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February 14, 2006
January 10, 2006
I was impressed – and intrigued – by your review of the Pralus: Vanuatu bar.
I am especially interested in this bar because I buy cocoa in commercial quantities from Vanuatu.
I was intrigued by your review because you describe the aroma and flavour using terms like “jarring”, “odd”, and “not in line with my personal taste” – and yet you give the bar a high score (8.5 out of 10) for both aroma and taste.
To me this suggests that, while your sensory assessment was probably spot-on (i.e. you managed to detect two classic cocoa bean defects) you don’t have enough confidence in your “taste” to give the chocolate an appropriate score.
Smokiness in Chocolate
Although I have never tasted this bar myself (I’m not aware of anyone who sells Pralus in Australia), I have been told about it by a number of American friends who know of my interest in Vanuatu. As such, I am aware that the manufacturer describes the bar as “smoky” on the wrapping — which clearly conveys the idea that the chocolate is supposed to taste smoky. The term “clever marketing” immediately springs to my mind.
Minifie has this to say on the subject of smokiness:
“Beans contaminated by smoke have a most objectionable flavor, which is virtually impossible to remove from chocolate. The contamination can arise from crude methods of drying or from defects in dryers that allow smoke to reach the beans.“
Indeed, smokiness is considered to be a serious defect in cocoa beans. Furthermore, according to the International Cocoa Standards, if a batch of beans “has a smoky smell or taste or shows signs of contamination by smoke”, it is not considered to be of “merchantable quality”.
As such, smoky beans are technically regarded as substandard (SS), and should only be marketed under special contract. For a look at the international standards, go to: http://r0.unctad.org/infocomm/…..uality.htm
Eshra describes the Pralus: Vanuatu bar as having “an odd taste of roast meat — perhaps bacon”.
Bacon, of course, is cured (and often smoked!) ham. Hamminess in cocoa (and hence, chocolate) is a classic indicator of over fermentation — it is how cocoa beans taste when they start to rot!
Hamminess is not in any way a desirable flavour characteristic in cocoa or chocolate.
February 14, 2006
I appreciate the criticism, Oz.
The smokiness wasn’t necessarily unpleasant to me. It was more surprising and disarming. I was immediately reminded of a campfire when I smelled the chocolate, which, if you like camping and that sort of thing, isn’t displeasing.
After reading your criticism, I was inclined to address two issues –those of taste and preference. Taste really has nothing to do with whether I like a chocolate. For example, in the case of wine, one can dislike a certain type of wine made from a certain type of grape, but can nonetheless recognize that it is a good wine. So it is the same with chocolate…
My preference was more reflected in the opinion, ie 8/10—although this was generous.
I cannot really see Pralus marketing a chocolate, which, as you say, is hardly salable — that just wouldn’t make sense for them to do that.
Now, would I buy the bar again? Probably not, but like I said, it seems worth investigating.
One question: Do you find the chocolate you get from Vanuatu to be smoky?
Also, if anyone else would like to comment that has eaten this bar, that would be nice. If the taste is in fact off, I will adjust the rating appropriately. I had no way of knowing as this was the first time I tasted a bar like this(what am I to make of it?) Hypothetically let’s say you sampled a chocolate that had a flavour you weren’t used to, you wouldn’t automatically know whether it was off or not–you would just know what the flavour was in itself..
January 10, 2006
I agree that it’s entirely possible to write a complimentary review of a wine (or a chocolate) that disagrees with your personal taste. But in order to do that, surely you need to know what constitutes a basic defect?
The entire cocoa industry has agreed that smokiness is a defect in cocoa beans. Smoky beans produce smoky chocolate. Therefore, when Minifie says that smoky beans have an “objectionable” flavor, I don’t think he’s suggesting that campfires are inherently objectionable – he’s just making a comment about cocoa based on internationally agreed standards.
Hence, I would suggest that praising a chocolate for tasting like smoke (because it reminds you of happy times around the campfire), is like praising a wine for tasting like vinegar (because it reminds you of a really nice salad dressing).
