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Why are almonds and chocolate, valued for their taste and texture, treasured even more when combined? Science suggests their common flavor components suffuse to delight taste buds even while their unique molecular architecture create mutually complementing sensual textures.
In the realm of culinary pleasures, chocolate reigns supreme while almonds are universally the most popular tree nut. When one bites into chocolate, the instantaneous reactions tend to be largely about its flavor—sweet, bitter-sweet, dark, or milk. When combined with almonds, its ketones, pyrazines, terpenes, acetyl pyrroles, and benzaldehyde and a hundred other minor aromatic components intermingle with the furans, trimethylpyrazine, terpenes, pyrroles, and benzaldehyde of almonds to create a tapestry of flavors that rates even higher on the delightfulness scale. The taste of chocolate, intensely redolent of childhood memories, is obviously affected not only by the kind of chocolate (milk or dark) and how it was made, but also by what else is consumed alongside. The bitter-sweet characteristic chocolate notes seem to pop with every bite that includes the sensual almond.
Chocolate owes its prized aroma and flavor to a legion of volatile and non-volatile compounds inherent in cocoa and those that are formed during the course of its manufacture. The almond starts out delectably sweet right from the tree and develops a complex signature taste characteristic of how it is prepared—raw, roasted, toasted, blanched or fried.
A prevailing school of thought believes that combining flavorful foods sharing common major volatile flavor compounds reinforces and heightens the characteristic notes of the components and stands the mixture in good stead (See FoodPairing.com). Chocolate and almonds work well together supposedly because they have several flavor compounds in common. Opponents claim the distinct contrast in their textures is the real driver of hedonic rating when chocolate is combined with almonds; the smooth texture of chocolate is broken up by the crispy crunchiness of almonds, and chocolate viscosity affects the speeds at which the different flavor molecules reach the flavor receptors.
Chemistry governs how the astringent cacao bean becomes flavorful cocoa which then evolves into a hedonistic chocolate and how the tender crunchy mild-flavored green almond grows up to be a crunchy raw almond and upon heat treatment transforms into sensually crisp almonds. But it is physics and their mechanical attributes that make them so perfect with each other.
Great chocolate deserves great crunch. Acoustic and mechanical properties greatly influence consumer appeal, buying decisions, and eventual consumption; people love the ‘bursts’ of sound associated with the friable crispness and intermittent crunchiness of almonds—be they whole, in pieces, or ground up—against the backdrop of chocolate.
Understanding the nuances of flavor and texture interplay is especially valuable when designing almond and chocolate products for the global front. Ethnic differences and cultural preferences have influenced cuisine even more than chemistry; the western cuisine tendency of using “ingredient pairs that share many flavor compounds” suits the delectable duo, while East Asian style “to avoid compound sharing ingredients but to use various textures to titillate the senses” will be influential in several regions of the world.
Making favorite foods healthier requires strategic selection of ingredients and recipe formulation to maximize flavor release and product texture. Almond’s satiety-inducing protein and potent nutritious profile can do even more for the reputation of chocolate.
This article was written by Kantha Shelke, PhD. and originally appeared in our sister publication Prepared Foods.