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Expensive chocolate bars: A load of crock?


phan1
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Well, I thought this would be a fun/experimental topic. I walked into a nice looking chocolate shop the other day, and tried a nice, expensive bar of chocolate. I noticed something compared with typical Hershey's bars: They all taste the same!

Given that taste is 70% from your nose and 30% from your tongue, I noticed that you can hardly "smell" a bar of chocolate. When I initially ate the chocolate, it felt like plastic. I couldn't get any taste into my mouth until the chocolate started melting on my tongue. Now given that your only using 30% of your perceptual abilities, I really don't think you can really differentiate between chocolate bars and say "Hey this chocolate bar tastes great and is so much better than that 50 cent Nestle bar".

Of course, this only pertains to straight-up, hard chocolate bars. I know some bars will have some nice hazelnut or almond essences mixed and what-not that will make expensive bars much more palatable then the typical Hershey's. Texture would also play an important role, as some expensive chocolates will melt on your tongue immediately on contact. I'm also sure you'll find differences in desserts that actually give out volatile aromas like cakes and soufflés.

Of course, this is just my inexperienced opinion. I don't work with chocolate or anything, but I do trust my tongue. Maybe an experience pastry chef will know the difference (though I doubt it :-P).

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Well I am not an expert in chocolate but I can even tell a difference. I mean the temperature of the chocolate is part of the key to all this as you alluded to. It's a fat so it's gotta melt in order to taste it. I mean I like Belgian chocolate, I think Belgian chocolate (in general) rocks. I had a lot of chocolate tasting this summer at the world pastry forum and frankly some of it sucked to my taste buds some of it was great. But I like Ghiradelli's (I think I came close on the spelling) But I could tell the differences. Did you try other chocolates at the same time & temperature?

No I do not find that cost is any indication that I will appreciate the chocolate any more. But I'm not super palette girl either. But you sure can tell a difference when you get into collecting the different chocolates. But price is not a factor for me. I mean just because it's expensive doesn't mean it's better.

So it's not a crock. It's just something that you might wanna explore more in depth. Like I had that chocolate at that time. I don't hob nob with all those different chocolates much otherwise. Wow I've read/seen some of the write ups here on egullet of some chocolate tastings though & they sound fabulous.

I also like Hershey's-- nostalgic favorites die hard. I prefer milk chocolate to the darker stuff but I do like the darker stuff.

I'd recommend that you get an expert to help you discern the difference and to supply some inventory for the experimenting too.

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Hmmm perhaps you need a little more time tasting chocolate just as I need a little more time tasting wine. :biggrin:

I find a huge taste and mouthfeel difference between various high-end chocolate bars.

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

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Yes, yes, there is indeed a huge difference among chocolate bars, even among the same manufacturer. Unfortunately, I've got a big pot of caramel on the stove right now so I can't get into it much today.

However, I will say that if you can't tell the difference then it doesn't make sense to spend the extra money.

John DePaula
formerly of DePaula Confections
Hand-crafted artisanal chocolates & gourmet confections - …Because Pleasure Matters…
--------------------
When asked “What are the secrets of good cooking? Escoffier replied, “There are three: butter, butter and butter.”

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Yes, yes, there is indeed a huge difference among chocolate bars, even among the same manufacturer. 

However, I will say that if you can't tell the difference then it doesn't make sense to spend the extra money.

What John said.

Cheers,

Anne

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Well, I thought this would be a fun/experimental topic.  I walked into a nice looking chocolate shop the other day, and tried a nice, expensive bar of chocolate.  I noticed something compared with typical Hershey's bars: They all taste the same! 

Let me get this right: you went into a store, you tried one unspecified chocolate bar, and have now concluded that they all taste the same?

Try an extremely fruity chocolate like a Scharffenberger 70% alongside a Hershey bar. While you are welcome to make the case that you prefer the Hershey bar, if they taste the same to you this indicates that you have no longer have a sense of taste.

ps. Your sense of smell works quite well on the food inside your mouth as you chew.

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Hi phan1!

For the rest of us: what four or five things might we recommend for this new member's taste-off that are easily available? It also would be a good idea to suggest cacao percentages down around the milk chocolate range. Given that Hershey's Cacao Reserve milk chocolate is 35% cacao (I can't find the percentage for the base Hershey's bar), I don't think that a 70% bar is going to convert phan1!

