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21 March, 2022 Feature Articles

Perceptions, Interactions and Dynamics of Contrasting Chocolates with Nuts

Perceptions, Interactions and Dynamics of Contrasting Chocolates with Nuts

Chocolates paired with nuts are highly marketed products, however, there is a lack of scientific research and limited understanding of consumer sentiment towards the combination of these food products. Therefore, recent research by Paz, Januszewska, Schouteten and Van Impe delved deeper into the pairing of chocolates with nuts. The study was published in the scientific journal Food Research International.

By: Linda Isabel Paza (a), Renata Januszewskab (b), Joachim J.Schoutetenc (c), JanVan Impe (d)

a Project Manager, MeaTech, Belgium
b Global R&D Sensory Manager, Barry Callebaut, Belgium
c Postdoctoral researcher, Department of Agricultural Economics, Ghent University, Belgium
d Full professor, Chemical & Biochemical Process Technology & Control, KULeuven, Belgium

In that study, a new methodological approach was assessed for food pairing, where, as a first step, a large number of chocolates and nut pair combinations were tasted by trained panelists using Temporal Dominance of Sensations (TDS). The number of panelists that participated per chocolate were: 26 for dark, milk and Gold (caramelized white chocolate), 28 for white fruity, and 25 for white vanilla. Based on the results of the first step, the pairs were narrowed to examine liking from a consumer perspective. The main objective of the research was to analyze the interactions of pairing different types of chocolates with nuts, taking in account the perspective of both trained professionals and consumers, in order to determine the best pairs depending on their dominant organoleptic characteristics. To accomplish this, the research was divided into three stages with different objectives.

Stage 1. Sensory Perception of Chocolate and Nut Pairings by Trained Panelists

For Stage 1, thirty pairs were created using five different types of chocolate (dark origin, milk, Gold, white-fruity, and whitevanilla), which were combined with three different types of nuts (hazelnut, almond, and pistachio) and presented in two different applications (chopped nuts and caramelized nuts).

The results of Stage 1 are shown in the PCA analysis of Figure 1, where the dominant flavors of the different chocolate nut pairings are found in the bandplots (81% is the combined variation accounted for the two dimensions of the PCA). The data demonstrates that depending on the type of chocolate, the interactions between flavors vary, and this impacts how the nuts are perceived. For instance, Gold chocolate was highly correlated with caramel and salty flavors; milk chocolate was correlated with milky/creamy characteristics; and white chocolate with vanilla characters, and white fruity with sweet and fruity characteristics. Dark chocolate was highly correlated with cocoa and bitter/roasted notes. These dominant flavors in chocolate characteristics are important as they influence in the liking between the different pairs from consumers’ perspectives.

Stage 2. Identify the Factors that Drive Consumer Liking, Such as Pair Balance and Dominant Attributes

For Stage 2, 300 consumers participated in the study in East Flanders, Belgium. The participants were divided in three groups of 100, in which they tasted one of three different types of nuts (whether chopped hazelnut, almond, and pistachio) paired with the five different chocolates (dark origin, milk, Gold, white-fruity, and white-vanilla). This was limited to chopped nuts based on the results of Stage 1, which showed that caramelized nuts provide a higher perception of sweet notes to the pair, thus influencing the flavor perception. In addition, chopped nuts are those most frequently found in commercially available chocolate nut combinations.

Figure 2 provides an overview of the liking of the chocolate nut pairs, and demonstrates a significant difference for liking of chocolates when paired with different nuts. For example, hazelnut was most liked when paired with milk chocolate, and this maybe be related to geographical and cultural preferences. In western culture, chocolate hazelnut spread is a very well-known product, thus these consumers are familiar with this flavor combination. Almond samples were liked when paired with milk, Gold, and white vanilla chocolates, however they dropped to the least liked category when paired with white-fruity or dark chocolates. Pistachio was most liked when paired with white-vanilla chocolate, followed by when paired with milk and Gold chocolate. However, like with almond, when pistachio was paired with dark or white-fruity chocolates it fell into the least liked category. The earthy and green flavors found in pistachio combine well with the sweet and milky flavors of white-vanilla chocolate. In the case of pistachio, it is not only flavors and texture that need to be considered in pairing, but also visual characteristics.

Figure 3 shows the pairings in term of balance, wherein the scores of those pairs closer to the x- axis have better balance. Positive numbers on the scale indicate that “chocolate dominates” whereas negative numbers indicate that the “nut dominates”. We observed among all the samples that dark chocolate led to the least balanced pairing with the different nuts as it is significantly different in each group. The flavor characteristics of dark chocolate, including roasted, bitter, fruity, sour and cocoa, all mask the perception of the nut, which influences the balance and the liking scores. On the contrary, milk chocolate, Gold chocolate, white fruity chocolate and vanilla chocolate had more balanced scores, as fewer consumers indicated that either the “chocolate dominated” or the “nut dominated” in the pairs. The balance score of almond pairs was better than both hazelnut and pistachio. This might be due to almonds having a lower flavor note and being a more neutral nut than the hazelnut and pistachio.

Stage 3. Use Consumer Perspectives to Create Pairing Guidelines Between Chocolate and Nuts

These case studies determined that the liking of the different pairs was influenced by the dominant flavors of each of the chocolates and the balance found in the match. From the predominant flavors, it was concluded that respondents preferred chocolates with sweet and dairy attributes such as: milky, creamy, buttery. Salty and vanilla flavors also made good pairs as they accentuate the nut flavor. On the contrary, chocolates with intense bitter, roasted, cocoa, and sour flavors did not lead to the best combinations with the nuts, as these are strong flavors that consumers are unfamiliar with when combined with nuts. Given that this study was carried out in Belgium, more research is recommended to validate the findings with other cultures that might have different flavor preferences and experiences with more American-type (e.g., pecan) or Asian-type (e.g., macadamia) of nutty flavors.

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