Finally, you asked me whether I find the chocolate I get from Vanuatu to be smoky … actually, I buy raw cocoa beans from Vanuatu, not chocolate – but no, they’re not smoky in the slightest.
I’ve posted a page on my website with some photos and commentary about cocoa drying in Vanuatu, and why some cocoa beans coming out of Vanuatu are highly likely to be smoky: http://www.tava.com.au/article…..taint.html
February 14, 2006
that is quite scathing. Just forget I reviewed the chocolate. Your point has been made. You win. I edited the original post and will stray from reviewing any chocolates with smokiness to eschew criticism. My ability to taste chocolate is, I consider–quite good.
However, I might yet point out that several members of this forum found the Vanuatu bar interesting as I did. Just do a search on Pralus and you will see. All were experienced chocolate eaters, so I rather not be blacklisted and singled-out over this.
Again, thanks I very much appreciate your criticism–I have put your information into my memory bank. But don’t forget that this is the ONLY smoky chocolate of its type I have EVER eaten…. so I had no point of reference. Because of this reason, I don’t feel I should be cast into disrepute.
January 10, 2006
I am not singling you out (let alone attempting to blacklist you, or cast you into disrepute).
However, I don’t see any other forum members rushing in to defend the flavours of smoke and pork in this (or any other) chocolate.
You say that “several members of this forum found the Vanuatu bar interesting as I did”. Who are they? Where are they? Maybe they all changed their minds when they realised that smokiness is a defect in cocoa.
So, an open invitation: if anyone would like to offer any praise for smoky, porky chocolate, or thinks the internationally-standardised “defect” label should be removed from smoky cocoa beans, I’d be more than happy to continue the debate!
April 29, 2004
February 14, 2006
two others to offer praise:
“It is the strangest chocolate I have ever tasted. It’s hard to name the taste, but I would say it reminds me of bacon. I have never realised such a strange taste before. I really love this bar.” –marioh
“Vanuatu is quite a revelation for me, completely stand-alon[e thing and very long. Amazing.” -ellie
I pulled these from a general discussion on Pralus. Vanuatu was brought up many times over the course of 4 pages of posts, with nobody criticizing it. I just find it peculiar that you or nobody else mentioned anything in *that* discussion regarding the flavour.
I really would appreciate other people with more knowledge than myself to post.
December 12, 2005
I recently tasted the Vanuatu in Paris and I agree, there is the smokyness and the reminiscence of ham in that chocolate.
I did not like it at all. (On the contrary, the Madagascar bar was excellent btw.)
I agree with Sam – if there is a defect, it should be identified as such. However there is another question rising then:
several other premium segment chocolates have a smoky smell (aroma). Is there anything that makes a difference in sensory descriptors? Is there a “bad” defectuous “smokyness” and a “good”, “woody” aroma? If yes, how one can make the difference?
January 10, 2006
OK, we’ve reached the point where Eshra and I are just repeating ourselves, and everyone else is saying either:
1. I like smoky chocolate, or
2. I don’t like smoky chocolate.
For the record, if you love chocolate that tastes like “barbeque ribs”, I have NO problem with that, and I believe that everybody is totally entitled to their opinion.
HOWEVER, when it comes to reviewing, there are really only three options. The review is either:
1. Entirely Subjective – i.e. based on personal responses to things like flavour, aroma, and mouthfeel,
2. Entirely Objective – i.e. based on extensive knowledge and experience of things such as:
a) flavour defects, taints, and adulterants
b) processing techniques, and
3. Objective AND Subjective – i.e. the reviewer is knowledgable about chocolate processing and industry standards; but the reviewer ALSO acknowledges that the sensory experiences of flavour, aroma, and mouthfeel are profoundly personal.
It seems quite obvious to me that if you don’t have some basic knowledge and experience, you shouldn’t be presenting your reviews as purely objective.
Hence, if somebody were to say: “I love chocolate that tastes like barbeque ribs, so therefore I give Pralus Vanuatu 10 out of 10 for flavour” – then I’d say: Thanks for sharing your opinion – I’ll know to avoid your reviews in the future because our tastes obviously differ substantially.
