The sweetest thing
By Lisa Crawford
27-year-old Marianne Grison has been tasting chocolate for Nestlé for a year and a half. Originating from Tours in the central region of France, she has a job that would make anyone with a sweet tooth envious.
The Nestlé factory in York is the biggest Nestlé factory in the world, producing on average 7.28 million bars/bags of chocolate every 24 hours.
Producing this amount of confectionery needs a team of tasters to ensure that taste and quality is not compromised. This tasting is done by a group of sensory experts, of which Marianne is one. It is Marianne's job to train tasters, understand products and judge the impact of changes in recipes.
Marianne tests some smells
Marianne has always been interested in food, taste and smell and had a fascination with oenology when she was young. Oenology is the science and study of wine making; she was intrigued by the way in which oenologists expressed themselves and by how they were able to evaluate wine.
It takes years of studying and training to be a good sensory expert. Marianne began her career as a research and development technician for the French company Yoplait. She then went on to study neuroscience, the psychology of food behaviours, sociology and statistics.
This job isn't just about eating sweets all day long (although, it is part of it), as Marianne explains, "You have to learn how to break down the overall perception in to up to 30-50 different attributes, according to the complexity of the product (a basic solid chocolate block is usually describe in about 30 attributes)."
"It’s really impressive. It’s a bit like what a perfumer does. I just love that, particularly the part where you have to ask yourself many questions about the product."
Sensory evaluation is a very complex job, which has a lot of processes to it. It's not as easy as, "this tastes nice" or "this tastes bad."
Marianne explains why this process is important, "Our aim is to give pleasure to our consumer. The company wants the product to be perfect. It’s about hygiene, a practical product, a healthy product, but at the end what really matters is for the consumer to have pleasure when he experiences the product. So we need to make it right in term of taste. Looking at the recipe is not enough, you need to taste the product to understand how it’s going to deliver."
In its simplest form, the sensory evaluation process has four steps; appearance, sound (yes, you can listen to chocolate), smell and taste.
Chocolate tasting for beginners...
If you fancy yourself as a sensory expert, here are the four main steps to testing a piece of chocolate.
"The first thing that is going to provide you with a lot of information is the appearance of the product. Try and see how glossy it is, how light the colour is," says Marianne.
"Depending on the objective of the tasting, sometimes it may be useful not to look at the appearance because you can see how milky the product is going to be. Your brain is going to let you envisage what it is going to taste like. Sometimes you need to have an objective view of it and focus on the flavour."
Sound - listen to your chocolate
You can tell a lot about the texture by snapping it in half; whether it is going to be hard, soft, sticky, moist or dry.
Once you have broken your chocolate in half, this is the perfect opportunity to give it a sniff.
"Sensory evaluation is about describing and assessing the intensity of each perception," explains Marianne.
You should be able to tell the intensity of the cocoa in the chocolate and you may be able to recognise caramel, vanilla, fruits or buttery smells as well, depending on the chocolate you are testing.
The part you've been looking forward to. Try to resist eating the chocolate straightaway. Keep the chocolate in your mouth so that it begins to melt and try to evaluate what you are tasting.
If you are tasting a milky chocolate, chances are you will taste some caramel. But see if you can taste some other flavours.
"We speak about loads of different flavour of caramel, particularly in the UK where you have so many different kind of caramel, toffees, fudges..." explains Marianne.
To finish, question yourself about aftertaste. Aftertaste is not necessarily negative or positive, but just what remains after 10, 15, 20 seconds?"
So next time you pop a piece of chocolate in your mouth, just think of all the sounds, smells, texture and tastes that one piece could give you.
last updated: 16/07/2008 at 16:01