Ask the Alchemist #91


A few of your Venezuela beans (Carupano Corona and Canoabo) are described as "no bitterness to speak of". Do they work for a higher than normal cocoa bean/ lower sugar (over 70%) without getting into baking chocolate flavor? My main goal with that is to make a dark chocolate that my mother in law (who doesn't like the bitterness of dark chocolate) would like. She tried a dark cocoa (55% cocoa bean, 7.5% cocoa butter) chocolate that had too many bitter notes for her. (She’s a super taster).

This question has so many things going on I hardly know where to start, so I guess it will just be the top.

I personally do not consider 70% ‘higher than normal’. Day in, day out, my everyday testing bar (that I use to evaluate cocoa samples) is 75% and it is noticeably sweet, but not distractingly so. I really don’t consider it higher than ‘normal’ until you hit the mid 80’s. But even then, it is just a number (and I've seen a somewhat snobbish attitude toward eating higher percentage bars, like it is some kind of great accomplishment that I don't understand).  As for the two beans you mention, my taste evaluation is based both off the roasted bean and that 70% chocolate sample. So would they work? Yes….but no, I am afraid. It has to do with your other goal. Making a chocolate that your super tasting MIL would like and not find bitter or ‘like baking chocolate’.

Well, I have to say that in all my years I’ve only tasted beans a couple times that made liquor that tasted like baking chocolate….and I rejected the samples. In my experience, the beans used to make that ‘baking chocolate’ are inferior, often with defects, and bear no relation to the specialty cocoa I carry. They are just worlds apart.

There is a ‘magic trick’ I like to do when I have a group of random people. Every year I show the 8th grade of my daughter’s school how to make chocolate. At the beginning I pass around some roasted nibs, count up the number in the class, and written another number down hidden from view. I then have everyone taste the nibs and raise their hands if they find the beans REALLY bitter (and not just ‘not sweet’). I then reveal the number and in most cases, that is the number of hands up. 6 out of 8 years in a row, I have predicted the number of hands, and the other two years I was only one off (both small classes). How? I just divide the number in class by 10.

I have found that about 10% of the population has a gene that tastes a compound in chocolate that the rest of us do not taste. No matter how 'not bitter' it is to us, it is horridly bitter to them.

There are 30 genes that are responsible for bitter taste perception, one of them being TAS2R32. Different variations of this gene affect ability to detect bitter compounds, like for example feniltiocarbamids and glucosinolates. About 25% of people lack ability to detect these compounds due to gene mutations. A classic way of testing for this case is tasting 6-N-propylthiouracl (PROP). To some people very low concentrations of PROP are very bitter, while others do not detect it or detection is very weak. In general, the data saying that 75% of all people taste PROP and the other 25% do not holds true. Apparently (to me) there is a variation one of those 30 genes causes about 10% of the population to ‘super taste’ the bitterness in chocolate. And generally speaking, none of them like dark chocolate, and ‘only like milk chocolate’ and when pushed, seem to only eat it due to peer pressure and don’t really like it either. Yep, it seems 10% of the population doesn’t like chocolate!

So, with that in mind, and while I am not saying your MIL is not also a super taster, it sounds to me that she is one of the 10%. And that no matter what bean you pick, no matter how ‘not bitter’ she will never like it. It’s not your chocolate making ability. It’s just genetic. And to be clear. She is just using the terms (like baking chocolate) that she thinks fits what she is tasting. But to her and the 10% they are tasting a different bitterness than of which we speak when we talk about a bean with no bitterness to speak of. The 'no bitterness to speak of' phrase does not to apply to them.

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