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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It's hard to make recommendations about what would be readily available where phan1 lives, wherever that is, but...

Do you live near a Whole Foods or a gourmet supermarket? They often have a lot of good chocolate bars there e.g. Pralus or Valrhona. Try a Valrhona Caraibe (66%) or Guanaja (70% - may be too amer (bitter) for the novice), or Tainori (64%).

I tend to like the higher percentages (70% or above) so it's difficult to recommend things below that. Even good bars that are below 70% often seem too sweet to me (with the above being an exception).

How about a Felchlin Cru Savage (68%) or Maracaibo (65%).

I've liked any Chuao or Porcelana bar that I've tried: Domori, Amadei, et al.

Callebaut might be a good place to start since you see it lots of places, usu. in a big broken chunk.

HTH

John DePaula
formerly of DePaula Confections
Hand-crafted artisanal chocolates & gourmet confections - …Because Pleasure Matters…
--------------------
When asked “What are the secrets of good cooking? Escoffier replied, “There are three: butter, butter and butter.”

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There are some fancy chocolates, like some of the offerings from Godiva and various department-store private-label brands, that do indeed taste like Hershey's chocolate that has been melted down, reconstituted and relabeled. But serious chocolate from Valrhona, Michel Cluizel, Scharffenberger and other reputable makers is radically different. I've participated in a couple of chocolate tastings where some of the attendees were neophytes, and I have never once encountered a person who couldn't both taste the difference and recognize the superiority of better chocolate on the first try. In terms of the taste/smell issue, as mentioned above it's not about holding the bar up to your nose and smelling it. It's about chewing the food and activating its aromas, which waft up to the olfactory bulb and provide aroma information at the same time you're tasting the food.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I think there's a huge difference in chocolate. A big issue for me is mouthfeel, and it's difficult for me to separate that from flavor itself. But I know that I have tried several of the more expensive bars, including that of a local chocolatier, and I have some I prefer over others.

As a matter of fact, I've started keeping my favorite at my desk at work. I often find that just a small amount of a really good bar is far more satisfying than an entire candy bar I can get at a local convenience store.

Something that's also true for me is that my palate has changed since my eating habits started changing. As a new eGulleter, I would from time to time scoff at some people's insistence that one type of thing tasted better than another (I can't think of an example right now, or I'd use one), but the more I ate higher quality food, the more my palate craved higher quality food. Suddenly (it seemed), some of my old favorite noshes had objectionable mouthfeel, flavor, or other issues. Some junk food that I used to find irresistible is now not only resistible, but has no appeal for me whatsoever. While I can eat a burger or an order of bacon and eggs at a local chain restaurant, I wouldn't even consider ordering any of their desserts. If I do, I quickly realize that the flavors taste very artificial to me, and that after the second or third bite, "sweet" is the only flavor I can recognize.

I suggest you keep trying different kinds of chocolate. I predict your opinion on this issue will change. If not, no reason to purchase anything more expensive than a Hershey's.

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Expensive is relative--if Hershey's is $1 (I'm thinking of Canadian prices), then another bar that's $1.50 may be expensive. But it won't necessarily be much better than a Hershey's bar.

I don't even like plain chocolate, but even I can tell the difference between a Hershey's bar and, for example, Lindt. That doesn't mean I like Lindt anymore than Hershey's, but there's definitely a difference between them.

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When I was a student in Germany (around 14 years ago) I didn't immediately warm to bittersweet, 65-77% cacao chocolate bars, but I immediately noticed the difference in quality in the German, Italian, French and Belgian produced milk chocolates compared to the Hershey and Nestle of my childhood.

My 20 year old palate hadn't quite learned to recognize the nuances of the less sweet varieties.

These weren't "premium" single-estate chocolates or anything particularly esoteric; fairly good chocolate was, at the time, available for 65 cents to around 2 dollars at the exchange rates and prices common at the time. (I haven't been back recently enough to know how different prices are now).

Sort of like the mocha or the Frappucino are the gateway drug of the not-quite-adapted-to-coffee palate, milk chocolates of better quality are a good starting point if you can't distinguish between the flavors of less sweet varieties.

Some of the super-premium chocolates are available in milk or lower-cacao concentrations, but even if you just try a variety in the mid-market and gradually move up to 60% chocolate you'll start to recognize differences.

