Cacao and the Art of Pairing

Posted by Eric Berg on

 Offering tips and suggestions for pairing different types of chocolate with various foods, drinks, and flavors, and exploring the creative possibilities of chocolate pairings.

Cacao has long been a beloved ingredient in the culinary world, prized for its rich and complex flavor profile. While many people may associate chocolate with desserts and sweet treats, there is a wide range of ways that chocolate and cacao can be paired with other foods and beverages to create unique and delicious combinations.
In this blog, we'll explore the art of pairing cacao with other ingredients, from savory dishes to cocktails and desserts. We'll discuss the key flavor notes to look for in different types of chocolate, as well as general principles for successful pairings. So grab a piece of your favorite chocolate and let's dive in!

Understanding Flavor Notes in Chocolate
Before we dive into pairing strategies, it's important to have a basic understanding of the different flavor notes that can be found in chocolate. Like wine, chocolate has a complex flavor profile that can be broken down into different components, including sweetness, bitterness, acidity, and umami.
Sweetness: This is the most obvious flavor note in chocolate, and it comes from the sugar added to the chocolate. The level of sweetness can vary widely depending on the type of chocolate and the amount of sugar added.
Bitterness: Bitterness is another key flavor note in chocolate, and it comes from the cacao itself. The amount of bitterness can vary depending on the type of cacao and the processing methods used.
Acidity: Acidity is a subtle but important flavor note in chocolate, and it can give the chocolate a bright, fruity, or tangy flavor. It is more commonly found in dark chocolate than in milk chocolate.
Umami: Umami is a savory, meaty flavor note that is less commonly found in chocolate, but can be present in some darker, earthier chocolates.

Different Types of Chocolate
When it comes to pairing chocolate with other foods and flavors, the type of chocolate is an important consideration. There are several different types of chocolate, each with their own unique flavor profile and intensity.
Dark Chocolate: Dark chocolate is made with a higher percentage of cacao solids and less added sugar than milk chocolate. It typically has a more complex flavor profile, with a higher level of bitterness and a lower level of sweetness.
Milk Chocolate: Milk chocolate is made with a lower percentage of cacao solids and more added sugar than dark chocolate. It has a sweeter, creamier flavor profile, with less bitterness and acidity.
White Chocolate: White chocolate is made with cocoa butter, sugar, and milk solids, but no cacao solids. It has a very sweet and creamy flavor profile, with little to no bitterness or acidity.
Ruby Chocolate: Ruby chocolate is a newer type of chocolate that is made from a special type of cacao bean. It has a unique, fruity flavor profile with a slightly tart finish.

Pairing Principles
When it comes to pairing chocolate with other foods and flavors, there are a few general principles to keep in mind:
1. Balance Sweetness and Bitterness: When pairing chocolate with other ingredients, it's important to find a balance between sweetness and bitterness. If the chocolate is too sweet, it can overpower other flavors, while too much bitterness can be off-putting. Look for ingredients that can help balance the sweetness and bitterness of the chocolate.

2. Think about Textures: The texture of the chocolate and the other ingredients can also play a role in pairing. Consider pairing smooth, creamy chocolate with crunchy nuts or cookies, or pairing a crisp chocolate with a silky sauce.

3. Consider Flavor Combinations: Think about flavor combinations that complement or contrast with the flavor notes in the chocolate. For example, dark chocolate pairs well with spicy flavors, while milk chocolate goes well with fruity flavors.

4. Experiment: Don't be afraid to experiment with different pairings and flavor combinations. You never know what delicious
 things can come out of using your imagination!

Pairing Cacao with Coffee, Tea, and Wine
Another popular option for pairing chocolate is coffee, tea, and wine. Each of these beverages has a unique flavor profile that can complement and enhance the flavor of chocolate.
Coffee and chocolate are a classic pairing. The rich, bitter notes of coffee can balance the sweetness of chocolate, while the chocolate can add depth and richness to the coffee. When pairing coffee with chocolate, it's important to choose a coffee with a strong, bold flavor. Espresso is an excellent option for pairing with dark chocolate, while a lighter roast or a flavored coffee can pair well with milk or white chocolate.
Tea can also be a great option for pairing with chocolate. The delicate and subtle flavors of tea can bring out the nuances in different types of chocolate. A light and floral tea, such as jasmine or chamomile, can pair well with white or milk chocolate, while a bold and smoky tea, like lapsang souchong, can complement the robust flavors of dark chocolate.
Finally, wine can be an excellent option for pairing with chocolate. The tannins and acidity in wine can cut through the richness of chocolate, while the chocolate can bring out the fruit and spice notes in the wine. When pairing wine with chocolate, it's important to choose a wine that has a complementary flavor profile. A rich and full-bodied red wine, like Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah, can pair well with dark chocolate, while a sweet and fruity dessert wine, like a port or a sherry, can pair well with milk or white chocolate.


Pairing chocolate with other flavors is a fun and creative way to explore the different tastes and textures of chocolate. By experimenting with different flavors, you can discover new and exciting ways to enjoy chocolate, and create unique and memorable taste experiences.
Whether you're pairing chocolate with fruits, nuts, spices, or beverages, the key is to find the right balance of flavors, and to let the chocolate shine. With a little bit of creativity and experimentation, you can discover your own perfect pairings, and enjoy the delicious and decadent flavors of chocolate in a whole new way.

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