Saturday, October 8, 2016

Cocoa Powder Tasting (with bonus Baking Chocolate Tasting)

I didn't get a photo of the full array for some reason

Katya got me hooked on Penzey's cocoa powder when she gave me some for Christmas.  I'd never bought anything other than Hershey's or Trader Joe's cocoa powder before--it had never occurred to me that there were any alternatives.  It really opened my eyes!

Palate Cleansers
I suddenly got into buying cocoa powder and had accumulated a large stash so I decided it was time to get scientific.  What is the best cocoa powder?  Are the expensive specialty brands of cocoa powder worth it?  I invited Kristi and Katya over for a blind cocoa powder tasting to find out.  They both contributed some varieties to the mix so we had 7 in all.

I put 1 Tbsp of cocoa powder in each of 7 mini-mason jars and had my husband randomize them.  To taste we added 1/4 cup warmed almond milk and 3 drops of stevia to each.  We tasted them blind, and after we had ranked them my husband revealed which was which.

Tasting notes are given in order of Katya, Kristi, Trena.

The links are NOT affiliate links and we received nothing for free or discounted--these are just regular purchases.  I don't know the prices of all the in-store purchases, unfortunately.

Cocoa Powder

1.  Morning Pep (random Amazon purchase, was $0.56/oz when purchased but it is out of stock or discontinued)
-Rich, even, no bitterness
-Non-bitter, rich but not complex
-Rich, deep taste, not bitter.  Not a lot of notes/complexity.  Medium dark.

2.  Ghirardelli ($0.62/oz)
-Milk chocolate flavor versus dark chocolate flavor, bitter bite
-A bit bitter, not rich, creamier and milkier
-Slightly chalky, not a strong flavor--milk chocolate flavor.  Some bitterness.  Light.

Jars Ready for Tasting
3.  Hershey Special Dark (we did not have any regular Hershey's)
-Pastey, no rich chocolate flavor
-Not chocolate at all, chalky/pastey/very dark/no chocolate
-Very dark, barnyard flavors, dirt, no

4.  Trader Joe's
-"Milky" taste, not much flavor.
-Not flavorful but no problems.  Creamy and milky.
-Milky.  Not flavorful.  Inoffensive.  Very light.

5.  Penzey's High Fat Cocoa Powder ($0.90/oz in largest size)
-Nice smooth chocolate flavor, slightly milky to cut any major bitterness.  Would be good for hot cocoa.
-Rich & creamy with chocolate flavor (which means a bit bitter)
-Slightly bitter but works well, tiny bit of dirt but the dirt flavor grows.  Strongly chocolate.  Medium color.  Could use less sweetener with this one.

Different Colors of Chocolate
6. Caillebaut ($0.93/oz in 1 kg size)
-Deep chocolate flavor, nice aftertone (favorite so far)
-Mixes very well--smooth texture.  Strongly chocolatey with good aftertaste.  Medium-dark color.
-Rich & creamy with complex chocolate flavor (a bit of bitter)

7.  Aldi's
-Milky, no depth, not bad but not memorable
-Not strongly flavored, decent chocolate aftertaste.  Medium color.
-Not rich, creamy and milky

Katya's final ranking:  Caillebaut, Penzey's, Ghirardelli, Morning Pep, Aldi's, Trader Joe's, Hershey's Special Dark

Kristi's final ranking:  Penzey's and Caillebaut best; Morning Pep, Aldi's, Ghiradelli next; lowest rank Trader Joe's and Hershey's Special Dark

Trena's final ranking (I am not a good taster and got serious tasting fatigue):  Aldi's, Caillebaut, Morning Pep, Penzey's, Ghiardelli, Trader Joe's, Hershey's Special Dark

I did an unblinded taste test on my own later after my sister gave me some Costco cocoa powder to try.  I didn't look at my previous notes before doing so, but it's interesting how consistent they are.  Maybe I'm not as bad a taster as I thought.  This time I ranked Caillebaut highest, followed by Morning Pep.  Costco was last, alas--I'd been hoping there was a good quality less expensive cocoa powder!
1.  Caillebaut.  Very intense chocolate, very smooth velvety mouthfeel.  Pleasingly bitter edge.
2.  Morning Pep.  Nice but not intense chocolatey taste, not a lot of bitter, less smooth than Caillebaut.
3.  Penzey's.  Grassy, vegetal taste, slight bitterness, very slight chalkiness.
4.  Costco.  Strong bitter front note, but kind of hollow finish.  Not as chocolatey as others, slight edge of chalkiness.

Bottom Line:  Expensive cocoa powder is worth it for the true chocolate lover, and Cook's Illustrated is right as usual in saying Caillebaut is the best.
The best grocery store brand is Ghirardelli, but it ranked well behind Caillebaut and Penzey's.


Baking Chocolate

We also tasted baking chocolate.  It should be noted that Katya and Kristi found this process disgusting.  I like super dark chocolate so I thought it was fairly enjoyable.

Randomized Tasters
1.  Baker's
-No flavor, distant chocolate taste
-Very little flavor, waxy, not much bitterness, not very interesting, no melting
-No flavor, no bitter, no interesting

2.  Guittard
-Melts/dissolves--super aftertaste
-Creamier, not gritty, bitter
-Melts better.  Bitter, good chocolate flavor.  Would eat this straight.

3. Trader Joe's Huila Single Origin
-Chalky, major aftertaste, lingers not in a good way
-Chalky and bitter start, ends creamier
-Very strong.  Good melting.  Aftertaste much less bitter.  Strongly chocolatey.  Best for baking.

4. Ghirardelli
-Not strong, some chocolate undertone
-Best for eating
-More acid on the palate, almost sour.  Not strongly chocolatey.

Katya and Kristi refused to rank the baking chocolate, finding them all repulsive.
My ranking:  Guittard, Trader Joe's, Ghirardelli, Baker's

Since this tasting, I've been chopping up some Guittard to add to recipes with chocolate chips or chopped dark chocolate (like chocolate chip cookies or Hello Dollies).  It ensures an intense chocolate bitterness, but since it's mixed in with sweetened chocolate it's not offputting.

What are your favorites?