While your point about the aroma of chocolate not being as obvious when you first smell a solid chocolate bar, as the chocolate melts in your mouth the aromas become more intense, unless you're just eating too quickly. Most of the flavor in chocolates is in the aroma, like with everything else; bitter and sweet only carries a chcolate so far.

Jason Truesdell

Blog: Pursuing My Passions

Take me to your ryokan, please

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LOL, well obviously I'm pretty wrong here. I actually don't really go out and buy chocolates, but I get expensive chocolates as gifts sometimes. I've never gone out of my way to taste the difference. I made my hypothesis after disappointingly purchasing a Rocky Mountain Bar, which is pretty expensive for me, but still probably below the standards of aforementioned brands. And the other expensive brands I get sometimes are Godiva chocolate bars. I guess those are cheap-to-middle range chocolates, but I find little difference between them besides the amount of sugar put in them.

Of course, I can tell the difference in % of cocoa of a bar, but better QUALITY cocoa (hence the bigger price tag), I've yet to taste anything that makes me go "WOW". I've had great chocolates syrups and desserts, but not a straight-up chocolate bar. Even after my limited range of tasting, my personal favorite is still the Hershey's Special Dark chocolate. :) I guess I'll try some of your suggestions sometime guys.

Edited by phan1 (log)
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I made my hypothesis after disappointingly purchasing a Rocky Mountain Bar, which is pretty expensive for me, but still probably below the standards of aforementioned brands.  And the other expensive brands I get sometimes are Godiva chocolate bars.  I guess those are cheap-to-middle range chocolates, but I find little difference between them. 

I don't think I've ever had Rocky Mountain chocolate, but their caramel corn is pretty good. :smile: I think Godiva kind of sucks, though. It doesn't suck as much as a regular Hershey's bar, but it still sucks.

Even after my limited range of tasting, my personal favorite is still the Hershey's Special Dark chocolate.  :)  I guess I'll try some of your suggestions sometime guys.

I've heard the Special Dark is actually pretty good for a mass-market chocolate bar, but again, I don't really like plain chocolate, so I've never tried it (as far as I know).

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What is the composition of a Hershey bar? The F.D.A. requires 15% and 10%chocolate liquor by weight percent for sweet and milk chocolate respectively. Obviously most of the % of chocolate given on a chocolate bar includes the total of chocolate liquor, cocoa and cocoa butter. However, if you are comparing something like a 75% bar and a 15/10% bar I think that you would notice a big difference. Most "chocolate" eaten doesn't contain that much chocolate at all.

As FG says, I have tastes some pretty terrible "premium" bars, this isn't the final word on quality.

Even premium bars of the same chocolate %, there is a huge range in flavour and textures, the ones I prefer taste of plums and raspberries, given the range of producers, bean types, locations etc this makes sense.

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After reading this I decided to try a test. I have an ever increasing stash of dark chocolate bars. I tried a 62% dark chocolate bar from See's and a 65% Michel Cruizel single cur (Plantation Mangaro". I took a bite from the See's bar before the Cluizel and I drank some water between bites.

Here are the differences that I noticed:

I rubbed a bit of each bar to release some aroma. The See's bar had a much more pronounced smell. The Cluizel had very little smell.

I then cracked a piece off of each bar. The See's bar was softer and the inner texture was more grainy than the Cluizel. The Cluizel was harder had a nice crisp crack when it was broken off. I'd assume the difference here could be chalked up to differences in tempering technique.

I then took a bite. The mouth feel of the See's bar was grainy and a little chalky. The Cluizel was much smoother. I was a bit surprised by this, since Cluizel does not use soy lecithan to emulsify their chocolate. I was expecting the See's to have a smoother texture. I've found Cluizel in the past to be more grainy than other high end chocolate makers that do use soy lecithan. Again, I'd assume this comes from tempering differences or differences in conching. Though I'm just guessing at that. Another note about mouth feel that I found interesting. The Cluizel melted much slower in my mouth and once melted had a heavier feel on my tongue, the See's felt thinner.

The Cluizel had a much stronger flavor and you could taste the caramel notes from the dark roasting that Cluizel is known for. The See's bar did not have as much of a pronounced chocolate flavor, I mostly tasted sugar. The See's bar had such a strong sugar taste, that I couldn't really taste any complexity in the chocolate flavor. The difference between the two bars was not subtle in any way. Cluizel had a very strong chocolate flavor that the See's bar just didn't have. Think of the difference between water-downed coffee and a strong dark roast.

