Savory Chocolate Recipes & Flavor Profiles
Chocolate: it’s Not just for Dessert
When the topic of chocolate comes up most people think about chocolate cake, chocolate chip cookies, or some other type of dessert item. It is uncommon for people, or even for chefs, to utilize cacao for savory chocolate recipes. But stuffing chocolate into the “dessert” box and leaving it there is like saying eggs can only be useed for breakfast foods. G.B. Mantelli has an insightful alternative perspective on chocolate which chefs will appreciate, “Like so many other seeds — pepper, fennel, cardamom and caraway — cacao beans are a spice.” “It’s only the addition of sugar that makes chocolate sweet. Fine dark chocolate, like fine wine, has an amazingly complex taste profile, with hundreds of distinct nuanced aromas and flavors,” Mantelli says. “Chocolate is, or should be, in everyone’s spice rack.”
Because of its inherent complexity, the nuances of flavor and aromas in chocolate make it incredibly versatile for the creative chef. Cacao can and should be used both for savory chocolate recipes as well as dessert. To this end, many chefs are exploring the use of chocolate as an ingredient in savory recipes. During the 2015 James Beard Foundation dinner series dishes such as smoked beef short ribs with a cocoa demi-glace, lacquered duck with chocolate, and chicken liver cannoli with cocoa nibs and pickled cherries appeared on JBF menus.
In February/March of 2017 the Chef team at Tulalip Resort Casino teamed up with local chocolatier indi chocolate to utilize their privately and ethically sourced cacao beans and chocolate in a variety of savory and sweet recipes at each of their 7 restaurants. And other renown Chefs also recognize the importance of chocolate as a savory ingredient:
“Cocoa butter can take a lot of heat, so spread melted cocoa butter on the salmon skin, then press the cocoa nibs on; flip it over and they’ll hold, then sprinkle the flesh with salt. Heat some more cocoa butter in a pan and then slide the fish in crust-side down. Once the crust forms, flip it over and finish it in the oven.”
– World renown Pastry Chef Jacques Torres
“I make a miso sauce with dark chocolate as a marinade for fish or pork. Usually miso is very salty, so miso sauce recipes often add sugar to the liquid. But I put a little stock, miso and dark chocolate in a double boiler and reduce it, then add chipotle peppers, a little rice vinegar, and some yuzu. I use it as a marinade and then finish the plate with it. The miso is very salty and the chocolate’s a bit sweet, so we’re adding some spice and acid to it, which is great. Salty, sweet, a little acid, a bit of savory, and a bit of spice—that’s why miso and chocolate work so well together.”
– Chef Julian Medina Toloache
Useful Savory Chocolate Information
Following is some basic info about using cacao and chocolate for savory applications. First, for savory applications it is recommended that you use chocolate which is 70% or higher pure chocolate or cacao. The higher the percentage, the more astringent or bitter the chocolate will be, so keep that in mind while considering your flavor profiles and intended outcome.
Cacao or Cocoa – What’s the Difference?
Alright, this is a little confusing because I’ve heard/read a number of definitions about what the difference is. From a botanist perspective the difference is between a bean which is still capable of reproducing another plant and a bean which has begun the processing techniques which turn the bean into chocolate of some variation. Cacao is a bean which can still reproduce but cocoa cannot. This is a scientific/botanist definition.
However, the more commonly percieved interpretation is that it is simply semantics, a different spelling of the same thing, i.e. cacao is cocoa is chocolate. Lauren Adler from Chocolopolis says, “‘Cacao’ is the Spanish word, and is often used in English to refer to the cacao before it’s turned into chocolate or cocoa powder. “Cocoa” is usually used for ‘cacao’ after it’s been processed. With that said, people use the terms interchangeably these days, and it depends upon whether you’re speaking American English or British English.”
Another story has it that one of the early writers about cacao had dyslexia and simply misspelled the word. Others attribute it to the transliterations of one language to another (Mayan to Aztec to Spanish to English). And others define cocoa as cocoa powder. The final word…in the US, most often cacao is cocoa is chocolate. But refer to the writer’s interpretation if needed for clarification…I know, I hate ambiguity as well!
Savory Chocolate Choices
Following are some of the best choices of chocolates to use for savory chocolate recipes.
