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How Taste Works: A Chocolaty Guide

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Why do some people love the bitterness of a dark bar and others crave the sweetness of marzipan? I explore how taste works and the subtle difference is between taste and flavour.

Tasty or Flavourful?

In day-to-day conversation, the words ‘taste’ and ‘flavour’ are often treated as synonyms. However, there is a difference between the two. The former describes the chemical sense stimulated in your taste-buds whenever you eat. When we talk about how taste works, we are referring to the chemical process in your body. Flavour is more complicated as it is your brain’s interpretation of a combination of senses – taste, smell and touch – that act together. Interestingly, temperature and pain also contribute to flavour.

As we all know, tastes are not uniform across the human race. On a physical level, you might inherit a genetic trait affects how taste works in your body. Some people, known as ‘supertasters’, have a higher concentration of taste receptors than normal. This heightens their palates meaning they are more sensitive to foods such as chilli, coffee and even Brussels sprouts! Food that most of us think is bland and boring will be very different to them.

However, it’s not all physical – memories and emotions are also important when it comes to our feelings about flavour. For example, food and flavours that you associate with your childhood, or with particularly good memories, could be significantly more delicious to you than someone else. Jam roly poly, anyone?

Immune to Flavours?

If you are a chef, have travelled a lot or are just an adventurous eater then you have exposed your palate to many different flavours. Your experience of fruits, herbs, and spices outside of your own culinary culture is likely to help you detect different flavours in products such as chocolate and wine. When a product is described as ‘floral’ or ‘with hints of tobacco’ you will be able to identify these flavours when other people would struggle.

When we talk about chocolate we often use the word ‘terroir’ to refer to the soil, climate and topography in which the bean crop was grown. This is known to massively influence flavour. However, we humans can have our own ‘terroir’. The country and culture in which we grow up can affect the way that we taste flavours. If you have had a diet where citrus fruits are prevalent, it’s likely that you will struggle to identify these notes in a chocolate. Similarly, if you’ve grown up in a culture which eats lots of spicy foods you might not pick up on hints of spice. Variety is key in expanding the flavours we enjoy.

Tantalizing Tastes

The tasty offerings from these brands should please everyone.

• Tiramisu and Amaretto Coffee Beans by Ko-Koá: in this grown-up treat, roasted coffee beans are covered in tiramisu and amaretto flavoured white and dark chocolate.
• Montezuma’s Charlie’s Luck Hot Salted Peanuts Dark Bar: this bar is made with Peruvian dark chocolate with peanuts. The bitterness of the chocolate is perfectly complimented by a hint of ginger and a subtle chilli kick.

You should now have a better idea of how taste works – I certainly do. Now for some serious chocolate tasting!
About author: Desiree Michels

Angelina Moufftard works for hf Chocolates, established chocolate suppliers with decades of experience supplying sweets and high-end chocolates to retailers across the UK, as well as blogging about marketing, flavour trends and how taste works. Working with the most dedicated suppliers from all over the world, hf Chocolates' great tasting and beautifully packaged products add panache to any sweet display.

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