Whether you’re planning to have a few friends over for cocktails or getting ready for a night in with your partner, you can’t go wrong having some chocolate. But what should you eat or drink with it? Chocolate is an indulgence that pairs well with a variety of foods and drinks. To create the best chocolate pairings, it’s helpful to know both the art and the science behind how flavor works so that you can combine the right foods and drinks with the dark, milk or white chocolate you plan to eat.
How can you create a chocolate pairing that makes your taste buds sing? Keep reading to learn more.
How to Pair Flavors
Flavor consists of both taste and aroma. It’s created through a combination of compounds and aromas from natural ingredients like raspberry, vanilla or basil, while taste elements consist of sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami (which means “yummy” or deliciousness in Japanese).
Our sense of smell plays a critical role in how something tastes. If you hold your nose while eating chocolate, you might be able to tell you’re consuming chocolate, but you won’t get the full experience until you release your nose and inhale the aromas that float up to your olfactory senses and create a full picture of the flavor.
Here’s how each of the five taste elements work:
- Sweet: This taste element counteracts bitter and sour flavors and can be used to cut down the heat of a spicy meal.
- Salty: Salt can be used to reduce bitterness, and it also is used to enhance other flavors in a dish, especially sweetness.
- Bitter: This can help balance the richness or sweetness.
- Sour: The acidity in the sour element counters sweetness and heat.
- Umami: Umami is difficult to describe—it’s one of those things that you just know when you taste it. Think of the savory notes in soy sauce, oysters, many cheeses and mushrooms, and you’ll have an idea of the taste of umami. It’s best used to complement other flavors.
The best chocolate combinations are those with similar aromas. Match the flavor compounds in each of the foods you want to pair for the best combination. Learn to pair flavors using your intuition, studying the science behind it and relying on the experience of others. When experimenting with flavor combinations, try to incorporate at least two of the five taste elements to balance your chocolate pairing.
Which Drinks Pair Well with Chocolate?
Dark chocolate has a reputation for being one of the most difficult foods to pair drinks with, but any chocolate—including dark chocolate—can be successfully paired with a variety of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks when you know how to mix and match flavors that complement or contrast with your drink.
So what goes with chocolate? Let’s start with a classic combination—wine and chocolate. To choose the best wine and chocolate combination, it’s important to know how to identify the flavor profile of both the wine and the chocolate. Keep in mind that you’ll want to do the following:
- Find a wine that’s sweeter than the chocolate with which you’re pairing it. Otherwise, the wine will taste bitter.
- Pair like with like. Match a fruity wine with fruity chocolate, a nutty wine with nutty chocolate, and so forth.
Dark chocolates with at least 70 percent cacao have a rich, intense flavor profile with a combination of fruity, roasted, nutty, ashy, earthy or woody notes. These pair well with a more full-bodied, fruity wine. Experiment and choose the dark chocolate pairings you like best—there’s no hard and fast rule that says one is better than another.
Red wine contains tannins, which are what cause you to pucker up when you take a drink of it. A good dark chocolate and red wine pairing can be one of the most difficult to create because a red wine high in tannins combined with bitter dark chocolate can overwhelm your palate. Some wine and chocolate combinations to try include the following:
- Banyuls: This potent French wine has flavors of caramel, chestnut, dried apricot, plum, sour cherry and orange peel that all pair well with dark chocolate.
- Chianti: The rich, sweet cherry and cinnamon flavors of this wine pair well with chocolate.
- Chinato: Like Chianti, this wine’s flavor profile contains subtle notes of cherry and exotic spices.
- Malbec: This port-style red wine matches well with ginger chocolate.
- Merlot: The fruity and peppery notes in chocolate are enhanced by this wine.
- Petite Sirah: Another port-style red wine, it goes well with coffee chocolate.
- Port: The cinnamon in port’s flavor profile pairs well with dark chocolate.
- Zinfandel: This wine brings out chocolate’s spiciness.
Dark chocolate also pairs well with American Oak whiskeys, which often have pronounced notes of sweet vanilla and coconut.
If you’re eating milk chocolate, consider pairing it with Zinfandel, Merlot, a Greek fortified wine, Mezcal or rum. The tropical flavors of a lighter rum such as lime, ginger, pineapple and other tropical fruits, almonds and nutmeg enhance the taste of milk chocolate.
What goes well with white chocolate? White chocolate does not contain cacao solids and instead is made only of cocoa butter, sugar and milk. Its sweet, buttery flavor with notes of honey and cream pairs well with light, fruity wines, like a Sauternes. White chocolate also pairs well with whiskey, beer, gin or tequila. Whiskey provides a counterbalance to the sweetness of white chocolate, while white chocolate offsets a bitter beer.
If you’re looking for a good beer and chocolate pairing, choose a beer at least as sweet as the chocolate with which you’re pairing it. The higher the sugar content of the chocolate, the greater the need for a sufficiently aromatic beer to balance it.
Some non-alcoholic chocolate pairings include the following:
- Coffee: Consider the country of origin, bitterness and acidity. A sweeter coffee blends best with dark chocolate, while coffee high in acidity or bitterness pairs best with white or milk chocolate. Good dark chocolate and coffee pairings include Indonesian, Guatemalan, Brazilian, Ethiopian and dark-roast coffees. Milk chocolate pairs well with Colombian, Kenyan, Sumatran, Yemeni, Ethiopian and Kona coffees, while white chocolate brings out the flavors of Columbian, Costa Rican and Yemeni coffees.
