I asked four questions of four diverse and interesting beer experts about chocolate in beer – not chocolate notes, or roasted malt notes that remind one of chocolate, but the real thing, which frankly I find disturbing. These four were very generous, sharing their time and their thoughts freely. My panel of interrogatees included:
Jay Ducote – southern Louisiana chef, radio host and TV personality; blogs about Cajun and Creole cuisine, international film festivals he attends, and other things at biteandbooze.com
Randy Clemens – formerly of Stone Brewing, now an editor at Los Angeles Magazine; author of The Sriracha Cookbook, The Veggie Lover’s Sriracha Cookbook, and The Craft of Stone Brewing Co.; blogs in a forthright manner at randyclemens.com.
Dave Schoon – writes passionately about beer and food pairings at www.beerchow.com
But before I get to that, let’s look around the chocolate landscape for just a moment. I am by no means an un-fan of chocolate, it’s my favorite anesthesia. Eat enough chocolate – and these days it doesn’t take that much – and whatever heart-soreness or soul-weariness I felt melts away into flatulent denial. I’ve had whole years I ate into submission that way. Dark chocolate works best, of course, but you can’t eat that much of it, and sometimes eating a lot of chocolate is part of the point. Milk chocolate just slides down so easily…
We’re doing some damned strange things with chocolate these days. I am highly skeptical of chocolate-dipped bacon, but I’m assured by someone I believe to be rational that it’s pretty good. It’s got the salty-sweet element working for it. While state fairs (Iowa, New York, North Carolina, Minnesota, Wisconsin…) now serve chocolate-dipped bacon on the causeways, I notice that even devoted fans like the folks at ThinkGeek.com have retreated to a more sleek maple bacon chocolate sauce offering instead of a pound of their formerly favorite salty-sweet snack.
Kale chips sound dreadfully healthy, and probably are; add a little salt and you have a crispy-crunchy snack. Weirded out by kale? If you freeze-dry any vegetable it retains very little flavor (they fare better dehydrated). Kale is kinda cool-looking when it’s all stiff like that, all frilly like green coral. (I was raised in the grip of Southerners for whom all greens were cooked into submission; greens with distinctive shapes still intrigue me.) Yeah, kale is vegan and can be organic and all, but did it really need to be improved by dipping it in chocolate (which removes the vegan beatitude anyway)?
Then there are foods that chocolate doesn’t improve – foods that are perfect as they are. Pecan pie, for one. Perfectly toasted pie crust, that glorious brown sugar and butter layer layered with toasted nuts – my Scottish heart is awash in gratitude for the creation of a delight like that. It’s perfect, it’s itself, it needs nothing at all except to be perfectly baked – a layer of chocolate on the crust is, in my opinion, the waste of some good chocolate, and annoying to the pie, which knows its own character perfectly well.
And, of course, some foods that feature chocolate as a key ingredient (and in saying “food” I am temporarily disregarding sweets) are undeniably wonderful, though I wonder how anybody ever thought of them. Mexican mole sauce, for one. In my mind, it’s like knitting – I have no idea how it ever came to be, but I’m very glad it did.
Alcoholic drinks are kind of a no-man’s-land of chocolate. There are some very fine drinks where chocolate clearly belongs – Irish cream comes leaping to mind (though I recall one fellow who tried to convince me there was no chocolate in Irish cream. I’ve made it, I’m sure he’s wrong). But chocolate martinis -? More sassy than sensible. Gin and chocolate are not complementary flavors – oh, you must be drinking vodka martinis. Good vodka has more mouthfeel than flavor – a vodka martini should taste like smooth vermouth. My premise stands. Chocolate and vermouth can co-exist, but it doesn’t bring out the best in either of them. On the other hand, who needs dessert when you can have a Chocolate Russian (a Black Russian made with chocolate vodka)?
The world of beauty products is doing its usual double-bait-and-switch, this time with chocolate. Cocoa can be quite good for your skin – if taken internally. You’ll get more benefit from eating an ounce of dark chocolate a day (it’s the cocoa, remember that) than smearing it on your skin. As food, you benefit from the polyphenols that can slow the early signs of aging (sagging, wrinkling), and the nutritional values of serotonin, endorphins, magnesium, and Vitamin B1, all of which contribute to relaxation. However, they really want to sell you external products like body butters and facial masks with that rich, wonderful chocolate smell. The only way a chocolate scrub or wrap is going to benefit your skin is if it contains a lot of cocoa butter. The lovely oily cocoa butter is a good treatment for dry skin.
Now there is a lot of nutritional wishful thinking out there about chocolate. We Americans are terrible at moderation, which is key to a lot of the food advice we get. One such rumor is that chocolate inhibits calcium absorption. Well, the Mayo Clinic itself says the jury’s out, and if you can’t count on the Mayo for state-of-the-art allopathic medicine, who can you trust? “Chocolate contains oxalate — a naturally occurring compound in cocoa beans — which can inhibit the absorption of calcium. The jury is still out, however, on whether chocolate causes problems for healthy people who eat calcium-rich diets.” (Thank you Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D., who posted that response)
Nutritionally, a chocolate bar is not such a great source of iron, but pure cocoa powder is. Where the average chocolate bar has 2.4 mg iron per 100 mg serving, actual cocoa powder – the pure powder without the fat, milk, or sugar – has about 36 mg per 100 mg serving. That’s 200% of your average daily values. Now, 100 mg is about .0035 ounce, so you’d eat 285.7 of those servings in a single ounce of cocoa powder- and that’s without the fat, milk, and sugar that have you unwrapping that bar to begin with. Of course, I am one of those with the box of Rademaker cocoa in the cupboard; I make my own hot chocolate (quality control) and should be getting all kinds of benefit that way – but even I don’t make it all that often.
I had four experts, willing to share time and thought with me. What were the four questions for my four experts? They went like this:
I have at least one more blog post in me about marketing beer to women (and why pint glasses suck); I’ll want to get that out as long as I’m thinking about “Chicks and Beer” (or is it “Beer and Chicks”?). However, I’ve been sitting on these great interviews since fall, hoping to find a mag that would let me write them up as one continuous article. I’ve had no luck, and they’re burning a hole in my head. So watch this space. I’ll start posting these conversations here this week.