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of wine and chocolate

What a treat to meet and have dinner with Fran Bigelow, founder of the famous Fran’s Chocolates here in Seattle last night. She is of course the creator of President Obama’s favorite chocolates, and her gray salt caramels are renowned. She is truly gracious, talented, and smart.

I enjoyed talking with her about the similarities of wine and chocolate, and learned a few things. I knew that dark chocolate and wine contain many of the same polyphenols, the antioxidants that explain why they are both good for us. There is a lot of scientific literature supporting the healthful properties of both chocolate and red wine. But what I didn’t know was that chocolate, like wine, is the product of fermentation. The polyphenols aren’t present in significant quantities until the beans undergo fermentation, before roasting and processing. They do however vary in taste by place of origin, just as wines are known to express what is called terroir.

Appreciation of fine chocolate has similarities to wine also, in that all of the senses are used. It has aromas, textures (wine aficionados call it “mouth feel”), and of course complex tastes. But winemakers are done when the wine goes into the bottle, whereas the chocolatier then goes on to create visually appealing creations. Both are of course best thought of as foods, and health foods at that, but wine frames the meal as chocolate completes it.

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