Creating a lexicon for communicating chocolate flavor
Barry Callebaut introduces collection of terms, definitions as basis for potential set of standards.
February 14, 2018
At ISM in Cologne on Jan. 28, Barry Callebaut hosted a pre-publication launch event for Hidden Persuaders in Cocoa and Chocolate: A Flavor Lexicon for Cocoa and Chocolate Sensory Professionals. As someone who has been interested in the topic professionally for nearly two decades, I was happy to accept the invitation to the launch.
From the perspective I have gained over the past 20 years working to educate people about chocolate, I see one of the major impediments to growing appreciation for chocolate, especially “specialty” (which I increasingly prefer over the term “craft”) chocolate, is the lack of an agreed-upon vocabulary for clearly communicating about flavor. Hidden Persuaders was created to address this lack.
Influenced by the title of a 1957 book about subliminal advertising, the authorial team, led by company’s sensory scientist Renata Januszewska, the Hidden Persuaders lexicon is a structured collection of terms with underlying definitions.
These definitions include the names of chemicals associated with specific flavors, providing a connection to an aspect of the underlying chemistry.
Working in conjunction with the flavor/fragrance firm Givaudan, the definitions also include lists of emotions evoked by specific flavors — the hidden persuaders that operate at a subconscious level. It is the explicit connection between flavor/chemistry/emotion that makes Hidden Persuaders uniquely interesting and potentially transformative.
While I am excited about the potential represented in Hidden Persuaders, my excitement is tempered (chocolate pun — couldn’t resist) by an awareness that a good deal of work needs to be done to take the lexicon in its current state and turn it into tools that can be used by non-sensory professionals.
Broadly speaking, what is needed to make Hidden Persuaders widely usable and useful are translators, interpreters and instructors working to create tools that implement the definitions in the dictionary in ways that meet the very different needs of a range of user communities.
There are many individuals and groups working to create vocabularies and visualizations (I have been working with the Cocoa of Excellence program on one approach). But it is one thing to propose a standard and something else entirely to get something adopted as a standard. I am a proponent of diversity in approaches, but in this case, I also advocate convergence upon a shared vocabulary, built on top of a foundation of shared and agreed-upon attributes.
Realistically, Barry Callebaut is one of the very few companies in chocolate that has the resources to make this balance of diversity and convergence a commercial reality, and this is one stated intent of the work.
Critically, while the book itself is copyrighted, Barry Callebaut representatives indicated to me that they intend to make the underlying concepts available to everyone: the company has deliberately not encumbered the underlying IP of Hidden Persuaders by trademarks or patents or copyright.
Any tool that improves communication will benefit everyone — not just Big Chocolate but also the growing community of small specialty chocolate makers.