But if somebody (in this case Eshra) says: “I found Pralus Vanuatu to be smoky, odd, jarring, not in line with my personal taste, and I probably wouldn’t buy it again – but I give it 8.5 out of 10 for flavour because I’m objective” – I’d feel OBLIGED to point out that the objective standards established by the cocoa industry actually state that smokiness is a serious defect.
Surely, reviewing chocolate is all about meaningful communication. And whether you like it or not, meaningful communication requires rules.
Hence, if alex_h and the other “bbq-chocolate” fans want to establish a rule on seventypercent.com that says smokiness is a desirable quality in chocolate, then that would create one major advantage:
1. It would provide clarity, and a basic point of reference for visitors to the site (including me, because I’d know right away that I was wasting my time here).
But it would also create a number of serious disadvantages:
1. It would show total disregard for international standards
2. By going against the international standards, it would create confusion amongst educated consumers, and
3. It would ultimately encourage poor fermentation and drying techniques in cocoa growing countries.
Over-fermentation (which produces rancidity and hammy flavours), and poor forced-drying (which produces smokiness) are usually the direct result of a lack of resources on the part of growers (where “resources” include access to education, and money).
Pretty much any way you look at it, it’s cheaper to produce hammy, smoky cocoa beans (which in turn make hammy, smoky chocolate), than it is to produce perfectly fermented and dried beans, totally free of flavour defects and adulterations.
So, if people like Eshra and alex_h continue promoting bbq-chocolates by saying how great they are, and giving them supposedly “objective” scores of 8.5 out of 10 … they might just encourage a trend amongst manufacturers, who see an opportunity to turn cheap, technically substandard beans into very expensive, highly-regarded chocolate. I call this The Emporer’s New Clothes syndrome.
February 14, 2006
I will not debate this further, but rather allow others to comment as I have said what I needed.
But a couple things remain unanswered to me.
1. Why would a reputable company such as Pralus, who is probably sourcing their beans quite directly, use over-fermented beans batch after batch? As it is with fine wine, often producers –if they notice grapes are poor in quality on a given year — will neglect to produce a wine made from those grapes — this is common for Burgundy wines…
2. Is there any way whatsoever that a chocolate could aquire a smoky flavour due to other factors besides disregard on processing? I ask this simply because it is hard for me to believe that Pralus would put its reputation on the line simply for the sake of producing a strange chocolate.
And one last remark Oz_Choc: You said you aquired beans directly from Vanuatu. You also said they were not smoky, whereas Pralus’ were. Does this mean you have a better source than Pralus does?
And Oz_Choc, I understand your concern over smoky and other defective chocolates being reviewed on this forum. This is why I erased my review altogether, in deference of standards. Although I have a talent to taste very subtle things, I do not yet consider myself informed of all things chocolate–as I have only been contemplating chocolate for about 18 months now. However, I ask that you do not attempt to cast my reviews in disrepute, as I feel I have something to contribute to this site.
Let us move past this little faux pas.[B)]
April 29, 2004
July 31, 2006
Interesting debate going on here, but Eshra, I would urge you to restore your review (I enjoyed your Grenada review). This kind of detailed member review is exactly what we want, and don’t be put off if you feel it is not perfect – we are all learning here and your voice is as valid as any other.
Your concerns about smokiness and bacon are of course quite legitimate oz_choc and the technical information most useful. However, I believe it is possible that both of these can exist as flavour notes, distinct from defects. So one might detect a slight note of bacon in even a good chocolate, or a smoky hint might be found. Sometimes these are just personal descriptions of notes that others might give different names. I can think of several chocolates generally recognised as being of a good quality with an acceptable bacon hint (some Cluizel bars have this), and just the other day I tried something with a little smokiness. Again I emphasise, these are descriptions of flavour notes, not recognitions of defects. The defects are valid concerns and should be identified when they appear.
I would also say it is quite possible to give a chocolate a good technical review and not to personally like it. That’s why we have the opinion category. I’ve reviewed quite a few bars where I can recognise that the chocolate is technically good, and there’s a good chance that others will like it, but it just doesn’t do it for me. Domori’s Sur del Lago – before the recent recipe change at Domori – was like this for me. It was a good quality chocolate that many adored. I found it flat and boring, I just didn’t want to eat it. (The new version I finally like).
