Anne Palermo-Shaeffer knows a thing or two about delicious, high-quality chocolate for the most discriminating of taste buds. She's the head chocolatier and owner of Sulpice Chocolat, which was the official chocolatier for last February's GRAMMY Awards. She offers these tips on how to use your senses to select a great Valentine's Day chocolate.
Texture and taste are key features to selecting a great chocolate, so when possible, shop at a chocolatier that allows taste tests. Palermo-Shaeffer says that a quality piece of plain chocolate should slowly melt on your tongue and leave a smooth, creamy "mouthfeel" free of any grainy textures (unless of course, it includes nuts or additional added spices). She explains that "the smooth quality comes from hours of grinding the cocoa paste until the individual grains are so fine that they are unidentifiable by the tongue." But don't let your mouth make all the decisions. She adds that less quality brands have been able to "mimic" the texture of a high quality chocolate by substituting cocoa paste or cocoa butter for artificial flavors and shortening. Scan the ingredients label and make sure your chocolate is free of hydrogenated oils, trans fats and vegetable oils.
Some chocolate shoppers take to sniffing chocolate as a way to gauge quality and potential flavor, but Palermo-Shaeffer explains that a strong or light scent isn't actually a clear indication of quality. A dark chocolate will naturally have a stronger flavor and scent because it has more cocoa. Likewise, a great milk chocolate won't always have a strong scent, because it contains less cocoa content and less cocoa paste.
Appearance can clue you in to the quality of chocolate too, but instead of searching for hues only, look for a silky sheen. Palermo-Shaeffer explains that dark chocolate should have a rich, dark brown color, and milk chocolate should be caramel brown, but the sheen that either has is actually the sign that it was made with "TLC." The sheen is achieved when the chocolatier takes the time to polish the molds before making the chocolates.
The percent of cacao in a chocolate can be a good "road map" to selecting the type of chocolates perfect for your Valentine, because it will determine the degree of sweetness or bitterness. (A 95 percent chocolate bar will be very bitter, where a 55 percent chocolate bar will be sweeter -- and is usually referred to as semi-sweet.) If you know your Valentine loves milk chocolate, Palermo-Shaeffer says to look for a taste combination that is very creamy, flavorful and free of any bitterness.
If you're selecting dark chocolate for the health benefits, think low processing and a higher price. A good rule of thumb for determining how processed a dark chocolate bar is its price. A highly processed chocolate bar is inexpensive because it's made with inferior ingredients, like hydrogenated vegetable oils, says Anne Palermo-Shaeffer, owner of Suplice Chocolat
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