It should be pure pleasure, but our favourite sweet treat has become contaminated by fads. Regular columnist Tony Naylor says it has to stop...
Britain’s global influence may be in decline, but in one crucial area we remain world beaters: our love of chocolate. In 2016, analysts Mintel reported we Brits each ate 8.61kg of chocolate, edging our close, slightly queasy rivals Switzerland into second place internationally.
I have certainly been doing my bit for national pride (too much, insists my GP). I follow the Mayan god of chocolate, Ek Chuah, with such evangelical zeal that from single-estate, 90% Ecuadorian black gold to the crumbliest, flakiest corner shop staples, I am constantly eating chocolate. It is both a supreme pleasure and at times (desperate late-night garage runs, stealing from children’s party bags etc.), a pathetic compulsion.
Indeed, too often as a nation, and particularly at Easter, we blithely bolt down any old chocolate to satisfy that craving. The way we abuse this precious commodity and allow it to be abused – as big manufacturers reimagine it in endless grim ways – diminishes us all. These are the 10 biggest crimes committed against chocolate. Is it time to take a stand?
1. Inhaling it, mindlessly
High-end chocolatier, Vosges, advises you to take, ‘deep, cleansing ujjayi breaths’, before eating its truffles. No, I don’t know what that means either. But I am fully in favour of savouring the moment. I have my own methods – what I call ‘tantric chocolate’ – for teasing out this exquisite, endorphin rush. For instance, I fastidiously nibble at a bar’s edges; allow chocolate to melt naturally in my mouth; dunk squares of it in tea (try it, it is life-changing). You must find your own slow-chocolate path.
2. Infantile add-ons
Cookie pieces? Popping candy? Jellies and marshmallows? Mixing frivolous titbits into block chocolate actively detracts from it. This must stop.
3. Gourmet or gormless?
Not that so-called artisan chocolate is any better. How did adding cardamom, lavender or chilli to it become normalised? For fear of looking unsophisticated, we have been slow to object, but we must.
4. Alcohol free
I love alcohol and chocolate more than certain members of my immediate family. But together? They’re a disaster. In 1987, I ate my first liqueur chocolate. I couldn’t believe anything that bad could ever happen in my mouth. I still can’t.
5. Dud puds
I find it fascinating that regardless of how much actual chocolate is used in the recipe, 97.6% of all chocolate brownies, puddings and cakes taste predominantly of flour and cocoa powder, rather than chocolate. Give it up, world. You are wasting perfectly good chocolate.
6. Drinking it
Hot chocolate is chocolate for people who don’t really like chocolate. At its worst, it’s a thin, synthetic gruel and at its most expensive, it’s an OTT, artery-clogging abomination.
7. Cold comfort
Like tomatoes or butter, keeping chocolate in the fridge ruins it. It turns into a hard, flavourless chore.
8. US of nay
Given its consumerism, gluttony and ingenious use of food technology, American chocolate should be sublime. Instead, its commercial candy (which can contain as little as 10% cocoa solids) is, regularly, a vile simulacrum of the real thing: gritty, sugary and best boycotted altogether.
9. White fright
White chocolate is not chocolate. It does not contain any cocoa solids. It is a grotesque saccharine, vanilla-pumped interloper.
10. Coffee, anyone?
Of the many bizarre, lab-made flavourings used in chocolate (worse than orange and even mint), coffee is by far the most repulsive. Who would actually eat that for pleasure?
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Tony Naylor writes for Restaurant magazine and The Guardian.