For those of us who have tried Pralus’ Vanuatu, I believe the reaction has generally been good. It may not be the worlds best, but I think the people I know who have tried it would be pretty quick to identify if it was fundamentally flawed. It is interesting, the beans might not be perfect, but I found it one of the more enjoyable bars of the Pralus range and worthy of the kind of score Eshra has given it. Very few fine chocolate bars could be described as perfect, it’s an evolving art.
So to sum up, debate is good, but let’s try to be supportive. Also I think we need to recognise that this part of the forum is for member reviews, not from anyone claiming any qualification. There are also no claims here of setting any standards in the forum. If anyone has any such criticisms about the ‘official’ reviews in the Chocopaedia, I think these would be much more valid, and welcome.
I don’t know anyone in chocolate who knows everything there is to know about the subject. While we can generally all agree what is and isn’t a good standard of chocolate, we can all learn a lot from each other, at all levels. Most of all, I think a chocolate needs to be tried before one can really comment on it.
Eshra, I look forward to seeing your review again!
April 20, 2006
I think that even though historically chocolate that is smoky has been viewed as not favorable, and a fault for the beans, that doesn’t mean that this public perception can’t change. One thing that strikes me as I read about chocolate is the wide variance between countries that like chocolates of different tastes. Germans have historically preferred sweet and milky chocolate, whereas the French have usually preferred deeply roasted dark chocolates, and Americans have usually preferred milk chocolate that is only roughly refined and conched, and so somewhat grainy. But, that is changing. Both in the US and Germany, dark chocolate of increasing purity is being appreciated more and more. This tells us that what people prefer in chocolate is as much a cultural phenomenon as anything. That said, it does not seem completely impossible to me that a chocolate that contains a quality that may have been a fault, even ten years ago, could become well liked be a certain percentage of the population in the future. Why would that happen? It seems to me that if people are opening their minds to new things at this moment, and they are being told at the same time by the likes of Pralus that a slightly smoky bar is desirable, by even writing “smoky” on the label, then there is a good possibility that some people, even many people, will start to see this quality as interesting, and not disgusting at all. If that is the case, then a slightly smoky bean will no longer be a fault per se, but instead will have to be processed correctly and have the right amount of smokiness (i.e., not too much). I don’t see anything wrong with this, and I think that this may be what we are seeing right here, though I could certianly be wrong. As for myself, when I first tasted the Pralus bar, I tasted, not only smoke, but a spiciness that reminded me of a chipotle chile (smoked jalapeno). I found it incredibly surprising and interesting, though I wasn’t ready to say that I liked it. After all, I like smoky flavors in many foods, and when I looked at the package and saw that “smoky” was listed in the flavor profile, it made me think beyond what I “knew” was a fault, and consider the bar on its own merits in relation to my personal taste.
As for Pralus, when he put out a chocolate with this smoky note, even though I have no doubt that he also took advantage of smart marketing my making this fact clear, I also have no doubt that he put out the chocolate because he found it palatable and interesting. Otherwise, there would be no need for him to put out the chocolate at all, and I fully believe that he would not have if he viewed that smokiness as undesirable and a “fault.” As it is, I think it must have been intentional, and I think he is saying to us that some smoky notes in chocolate are not bad. I certainly, however, would not classify his chocolate as having a hammy taste, which as Oz noted, would be related to over-fermentation. I think it is more likely subtle smoke contamination from the fire-dried set-up, and that it is subtle enough that it may not bother most people.
At any rate, some people will hate the chocolate, and some people will like it. I need to taste it again to see honestly what I think, but my first impression was that it was certainly different, though I didn’t feel that it was disgusting. It may be that this is a passing phase, and that eventually everyone will agree after all that ANY smoke is a fault, and it may be that this is only a hint of things to come. I don’t think we can say at the moment, and the way that cultural likes and dislikes go, I think it is fully possible that it could go either way. After all, I recently heard about a chocolate made from beans that were purposely smoke-roasted. When it comes to taste, the past likes are only a guide, not a rule that is, or should be, carved in stone. That’s my view at least.
