4 professional pairings to enhance chocolate’s natural flavor

Chocolate lovers, this one is for you

Today's expression: Hear me out
Explore more: Lesson #401
September 23, 2021:

If you walk down the candy aisle in a grocery store, there are endless chocolate bar options: dark, milk, white, salted, fruity, you name it. Today’s lesson reveals four professional chocolate pairings that enhance chocolate’s natural flavor, so you’ll know exactly what to look for the next time you need to satisfy your sweet tooth. Some of the combinations might surprise you. Plus, learn “hear me out.”

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Chocolate lovers, this is for you. Here are four ways to make your favorite treat taste even better!

Lesson summary

Hi there, I’m Jeff and this is Plain English lesson number 401. JR is the producer, and he has uploaded the lesson to PlainEnglish.com/401. That also includes the full transcript, how-to videos, translations, fast audio, and more. PlainEnglish.com/401.

Chocolate lovers, listen up. You probably have experience with chocolate bars, chocolate cookies, brownies, and such. But while you upgrade your English with us, you can also upgrade your chocolate pairings. This lesson is all about the things you can pair with chocolate to enhance its natural flavor. In the second half of the lesson, I’ll show you how to use the English expression, “Hear me out.”

Chocolate is better with these 4 flavors

So, let’s get going. Here are four ways to enhance chocolate’s flavor…

Number one, salt.

Chefs have long known that salt goes well with chocolate, but it’s starting to become more mainstream. You can find specialty chocolate bars with sea salt mixed in or find baked goods with sea salt sprinkled on top.

When paired with, or mixed inside, dark chocolate, salt brings out the sweetness and mutes the bitterness of the chocolate. It also enhances the aroma of the chocolate. But how much salt do you need, and what kind?

Stay away from table salt. You want to choose coarsely-grained gray sea salt or Himalayan pink salt. And you don’t want to use too much. Chocolate should never taste salty; you should only use just enough salt to accomplish the objective, which is to enhance the flavor. Just a few grains of sea salt on top of a piece of dark chocolate is enough. Another great way to go about it is to sprinkle it on top of warm chocolate chip cookies.

If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can pair dark chocolate with other foods that are naturally salty. Pretzels are common, but bacon—hear me out —bacon is becoming increasingly popular. Chocolate-covered bacon should be refrigerated and eaten cold. The bitterness and sugar in the chocolate go well with the salt and fat in the bacon. Don’t knock it until you try it!

Next up, chiles.

Matching spicy chiles with chocolate is a tradition in Mexico and the American southwest. The pairing brings out flavors in each food that might not be apparent individually. Both chiles and chocolate are tropical fruits from the same region, so they have some taste elements in common.

It’s best to use dried chiles ground into a powder. You can either grind them yourself or find ground chiles in the grocery store. Guajillo chiles (also known as New Mexico chiles) are bold and peppery. Ancho chiles are more moderate and chipotle chiles add a smoky, sweet flavor to the chocolate.

Chocolatiers mix spices into chocolate bars, so you can buy specialty chocolate bars with the chile flavor already added. You can also add some chile powder to baked goods like cakes, brownies, and chocolate frosting. Another option is to add the powder to hot chocolate.

Number three, coffee.

Just as chocolate and chiles are related, so are chocolate and coffee beans. Like coffee beans, cocoa beans are fermented, dried, and roasted before they are consumed. Both are available on a spectrum of bitter and sweet flavors.

If you’d like to pair coffee and chocolate, try to match the intensity of each. So, you’ll want to pair espresso with dark chocolate. If you’re having a latte, or cappuccino, pair it with milk chocolate.

And finally, fruit.

This one is obvious; we’ve all known about chocolate-covered strawberries. But there’s a little more to the story. Dark chocolate is bitter, so you should balance the flavor with sweeter fruits. Strawberries, mango, pears, and bananas all go well with dark chocolate. White chocolate, however, has more milk and is less bitter naturally. Those go well with fruits that are tart; try raspberries, blackberries, and oranges with white chocolate. And milk chocolate is in the middle. It goes well with almost any kind of fruit. If you haven’t had it with coconut, put that on your list.

And finally, if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, there’s no reason to stop there. Depending on how brave you are, you might experiment with pairing chocolate with cheese, tequila, or even caviar.

Dark chocolate and sea salt

There’s a small grocery store near my house that I go to about once a week, and they have this chocolate from Iceland that I tried with sea salt mixed into the dark chocolate bar and I thought it was just amazing. So that was the inspiration for today’s lesson. And then I remembered being in Mexico—I think in Guanajuato—there was a chocolate shop that had all different kinds of chiles mixed in with their chocolate.

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Expression: Hear me out