Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Chocolate Banquet Rating System Explained - Nov. 18, 2015

Chocolate Banquet "Rating" System
How I evaluate chocolates
Nov. 17, 2015

People often ask me "What is your favorite chocolate?" The short answer is: see my favorite chocolates page on this site.

Occasionally, I'm asked how I evaluate chocolates. One kind reader puzzled over my "barely comprehensible rating system."

The answer to this question is a longer, more complicated one. Below I've included aspects of tasting and what might influence a rating.

Time of Day
I usually try to eat my "Chocolate of the Day" in the morning, but may re-taste later in the day. Re-tasting before or after a meal may result in a different experience with certain single origin bars.

I consider aroma, taste, texture, flavor, finish—i.e. the standard criteria for most chocolate bars—when I rate each chocolate of the day.

However, many items I include on aren't 100% chocolate bars. Chocolate is part of thousands of bars, truffles, confections and desserts. And it can be found in some savory items (BBQ rubs, mole sauces, chocolate-covered bacon, etc.).

All these items might be carefully crafted by companies, but their individual qualities, aesthetics and expectations generally differ. For example, a piece of flourless chocolate cake and a chocolate protein bar will have different textures and flavors than a pure chocolate artisan bar, and each of these may be designed with a different customer in mind.

Rating "levels"
Most of my "ratings" cluster between Good and Very Good ++. I rarely run across an "ugh" (similar to an "F" letter grade), or even an "OK" (similar to "C-" or "D" letter grades). On the other hand, only a few chocolate items receive a Very Good ++ rating; and almost all of those end up on the favorites page. (An exception might be a truly great white chocolate, which I don't count.) I used to have a "Yum" rating that was higher than a Very Good ++; but I don't use that as much anymore.

My tastes have also evolved; and time affects ratings, after learning more and sampling thousands of chocolates over the years.

Appearance can make a difference. I try not to judge too harshly if I think that a marred or "bloomed" look was not the maker's fault. Chocolates that suffer unexpected heat or cold in transit can take on a white filmy look due to fat or sugar bloom. This can affect taste and texture as well. On the other hand, outstanding packaging and design can be very pleasing.

Health and social welfare
Health considerations and product freshness can influence my rankings—for better or worse, as can social conditions. If cacao farmers are treated well (or poorly treated or paid) by a chocolatemaker or company, that can create a bit of an internal conflict.

Other sources of bias: affinity, nostalgia
Liking who made the chocolate or who grew the cacao can sway one's opinion. This is why an occasional blind tasting test is a very good thing to do. Also, fond memories of eating chocolates in very positive circumstances, e.g. while on a great vacation or in a great restaurant, can make a difference. I try to be objective about "nostalgia" chocolates, but memories are memories.

For those who want a matrix, it would probably not fit on this page. That said, I try to include descriptive information that readers might find helpful. I hope this explanation was helpful.

Smart Balance Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Spread - Nov. 18, 2015

Chocolate of the Day: 

Smart Balance
Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Spread
Weight: 1.13 oz. (32 g.) / 16 oz. (1 lb.) (453 g.) in 1 jar
Calories: 180 calories in 2 Tablespoon serving
Cost: $1.99 for 1 jar
Purchased from: Grocery Outlet Bargain Market, Palo Alto, CA

Today was Day #14 of Chocolate and Peanuts Theme Week(s).

Ingredients that are included, or excluded, often have special appeal to consumers. I look for gluten free chocolate items; and I prefer fewer additives and ingredients on labels in general.

This Smart Balance Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Spread was lactose-free, vegan and non-GMO—and certified gluten free. On the "fat" front, this spread was made with palm fruit, flaxseed and peanut oils—without trans fats (hydrogenated oils), and contained 320 mg. of ALA Omega-3 per (2 TB) serving.

How did it taste? This smooth and creamy spread was sweet without being overly so, and had a light, almost whipped, texture. (Pure nut butters are generally heavier.)

I used this spread as a dip for fresh fruit (apple sections). It might also work as a spread on crepes or baked goods (between cake layers or cookies perhaps); or it could be stirred into vanilla or chocolate ice cream.

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