So, in this rather long-winded message, I agree that smoky notes have certainly historically been seen as faults. However, there is no reason why this cannot change in the future. I do think discussion of this is a good think though. So thanks for it.
July 31, 2006
Ok, I have a bar of Vanuatu here right now. It’s not brilliant. Over-roasted I think but with some pleasant vanilla-like tones. The smoke note is like a nicotine tone, even with a little buzz on the tongue. (Reminds me of one of L’artisan du Chocolat’s tobacco truffles – they have a real hit!) There is a certain meatiness, but you could also call this a salt / sour combination with a high-toned dark note. Could be ham, could be earthiness. Reminds me of certain raw milk cheeses as well. For me the strongest indicator that this is not a fatally flawed chocolate is the length, which settles down nicely to citrus and chocolate.
I’d say this is a well-made chocolate with less than perfect beans. Probably the percentage is too high.
Like many of Pralus’ chocolates, it can seem too weird at first, but once you get used to it quite palatable. Same happened to me with their Java. I could hardly touch it at first, but now I can happily munch it.
Interesting and worth a try, even if you might not keep coming back to it.
Just a quick note to oz_choc – all your comments are interesting and educational, but I think you’ve taken the flavour descriptions Eshra used too literally and got carried away with them. I fully agree that chocolate made with smoked and badly fermented beans would have the defects you mention, and I for one would be spitting out such a chocolate. (And believe me, I taste a lot of chocolate that does induce that reaction!)
Finally, this chocolate most certainly IS a candidate for review, and I look forward to reviews in the Chocopaedia in the near future, good or bad.
Just a note of support for diversity of opinion here:
There simply is no “objective” point of view possible in matters of taste…palates differ, standards differ, and this is true all the way along the line, from grower to chocolatier to consumer. This is, after all, a forum about user reviews. We’re all free to differ, (and comment on each other’s differences), but I certainly hope to continue to see a variety of opinion and reaction in this area. It’s part of what makes this online community fun and interesting to me.
One of the things I like about Pralus as a chocolatier is that he’s willing to take chances some others would not, and I see the Vanuatu bar that he produces as a perfect example of that. If you want to see that as a naive use of imperfect source cacao, then that’s fine for you, but if every chocolatier agreed on that, then the range of experience open to us (as chocolate consumers) would be concomitantly reduced, and for me that would be a sad result.
I agree with Martin–I’ve certainly tasted chocolates recently that (to my palate) were just horrible. But my reaction to those chocolates isn’t that the chocolatier made a fundamental mistake by even using the cacao in the first place…it’s just not for me, and I probably wouldn’t recommend it to a customer. But that doesn’t mean that I form a judgement about the producer.
It’s a big wide world of possibility out there, and for my part I hope chocolatiers keep experimenting and evolving rather than corralling their instincts down to a predictable few results.
April 20, 2006
I just tasted the Vanuatu again last night. I have to say that the smoke is clear, but paired with the spiciness that I taste, I can’t find it distasteful. It still reminds me of a chipotle, clearly. Additionally, because Pralus’ always have that deeply roasted quality to them, a subtle, but clear, smokiness fits in quite well, whereas in a Domori bar it might be shocking. The first time I tasted this chocolate I didn’t note the tobacco. I think I was trying too hard to taste what I thought tobacco tasted like, and even though I’m an ex-smoker I don’t have that much experience with tobacco “in” my mouth. However, once I made the switch to looking for the “smell” of tobacco as I tasted, I realized that not only is it present, but very strongly. The best I can compare it to, is a tin of very good cigarette tobacco, that is still “chewy” and relatively free of preservatives. I don’t recall if Pralus used the exact phrase “chewy tobacco,” he may have, and that seems perfect to me. So, this would be my description:
A deeply roasted chocolate with spicy and smoky notes reminiscent of chipotle peppers. A hint of acidity and fresh chewy tobacco round out the experience with a length that pleases.
I have now decided that I like it. It is not only interesting, but all of the component notes of the chocolate really complement each other well, while adding interest.
Yes, worth at least one try.