New research from Italian scientists suggests that consumers value coffee, liqueur wines and port as the most desirable pairings with chocolate, but that preferences depend on cocoa content.
The team’s findings could inform everything from retail merchandising to product pairing deals entered into by large beverage firms, or even (given the focus of firms such as PepsiCo on pairing Pepsi Cola with Lay's) complementary product marketing across a firm’s portfolio.
Writing in the journal Food Research International, Gianluca Donadini and colleagues from the Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore set out to provide “general recommendations for selecting a befitting beverage to accompany chocolates with difference cocoa contents”.
“Some beverages, including balsamic vinegar, coffee, liqueur and Port wine, were more popular and versatile partners for chocolate than others,” they wrote.
Donadini et al. enlisted 80 regular chocolate consumers to rate different pairings of 18 beverages and three chocolates on a hedonistic scale.
‘Hedonic liking’ expressed
These included three varieties of Lindt Excellence (30%, 70% and 99% cocoa varieties), with beverages selected by a focus group that identified those best suited for pairing with chocolate.
Bought in Varese, Italy, drinks included San Benedetto mineral water, Lipton Yellow Label Tea, Lavazza Crema e Gusto coffee, Danish Stout from Royal Unibrew and Chivas Regal Whisky.
After the drinks were paired with chocolate, consumers were then asked to indicate hedonic liking for a given pair, and to indicate whether beverage or chocolate flavor dominated the pair.
Subjects were told to let chocolate melt on their tongue for 5 seconds, then move it around their mouths, before sipping a beverage and also moving that around the mouth.
Going loco with cocoa...
The scientists found that consumers preferred pairs with chocolate containing 30% and 70% cocoa solids over pairs with 99% cocoa, with the latter largely disliked.
For instance, the Lindt chocolate with 30% cocoa chocolate was particularly appreciated with liqueur wine, balsamic vinegar (popular in some quarters as a dessert drink), black tea, port, sparkling wine, Lambrusco wine, coffee and grappa.
However, the same chocolate was disliked when paired with Marzemino wine, mineral water, flavored wine, rum, whisky and Belgian stout.
70% cocoa chocolate was most appreciated by the tasters with balsamic vinegar, followed by liqueur wine, Belgian stout and sparkling wine; Marzemino and Sauvignon wines, whisky, Danish stout, black tea and rum scored badly.
99% cocoa chocolate and balsamic vinegar was significantly more appreciated than other pairs, which Donadini et al. said scored fairly low.
These included 99% cocoa paired with green tea, vinegar, wheat beer, Danish stout, Marzemino, flavored wine, rum and whisky.
Belgian stout suits 70% cocoa
Overall, an inverse relationship for pair liking and cocoa content was found for mineral water, black tea, coffee, sparkling wine, Lambrusco and Sauvignon wines, liqueurs, Port and grappa.
“These beverages were significantly more appreciated…paired with the 30% cocoa chocolate sample than with the 70% and 99% chocolate samples,” Donadini et al. wrote.
“Finally, Belgian stout paired with the 70% chocolate sample was significantly preferred over pairings with the 30% and 99% cocoa chocolate samples.”
Further research was needed to explore the flavor interactions that occurred when chocolate and drinks were consumed according to a mixed tasting technique, the team wrote.
Title: ‘The Hedonic Response to Chocolate and Beverage Pairing: A Preliminary Study’
Authors: Gianluca Donadini, Maria Daria Fumi, Milena Lambri
Source: Food Research International (48: 2012), available online June 23 2012 doi:10.1016/j.foodres.2012.06.009