- Cacao Beans
- Cacao Nibs
- Cacao Powder
- Cocoa Nibs
- Cocoa Powder (such as Dutch Cocoa Powder)
- Semi-sweet Chocolate (choose one with at least 70% cocoa solids)
- Bittersweet Chocolate (contains no added sugar and up to 100% cocoa solids)
Chocolate Flavor Profiles by Country
Like grapes for wine, the flavor profiles of cacao and chocolate have inherent characteristics based upon the specific species (think Cabernet grape or Chardonnay). Knowing these profiles can help the chef choose a chocolate based upon the savory end result s/he is looking for. The following chart gives some basic flavor characteristics based upon region. However, the folks at indi chocolate caution us to remember that just like for grapes, the terroir, region, soil, and even the year from which the cacao were harvested will impact and influence the final flavor.
image courtesy Chocolate Science and Technology
Common Savory Chocolate Flavor Profiles
The chart below lists some of the more common good flavors and aromas associated with dark chocolate. By no means is this list exhaustive! But it is a starting point. Follow this link if you would like a primer on how to taste chocolate.
|Common Flavor Profiles of Chocolate and Cacao|
New Advancements in Food Pairing
The website FoodPairing, and others like it, have developed a science around analyzing the essential aromas of foods and then cross referencing them with other foods containing similar characteristics. The result is a sort of snowflake-webbed tree of possible foods which may combine well together. Heston Blumenthal discovered this when he combined white chocolate with caviar to create a highly unusual yet very sensually compatible dish.
Chocolate as an Ingredient
The following table lists a variety of Dark Chocolate bars. The heading reads “Savory Chocolate Bar Flavor Profiles” however it is important to say that virtually any dark chocolate (70% cacao or higher) can be utilized for savory chocolate recipes because they are low in sugar. This gives the Chef more control over the flavors and keep the recipe in a savory direction rather than a dessert application.
|Savory Chocolate Bar Flavor Profiles|
|Brand Price/Oz (retail)||Bar Name||Cacao Bean||Bean Source||Bitterness||Mouth Feel||Finish||Flavor Profile|
|Dos Rios 70%||Dominican Republic||Mild||Smooth||Medium Finish, tannin w/ hint of orange||Earl Gray, Orange, Jasmine, Clove, Nutty|
|San Jose Del Tambo 70%||Arriba Nacional||Ecuador||Creamy||Tannin Finish||Earthy, Tobacco, Moss, Thai Basil, Red Fruit, Jasmine, Orange|
|Ambanja Madagascar 70% Dark||Madagascar 2015 Harvest||Mild||Creamy||Long Fruit Finish||Intense Citrus, Cherry, Coffee, Yeast, Strawberry, Raspberry Jam|
|Belize Toledo 72%||Belize||Creamy||Long Finish, slightly acidic, tannin||Earthy, Cinnamon, Cocoa, Floral, Malt|
|214 Madagascar 74% Dark||Madagascar||Mild||Silky||Short Finish, mildly acidic & tannic||Bright, Red Fruits, Citrus, Raisin, Grapefruit, Balanced Tartness|
|Cru de Plantation Vila Gracinda 67%||Forastero||São Tomé||Fairly Smooth||Short Finish, flat and a little ashy||Complex Aroma, Spice, Herbs, Licorice, Tropical Fruit, Clove, Coffee|
|Piura Porcelana 75% Dark||Criollo||Peru||Mild||Smooth||Slightly bitter||Raspberry, Apricot, Pineapple Jam, Spice|
|Manabi 65% Dark||Arriba Nacional||Manabi Ecuador||Mild||Smooth||Long Finish||Cacao, Nuts, Citrus, Coffee, Floral|
|Madagascar 75% Dark||Madagascar||Mild||Smooth||Short Finish, mildly acidic||Nuts, Coffee, Red Fruit, Citrus, Cinnamon, Plum, Currants, Cedar|
|Francois Pralus Madagascar 75% Dark||Criollos||Madagascar||Mild||Creamy||Long Finish, slightly acidic||Fruity, Tart Berries, Roasted Nuts, Red Fruits, Floral|
|Columbian Single Origin 70% Dark||Criollo Trinitarian||Columbia||Medium||Smooth||Medium Finish||Nuts, Floral, Fruits, Coffee, Tea, Citrus, Caramel|
|Wicked Dark 95%||Dominican Republic||Grainy||Medium Finish, acidic, slightly sour||Earthy, Nuts, Smoky, Malt, Berries, Blackberry, Prune|
|Noir Abinao 85%||Forastero||Africa||Mild||Smooth||Short Finish, tannic, slightly bitter||Oaky Tannins, Coconut, Raisin, Molasses, Ashy, Roast, Sour|