A smooth slice through a soft mousse or the wiggle of a rich panna cotta or a quenelle of frozen parfait, all of them bless our taste with a dominant infusion of chocolate. Buying a bar of chocolate for ten bucks, saving a coin after another or melting those chocolate bricks and licking them off the spoon are childhood memories as sweet as the chocolate. But to think of a fusion of chocolate and savoury flavours doesn’t seem very familiar.
When we track back to history, chocolate wasn’t used in the most saccharine way, it was used to prepare a bitter drink. First melting its way into the Mesoamerican civilizations where cocoa beans were grounded into a paste fused with water, chilli peppers, vanilla and other local spices. This blend brewed into a frothy savoury drink, is considered a medicinal and mystical concoction only meant for celebratory occasions and funeral offerings.
It was finally when chocolate met the Spanish ground that it was sweetened with sugar and cinnamon, still very much a luxury icon. Chocolate touched the homes of the masses when the first cocoa press was invented in 1828. J.S. Fry & Sons, a British chocolate company, was the first to prepare edible chocolate bars from cocoa powder, cocoa butter and sugar.
And ever since then, there is no place on this planet where chocolate hasn’t reached. After every meal, it is the first thing that our taste palette looks for. While chocolate has delighted every lip with its sweetness, it might have not with its rich savoury flavour.
Meats, glazed with a dominatingly spicy jus reduced in charred bones, wine and aromatic spices wrap up a warm dinner. Such a blend of chocolate and savoury seems strange but it isn’t the most impossible pairing. Marinades reigned with savoury hints of garlic, cayenne pepper and even paprika are united with the darkness of chocolate, sputtering oil on the pan and sizzling the meat skin. Chocolate, otherwise an icon of decadence and elegance adds a fiery smack to meats.
The bitterness of chocolate contributes flavorfully to barbequing. Rubbed with rich espresso on pork ribs or sharpening the sweet barbeque sauce, the barbeque smokers roar with furious steams of chocolate.
In other sauces like ‘mole’ which is a Mexican sauce or ‘hummus’ which is an Arabic dip, tinges of chocolates are added.
It is not just chocolate that justifies zesty flavours but it happens the other way too. Both chocolate and savoury complement each other just right. Candied oranges and chillies are paired well with chocolate panna cottas. Cloves, ginger and pepper are kneaded together to give the tea time butter cookies a divine indulgence. Double chocolate chip cookies devouring for a spicy garnish, glance at the jar of salt on the marble kitchen counters. Both brownies and blondies add another B to their taste with crispy bacon. We almost cannot enjoy the theatrical experience without the satisfying crunch of popcorn every time our favourite actor comes on screen. These popcorns that come in salty, cheesy or caramelised choices are enveloped in the sweetness of chocolate giving an elevated munch to the whole dish.
All these combinations of chocolate and savoury, although eerie to our ears, complement each other as perfectly as eggs and bacon. Be it the culture of eating fries with chocolate ice cream or adding cinnamon woodiness to chocolaty elegance, chocolate no more is just a dessert experience. It has become one of those ingredients that give lip-smacking pampering to your taste buds in every meal course.