HOW TO EAT CHOCOLATE Techniques to maximize the pleasure of your chocolate eating experience.

Watch a wine connoisseur drink wine and you'll see him follow a complicated process of studying the color, swirling the glass, breathing in the aroma, taking a sip and rolling the liquid around his palate. This process insures that he derives the greatest amount of sensation from each and every taste. In so doing, he is also able to detect nuances of aroma and flavor that would be lost if he just guzzled the wine.

While chocolate will never reach the same level of flavor complexity of wine, mainly because being a solid it has comparatively little aroma which is a major contributor to flavor, that doesn't mean we should gulp it down with little attention to what we're doing. Fine chocolates from premier makers have exquisitely subtile flavors reminiscent of raisins, berries, apples, mocha flavor and more, which can be appreciated better using a few simple techniques.

Start with a Clean Palate

Human taste buds adapt to flavors very quickly. If you eat something sweet before eating chocolate, your taste buds become insensitive to sugary flavors so they won't respond as much to the sugar in the chocolate. The result is that the chocolate will taste more bitter. Equally so, avoid taking anything bitter like coffee before chocolate. Your taste buds will overload on the earlier bitter experience and the chocolate may taste too sweet or have an weak overall flavor. The best thing to do is to drink something neutral, like hot water, shortly before eating chocolate to clean you palate of any lingering flavors.

Eat Slowly

Because it's a solid, chocolate takes longer to travel into taste buds. If it's chewed and quickly swallowed most of the flavor will be missed. Take your time, hold chocolate in the mouth and let it melt slowly. This will allow the maximum amount of flavor to be taken up by the palate.

Another reason to allow chocolate to melt on the palate is that one of the great pleasures chocolate provides is the sensuous texture it achieves as it comes up to body temperature.

Pay Attention

Good chocolate can be expensive so it makes sense to pay it the respect it deserves. Take your time and focus on trying to detect every flavor nuance it has to offer. Avoid eating chocolate while distractions can pull your attention away from it.

Another reason to focus on the chocolate as you eat it is that it is high in calories so you'll want to squeeze as much flavor as possible out of every calorie.

Think warm

At typical room temperatures of 70 degrees chocolate is a rigid solid. When eaten it takes considerable time to warm up and start to melt. Until that happens the flavor can't diffuse into your taste buds. It's also unpleasant to hold a hard cold lump in your mouth.

I pre-warm my milk chocolate by placing it on a heating pad set so that the temperature hovers around 84 degrees. That's warm enough to be soft but not too warm so that the chocolate sticks to the wrapping foil. At this temperature, the chocolate is the consistency of fudge and forms easily to match the contours of the palate. The flavor and textural impact is immediate and powerful.

Since warming pads vary, it was necessary to experiment with each one to come up with a system that provided the desired temperature. In the picture above the pad's lowest temperature is a few degrees too high so the chocolate rests on a metal rack to lift it off the pad. Another pad I use has excellent temperature control but the heating wires are so far apart that one area will melt the chocolate while another leaves it too hard. The solution was to place a sheet of aluminum between the chocolate and the pad. Aluminum is an excellent heat conductor and evened the temperature variations so that chocolates placed on it are all the same temperature.

Another benefit to pre-warming chocolate is that in many cases it will smooth out a gritty chocolate like Hershey's.

One way to simulate pre-heated chocolate is to eat it while sipping on hot water. This warms the mouth so even cold chocolate melts faster and any chocolate dissolving into the water will be instantly cared to the taste buds. The downside is that the water also dilutes the flavor and reduces the textural sensation of the melting chocolate.

Buy Good Chocolate

While the techniques mentioned above will help you derive more pleasure from any chocolate, applying them to the very best chocolate you can locate will significantly improve the overall enjoyment it provides.

By "good" I don't mean high-end artisanal chocolates or those produced by highly rated brands. Rather I mean the chocolate that tastes the best to you. Test as many as you can find and decide for yourself which you prefer.

Happy Eating!

WARNING Working with chocolate involves dealing with hot materials. No one should do so without the supervision of a responsible adult experienced with all the processes and equipment involved. The above is provided for information only and is not intended as a recommendation to repeat these or any other experiments.

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