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The Best Single-Origin Chocolate
We dug into the amazing and complex world of single-origin bars and in the process discovered an astounding variety of flavors and textures.
Published Mar. 4, 2022. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 23: Italian Sweets
What You Need To Know
The chocolate market has recently exploded with bars labeled “single-origin.” Their wrappers rival French wine labels in complexity, with detailed tasting notes and specific places of origin. But beyond the fact that the cacao for each of these chocolates is sourced from a single provenance, we didn't know much about single-origin chocolates. We wanted to learn more. To find out, we talked to experts and tasted 15 single-origin bars from 14 countries: Belize, Mexico, Ecuador, Madagascar, Guatemala, Venezuela, Fiji, Vietnam, Ghana, Papua New Guinea, Haiti, Peru, India, and Tanzania.
We noticed two things right off the bat. First, single-origin chocolate bars are expensive, often because it can be more difficult to source single-origin cacao beans rather than mixed bulk beans. Second, most of the single-origin chocolate on the market is dark—the bars we tasted ranged from 66 to 77 percent cacao.
No two bars we tasted were the same. Some were floral, others fruity; some were fudgy and ultrachocolaty. Some blew our minds with flavors of shiitake mushroom, tobacco, and grape must. Textures varied, too; bars were “crisp,” “feathery,” “snappy,” “velvety,” and “creamy and smooth.” Preferences varied widely, and we learned that what tasters liked in a bar of chocolate was subjective. Read on to find out which single-origin bar you might want to try, or host a chocolate tasting party (even a party of one!) and try bars from different places to compare.
A Brief History of Cacao
The cacao tree (Theobroma cacao), native to the upper Amazon basin region of Central and South America, was highly prized by the Olmec, Mayan, and Aztec civilizations. When the Spanish colonized the Americas, they brought cacao beans back to Europe, where they were ground and mixed with sugar to produce chocolate that pleased European palates. Over time, cacao trees became more widely cultivated. Today, most cacao is grown in the Cocoa Belt, an area 20 degrees on either side of the equator that encompasses 50 countries, all with rainforest environments.
So What Is Single-Origin Chocolate?
Chocolatiers typically use a mix of cacao beans sourced from different locales to achieve a certain flavor profile. Larger manufacturers such as Nestlé and Hershey have their own proprietary blends, but manufacturers of single-origin chocolates often source beans from one grower, making their bars pure expressions of those singular locations. As Greg D’Alesandre, the “chocolate sourcerer” of Dandelion Chocolate in San Francisco, explained, “For a time, people were seeing single-origin as coming from a single country, but even across a country there is a massive ...
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