolate is speaking to you, answer with enthusisam, and eat!

Going Forward: We’re all here for the chocolate.

Food is a powerful thing. It can nourish your body AND your soul. So if you choose, you can change your tasting experiences and uncover surprises (in this case, chocolate) you never expected.

Pay attention to your food, especially chocolate! Try to be more aware of what you are tasting.  Think about what resonates with you and why. If you slow down to describe what appeals to you, you can improve your eating experiences.

Have the confidence to trust yourself. And try to think outside the chocolate box!