When the handsome-and-talented husband and I first started living together, as with every couple out there to start co-habiting, we made a few interesting discoveries about the other person. I’m happy to say that a decade later, I’m still discovering his quirks, most of which I find charming and endearing. So this is a story that started with one of those discoveries.
In our pantry, I always kept a few bars of chocolate: some for nibbling on, and mostly for cooking and baking. I never really kept track of the chocolate quantities, just that there’s always chocolate in the flat so I can cook with it. At some point the chocolate kept disappearing off the shelf, even the baking chocolate ones! After a while, I figured out that the handsome-and-talented husband was eating all the chocolate in secret! Chocolate sneak, right? Despite eating baking couverture when desperate enough, he is mostly a milk-to-dark-milk chocolate kind of man. I’m a dark chocolate woman; my 75-percent-and-up bars are usually safe from his attack-of-the-munchies.
Even so, you can’t be too cautious, right? How irritating when you’re in the mood for chocolate and discover your chocolate stash has disappeared! In an effort to keep the handsome and talented one away from my dark chocolate stash, I started stocking up on milk chocolate bars. Stocking up on milk and dark chocolate bars means we know the stuff we like and put them on the “repeat purchase” list, and checking out new stuff. A few years ago I started noticing the rise of salted chocolate bars and salted caramel as a flavour combination on everything from potato chips to honey to Starbucks coffee.
I’ve always loved sweet and salty/savoury as bedfellows. Like the Southern fried chicken and waffles with maple syrup. So, shortly after Phil and I did the chocolate workshop at Belyzium, I suggested to him that we do a chocolate tasting for salted chocolate bars. He was game. Fast-forward to this week, cold and rainy in Berlin, chocolate bars all collected, my friends and I gathered in anticipation of some sweet and salty chocolatey goodness.
Aside from myself, the other participants in the chocolate tasting were my cooking partner Phil from FlavorPhil, my foodie friend Astrid from Twindly and an old friend from college, Alex, who is visiting from London this week and says “I’m not a foodie but I like chocolate”. A diverse group, and the combination of Phil, Astrid and I, the level of critical thinking and food snobbery ran high.
The factors we looked at for the chocolate tasting were pretty standard “five senses” experience:
- Appearance: the higher the cacao content, the darker the chocolate will be. Shininess imply better tempering of the chocolate. Different beans and origin impact the colour, e.g reddish brown versus cool brown.
- Sound: dark chocolate will make a sharper snap! sound when it’s being broken. Milk softens the chocolate, so will produce a softer snap! sound.
- Touch: hold a block of chocolate between your thumb and index fingers for a few seconds, and as the surface starts to soften, you can feel the texture, whether velvety, silky, gritty.
- Aroma: just when the chocolate starts to soften and melt between your fingers, hold it up to your nose to smell, cupping with your other hand. Some chocolate bars have very strong smells, others more subtle. The OmNom Lakkriz bar below, for instance, smelled amazing!
- Mouthfeel: before I knew it was called mouthfeel, I called it “melt zone” because I’d hold the chocolate between my tongue and the roof of my mouth and as it melted away, I’d savour the different flavours as it came up.
- Flavour and aftertaste: flavour of the chocolate depends on so many factors like the bean, the process, other ingredients. Since these were salted chocolate bars, the aftertaste was almost always salt, the only exception being the Pump Street Bakery Sourdough and Sea Salt bar, and the OmNom Lakkriz.
I’m aware that with chocolate tasting, it’s suggested that we go lightest to darkest. However since these are flavoured and salted bars, we re-ordered according to the descriptions on each bar package. The various salted bars we tried were, in order of tasting:
- Akesson’s 45% Milk Chocolate with Fleur de Sel & Coconut Blossom Sugar
- Fruition’s Dark Milk Chocolate with Fleur de Sel 56%
- Pump Street Bakery’s Sourdough & Sea Salt 66%
- OmNom Chocolate’s Sea Salted Almonds & Milk 45%
- OmNom Chocolate’s Lakkris (licorice) & Sea Salt
Generally, after the tasting, all of us thought the bars were examples of good chocolate bars. While there are certain things that indicate quality and dictate flavour, it really is down to taste. In the end four different people ranked all the bars differently. You should eat what you like : )
Below are my personal notes on each chocolate bar we tried.
