What makes gourmet chocolate better than other types of chocolate?
Simple. Quality. It's chocolate that boasts quality ingredients, quality production, and quality craftsmanship.
A "gourmet" is a person with discriminating taste in food and wine. This is not to be confused with "gourmand", a person who likes to consume lots of food and wine. The gourmand values quantity while the gourmet extols quality.
Another term for gourmet chocolate is "couverture". This is usually considered the highest quality chocolate, and it has a high percentage of cocoa butter (at least 30%) and cocoa (sometimes 70% or more). Chocolate couverture is the preferred chocolate for tempering and coating candies. It comes in dark, milk, and white varieties, and can be purchased online. Popular brands of couverture include Valrhona, Felchlin, Lindt & Sprüngli, Scharffen Berger, Cacao Barry, Callebaut, and Guittard.
How can I tell if my chocolate is gourmet or not?
Here's what you should look for:
1. Quality chocolate is shiny.
Look at the chocolate; is it shiny or dull?
Chocolate that is well-made and properly tempered has a nice sheen.
2. Quality chocolate feels smooth.
Feel the chocolate, how does it feel?
Chocolate that has “bloomed", or lost its temper, will feel grainy when you rub it.
Tempered chocolate will feel smooth and satiny.
(If you don't know what that means, see How Chocolate Is Made)
3. Quality chocolate smells succulent.
Smell the chocolate.
Fresh chocolate will have a gorgeous chocolate odor, while older chocolate will not smell as potent.
And there is a detectable difference in smell among different types of dark chocolate.
Bittersweet and semi-sweet chocolate (around 60% cacao) smell much more mild than chocolates in the 70-80% range, which have a more acidic fragrance.
4. Quality chocolate goes down easy.
Finally, taste the chocolate.
A smooth texture, (what is called "mouthfeel"), indicates a well-made chocolate. After a chocolate candy has been swallowed, the flavor should quickly leave the mouth. If the chocolate was cheaper and did not have enough cocoa butter, or the cocoa butter was replaced with other fats, the texture might be grainy. And the feel of the fats might coat the mouth long after the chocolate has melted.
A lingering taste indicates a lesser quality in a chocolate's filling as well. If the taste of the filling remains long after the confection is gone, artificial flavoring or essential oils were used. But, if the filling flavor disappears quickly, you can be confident that natural flavorings were utilized instead.
Once you're able to distinguish gourmet from cheaper varieties, you'll have a deeper appreciation for the depth of flavor and obvious quality that gourmet chocolate possesses.
Click on the links below for more information on these different types of chocolate:
Kosher, Sugar Free, and Gluten Free