- Tea: White tea’s soft flavor works well with the sharp, bitter flavor of dark chocolate. Green, Jasmine and black teas (like Earl Grey) also go well with dark chocolate. Black Lapsang Souchong tea, which has a unique smokey flavor, pairs nicely with both dark and milk chocolate. Other milk chocolate pairings include herbal tea, Oolong tea, chai and Darjeeling. White chocolate also pairs well with herbal, Oolong and matcha teas.
- Sparkling water: Some people insist that sparkling water is the only drink that really goes well with dark chocolate. This is because the bubbles in sparkling water add to the flavor of dark chocolate without disturbing its taste and can bring out the chocolate’s flavors without leaving the tinny aftertaste sometimes found with wine.
- Hot chocolate: Because of its milk base and soft flavor, this drink pairs well with dark chocolate or dark chocolate with caramel.
How to Pair Chocolate and Fruit
All foods contain flavor compounds, and learning to match foods with the same flavor compounds is the key to a successful flavor pairing. For example, the aroma of banana and pear is created by a compound called isoamyl acetate. Because these fruits contain the same flavor compound, they complement each other.
What fruit goes well with chocolate? It depends on the type of chocolate. Dark chocolate is on one end of the sweetness spectrum, while white chocolate is on the other. Milk chocolate falls somewhere in the middle.
Dark chocolate’s bitterness helps balance very sweet fruits such as bananas, figs, pears and mangos. It also pairs well with many fruits in the berry family, like raspberries and strawberries. And when mixed with the acidity of citrus fruit, it packs quite a punch.
Milk chocolate is a good match for a variety of fruits no matter how sweet or tart they are. It goes well with apples, cherries, kiwi and many others.
White chocolate’s sweet creaminess pairs well with fruits high in acidity, like oranges, lemons, limes or grapefruit, and tartness, like raspberries, blueberries or blackberries. And very sweet fruits such as melons, passion fruit, mangos and peaches also complement white chocolate nicely.
What tastes good with chocolate? If you’re going to snack on a particular kind of fruit, it’s helpful to know what type of chocolate goes best with it.
- Avocados: If you’re making a dark chocolate mousse or smoothie, add avocado—the smooth, creamy texture of the fruit combines with the chocolate to create a rich and decadent dessert.
- Bananas: Dip or drizzle this fruit with dark chocolate for the best flavor combo.
- Cherries: Milk chocolate brings out the flavors of cherries. Add them to a chocolate smoothie or vegan ice cream.
- Figs: This sweet fruit—fresh or dried—works best with dark chocolate.
- Kiwis: This fruit works well with any kind of chocolate.
- Pineapples: The acidity of pineapple is offset when dipped in white chocolate.
- Pears: The bitterness of dark chocolate balances out the sweetness of pears.
- Peaches: Combine peaches with white chocolate.
- Mangoes: Mangoes pair well with any type of chocolate.
- Raspberries: Dark and milk chocolate are both good choices.
- Strawberries: Choose dark or milk chocolate, and once dipped, drizzle them with white chocolate for extra sweetness.
What to Pair with Chocolate?
When wondering what to eat with chocolate, you can find many chocolate pairings that will hit the spot. From fruits and drinks (discussed in earlier sections) to nuts, cheeses and peanut butter, you can find a chocolate combination that suits your taste buds.
Nuts add to both the flavor profile and the texture of chocolate. For a dark chocolate combination, choose almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts and pecans. Walnuts taste great with milk chocolate, and the mildness of macadamias make an ideal match for white chocolate’s rich, buttery flavor. Other nuts that go well with white chocolate include cashews and hazelnuts.
As with any other chocolate combination, a chocolate and cheese pairing works best when combining similar flavors. A nutty cheese works best with a nutty chocolate. Lighter, creamier cheeses pair best with lighter, creamier chocolate. In general, dark chocolate works better with cheese than milk chocolate because the combination of the dairy in milk chocolate and the cheese can overwhelm the palate.
The strong flavors of aged cheddars, Gouda, Havarti and Parmesan balance the flavors in dark chocolate. Aged cheese is nutty, less acidic and has a crunchy texture that pairs well with chocolates with fillings and inclusions such as honey, almonds and maple. The pungency of blue cheese or goat cheese work better with a darker chocolate that can stand on its own against those intense flavors. Milk chocolate with gruyère brings out the sweetness of the chocolate and the nuttiness of the cheese. White chocolate goes well with brie and Wisconsin mixed-milk cheese.
Peanut butter and chocolate are a classic combination. The oils of the peanut butter combine with cocoa butter to reduce the melting point of chocolate so that it melts in your mouth more quickly, releasing all its chocolatey-peanut-butter goodness as soon as it hits your tongue.
For additional, out-of-the-box flavor combinations, pair dark chocolate with sea salt caramel, ginger, lavender, mint, cardamom, wasabi, chipotle, jalapeño, cinnamon, fennel or black sesame seeds. Milk chocolate pairs well with caramel, honey, coconut, lavender, curry powder and asiago. Other foods that pair well with white chocolate include sea salt caramel, agave nectar, maple syrup, lemongrass and wasabi.
Each month at Cococlectic, we feature a different American small-batch bean-to-bar chocolate maker who is passionate about producing their chocolate from scratch using only three main ingredients: cacao beans, sugar and cocoa butter.
The chocolates sold at Cococlectic are vegan, non-GMO, fair trade and ethically sourced. They do not contain any soy, gluten, dairy or nut, but they may be produced in a facility that handles these ingredients.
We sell only dark chocolate bars in our chocolate shop. Monthly subscription boxes, one-time gift boxes or corporate gift boxes containing your choice of dark bars only or mixed bars with inclusions of fruits and nuts are available with the purchase of the Office Box. Each chocolate box comes with 4 full-size dark chocolate bars that are made in the US.
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