Akesson’s 45% Milk Chocolate with Fleur de Sel & Coconut Blossom Sugar
“Our bars are the first Bali single-origin ever made in Europe,” it said on the packaging. I had bought this for the Indonesian chocolate tasting session, but was so intrigued by the coconut blossom sugar that I couldn’t wait and included it in the salted chocolate tasting session. This was really great chocolate, too milky and creamy for me, but the combination of the sweet and salty was probably the best I’ve tasted. The coconut blossom sugar is really something special.
Fruition’s 56% Dark Milk Chocolate with Fleur de Sel
I really liked this bar! Velvety to the touch, the salt was barely there (not sure that’s on purpose or just this bar), I tasted cherry and licorice notes. It took a long time to melt, very smooth, and I could taste the long roast of the beans. One for the repeat purchase list.
Pump Street Bakery’s 66% Sourdough and Sea Salt
Oh my, oh my. I really love this bar, from the packaging, to the shiny sheen of unbroken chocolate, the very crisp snap sound, the smooth-to-gritty mouthfeel, to the sweet-to-sourdough-to-salty-back-to-sourdough flavour as the chocolate melted in my mouth. This one is a keeper. It sounds gimmicky but I’d definitely buy this again to have around in my pantry.
OmNom’s Sea Salted Almonds & 45% Milk Chocolate
The handsome and talented husband would like this chocolate bar! The crunchy salty almonds paired with the fudgy milk chocolate. Way too milky for my taste, and there was this undercurrent of non-cow milk flavour in it. At first I thought it was perhaps sheep’s milk or goat’s milk chocolate, somehow the flavour isn’t as round as cow milk chocolate.
OmNom’s Lakkris (licorice) & Sea Salt
Pwah! I was dreading trying this one out, since licorice is one of the three things I intensely dislike to eat (the other two are marzipan and German/Austrian Leberkäse). I didn’t like the looks of the pale brown bar, and as expected with milk chocolate, it had a soft snap. It smelled amazing, though, and after I hesitantly placed the small block in my mouth, I was pleasantly surprised that it was creamy, and the licorice wasn’t dominant. However, once the chocolate melted away, I was left with a mouthful of licorice flavour, yuck, and then came the saltiness, further yuck! If the residue flavour had been of creamy, caramelly, salty milk chocolate instead of overwhelming licorice, this bar would definitely have ranked higher in my ratings.
Edit Jan 12: we had leftovers of this bar, and luckily I could offload it to my friend, Joe from Kochtail, who loves loves licorice, and thought this was the best bar ever! See, all down to personal preference!
Edit Jan 14: another friend came by, who had been to Iceland recently, and had the Omnom Lakkriz and loved it. So that’s the second person outside of the group who loved this.
Edit Jan 19: Haha, another OmNom Lakkris lover! I was over at Kochtail today, dropping off lunch for J&M, when M mentioned that she really liked the OmNom Lakkris bar that J shared with her last week. They also said their friend, L, tried the bar with them and really disliked the bar. Current score: 5 nays, 3 yays.
We quickly ranked the chocolate bars according to our personal preferences, and then collectively ranked the bars by adding the points. The lower the final figure a chocolate bar, the more we liked it; yes, counter-intuitive I know. Most liked is Akesson’s with 7 points – Pump Street Bakery 9 points – Fruition 12 points – OmNom 45% 13 points – and least liked is OmNom Lakkris 18 points.
In case you were curious, my ranking: 1. Pump Street Bakery, 2. Akesson’s, 3. Fruition, 4. Om Nom 45%, 5. Om Nom Lakkris and Sea Salt. Phil’s ranking: 1. Pump Street Bakery, 2. Akesson’s, 3. Om Nom 45%, 4. Fruition, 5. Om Nom Lakkris and Sea Salt. Astrid’s ranking: 1. Akesson’s, 2. Pump Street Bakery, 3. Fruition, 4. Om Nom Lakkris, 5. Om Nom 45%. Alex’s ranking: 1. Om Nom 45%, 2. Fruition, 3. Akesson’s, 4. Om Nom Lakkris, 5. Pump Street Bakery.
Not too bad for a first-time DIY chocolate tasting at home. Chocolate + friends + rainy afternoon in Berlin = lots of delicious fun!