SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Today is Valentine's Day and millions of Americans will buy, give or inhale a heart-shaped box of chocolates. But white chocolate, a relative newcomer to the chocolate family, seldom plays a starring role in the heart-shaped sampler pack. And so reporter Deena Prichep went to find out why.
DEENA PRICHEP, BYLINE: At Cocanu, a chocolate maker in Portland, Ore., Sebastian Cisneros roasts and grinds his beans by hand. And it smells amazing.
SEBASTIAN CISNEROS: The aroma's very intense, very fruity.
PRICHEP: Cisneros grew up in Ecuador, where this is basically the local perfume.
CISNEROS: You can just smell the very pungent and fragrant cacao drying on the side of the roads.
PRICHEP: That cacao - or, cocoa beans - basically breaks down into two parts. About half is cocoa butter and half is cocoa solids. The bars that Cocanu makes, like most chocolate, use both. But white chocolate swaps milk solids for the cocoa solids.
EAGRANIE YUH: Dark chocolate or even milk chocolate, they just inherently will have more flavor because you've got those cocoa solids. And those really carry the chocolatey-ness of the chocolate.
PRICHEP: Eagranie Yuh is a chocolate expert with a background in chemistry. Like a lot of people, she loves chocolate precisely for that chocolatey-ness - those addictive layers of flavor. But she says there are benefits to leaving the sticky cocoa solids behind.
YUH: Cocoa butter melts at 32 degrees Celsius, which - I'm Canadian, so I don't know what that is in Fahrenheit (laughter), but it's about body temperature.
PRICHEP: It's actually about 90 degrees, which means it literally melts in your mouth. And when it melts, the subtle flavor of cocoa butter itself comes out.
YUH: It has depth to it. It has sort of layers of flavor beyond sweet and milky.
BEN MIMS: It's still by and large a sweet - a sweeter product than a regular cocoa chocolate will be. But I don't think that's a bad thing.
PRICHEP: Ben Mims is an editor at Food & Wine magazine who has been on a mission to redeem white chocolate. He says it has a bad reputation because of its history of bad-quality ingredients. But Mims says white chocolate also suffered from just a bias against that sort of simple, childhood sweetness.
MIMS: With coffee and in chocolate, it seems like bitter is the marker of how elevated your palate is.
PRICHEP: But uncomplicated sweetness is something lots of people enjoy. And, it's pretty handy.
HELEN JO: You can use it as a base or a vehicle to bring out other flavors, to put in other crunchy textures and just be able to play around with it.
PRICHEP: Helen Jo is a pastry chef at Portland's Little Bird Bistro, where she's mixed white chocolate with everything from rosemary to Pop Rocks. Today she's stirring it into cereal flakes to make rocher for the Valentine's Day dessert tray.
JO: A rocher is a chocolate confection or bonbon. And I added black pepper for a little bit of spice and heat, and balanced it out with a little bit of salt.
PRICHEP: This is a grown-up dessert with a bit of crunch and the pepper biting through the sweet white chocolate. But, Jo says, it also takes you back.
JO: I guess that's part of the growing process where you start to - your palate starts to develop and you start to appreciate more bitter notes. And then every now and then when you have a piece of white chocolate, it's always, you know, it's a nice memory, for sure.
PRICHEP: Because really, on Valentine's Day, why not leave the bitterness behind? For NPR News I'm Deena Prichep in Portland, Ore.
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