The See's tasted much like most supermarket brand chocolates, side-by-side I probably couldn't tell the difference between the See's and a Hershey. While I've not had a bar from Rocky Mountain, I have had their chocolates and I would compare them to See's in terms of quality.

One other thing to keep in mind is that neither See's nor Rocky Mountain are likely to make their own chocolate. They are probably buying couverture from a 3rd party. So as far as anyone knows, either or both could be using Hershey's to make their bars.

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I love chocolate, but I haven't had "regular" chocolate in a long time. By "regular" I mean supermarket brands, like Hershey's or Nestle's, etc. (I guess since joining eGullet I've become too snooty for it. :wink: ) Anyway, this past Halloween I bought a bag of Hershey's Kisses for the trick or treaters. Of course I had to eat some. I haven't had them in ages, and I was stunned by how bad I thought they were. (Didn't stop me from eating more, of course. But still.) I really wasn't expecting it, I was looking forward to eating them. But they had an awful feel on the tongue, and a terrible, harsh taste. Is that how they've always been? I thought maybe I had bought a "defective" bag, but the kids loved them. So this chocolate stuff, well, like everything else, it takes time to learn. But there is definitely a difference. :smile:

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One other thing to keep in mind is that neither See's nor Rocky Mountain are likely to make their own chocolate. They are probably buying couverture from a 3rd party. So as far as anyone knows, either or both could be using Hershey's to make their bars.

I've heard that See's uses E. Guittard. I love See's chocolate, I think its a great value for the $$.

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It's worth noting that, like many things, costs more doesn't mean tastes good (though when it comes to premium quality chocolate, the reverse is nearly always true). I wonder, phan1, if that expensive bar was packaged as fine chocolate but not made well from quality ingredients.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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phan1

If you like Hershey's Special Dark, try one of the plain Hershey's Cacao Reserve Bars. I was pleasantly surprised by them - and found them to be far superior to regular Special Dark, but readily available. They are quite a bit more pricey than Special Dark (which I use for applications where subtle nuances in chocolate are lost), but for straight eating, I find most of the higher-end chocolates to be worth the price differential.

My favorites include Michel Cluizel single origin Mangaro and Concepcion, and Guittard single origin Chucuri and Ambanja.

I've never heard of Rocky Mountain chocolates, so don't know how they compare.

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There are definitely very pronounced differences between different chocolate bars. I consume most of my chocolate in bar form, and have noticed all kinds of variation between different brands.

As to the price/performance ratio of chocolate bars, I find that a lot of the insanely expensive bars are made in the French style, meaning that they have a sharp, tart, fruity quality... I just don't like that aspect of chocolate, so the Valrhona- Scharffen-Berger - Cluizel type chocolates aren't worth their cost to me. I prefer the richer, more rounded Belgian style, where the fruity acidity is toned way down and the roasty toasty favors come to the fore. I'd say the difference is paralleled by the differences in style of Blanc de Blanc champagnes and Blanc de Noirs champagnes... the former is sharper, brighter, more acid, while the latter is richer, rounder, toastier. (FWIW, I much prefer the Blanc de Noirs too.)

Anyway, for good, not insanely priced chocolate I've become a fan of shopping at Target recently... they carry the Hershey's Cacao Reserve bars with nibs in them, which are a real treat (and utterly unlike ordinary Hershey's products), as well as a bunch of Swiss chocolate from Frey which come with a variety of very interesting flavor infusions... I'm also a fan of the Belgian sourced chocolates sold under the Chocolove brand, and of Trader Joe's Callebaut bars they sell at the registers in three packs in lilac foil wrappers.

Nothing I've recommended should cost you more than $2.50/bar, most less.

Edited by cdh (log)

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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So, operating on the premise that one would like to learn to appreciate the differences, what are the sorts of tastes that you look for in chocolate? How do you describe them? I found that when first starting out trying wines, a red was a red and a white was a white. As I learned more about what to look for, I began to notice the differences more. I imagine the same is true for chocolate. I have six different E. Guittard bars at home right now that I have been meaning to try, but I don't know the language of chocolate appreciation!

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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