A Rant: Chocolate Is Overrated
One of two unpopular opinions I hold
Here’s the thing: I like chocolate. I think chocolate is good, and I often enjoy foods that contain chocolate. The difference between me and so much of the public is that I do not fucking love chocolate.
Have you noticed the embarrassing and desperate way in which we, as a society, talk about chocolate? Restaurant menus offer “chocolate decadence” and declare that you will suffer “death by chocolate.” People proudly call themselves “chocoholics.” Chocolate is naughty in the fun, sexual way: chocolate desserts are “sinful,” or even “better than sex,” and dark chocolate cake is “Devil’s Food,” as though God cared what you eat for dessert.
Nobody has ever talked about a fruit tart in this ridiculous, undignified manner.
This language doesn’t just matter because it’s tacky. The substantive problem is that chocolate coasts on its naughty, quasi-sexual reputation. While a fruit-based dessert needs to prove itself — if people are going to buy it, it has to be good — the preponderance of chocoholics out there among the public means we are awash in bad chocolate dessert. You know, all those one-note cakes that taste only of sugar, fat and chocolate — usually without enough salt to round out the sweetness and richness.
You know what’s underrated? Vanilla. While people talk about chocolate as though it were a substitute for orgasm, “vanilla" gets to be a metaphor for “boring.” Well, you’ll have to excuse vanilla for not making itself the center of attention all the time. Unlike chocolate, vanilla is a flavor that can be the star or a team player. A high-quality vanilla ice cream is delicate and complex by itself. In a more involved dessert, vanilla complements a wide variety of other flavors, enhancing without overpowering them.
You wouldn't put a scoop of chocolate ice cream on a slice of apple pie, right? That would be weird. Vanilla’s obviousness as the choice for “a la mode” reflects why it achieved the very market-leading position that has allowed people to deride it as the boring standard: it’s delicious, like chocolate, but also really versatile, unlike chocolate.
It’s Valentine’s Day, and I imagine that many of you are heading out for a nice dinner tonight with someone you love. So when the dessert menu comes, I encourage you to remember that no dessert is better than sex. (There’s a reason people don’t ruin their marriages over chocolate.) That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have dessert, but maybe take a moment to ponder the creme brûlée, or the tarte tatin, or even a choice like profiteroles, where chocolate has been pushed into a supporting role alongside vanilla. Those desserts won’t come with any pretensions about sex or death or religion, so they’ll have to justify themselves on their own merits — and they’ll probably be better.
I’ll be back tomorrow with the Mayonnaise Clinic.
Subscribe to Very Serious — if you agree with me, and especially if you disagree.
Yes, yes, I know gluttony is a sin. But when people talk about “sinful” chocolate desserts, they’re not talking about eating an entire box of Ho-Hos. They’re talking about desserts with high concentrations of cream, cocoa and sugar, very often served in reasonable portion sizes. It’s the pleasure and richness that’s somehow supposed to be a “sin,” rather than overindulgence.
There is also the problem of chocolate-chunk ice cream. I understand and appreciate the desire to marry chocolate with other flavors — I like a chocolate-topped profiterole or a chocolate croissant as much as the next guy. The problem is that chocolate is nearly flavorless when it’s frozen — when you order mint chip, you’re basically eating ice cream full of caloric wax. This reflects the lack of discernment associated with so many chocolate desserts: people are so blinded by their chocoholism that they fail to consider whether they’re even really getting the chocolate flavor.
Arguably your most important post. A few thoughts from someone who mostly agrees:
* A lot of specific chocolates are more or less properly rated when discussed specifically - bad chocolate is bad, excellent chocolate is generally excellent. The problem is that as a flavor, chocolate is wildly overrated (especially, as you nod to, relative to fruit desserts), so when people see the word “chocolate”, without specifics as to the quality, they get blinded by the Hershey’s PR machine (I don’t know who runs it now, but I assume Hershey initially ran the PR push).
* Almost all chocolate can be improved with salt, and most salted chocolate is under salted. Dick Taylor does the best job of making their “with sea salt” product actually salty.
* You are entirely correct about vanilla, and I personally think the best vanilla ice cream is miles better than the best chocolate. Vanilla has the opposite problem - bad vanilla ice cream is just fine, which contributes to its reputation as the safe, boring choice. One thing I deeply miss from living in Texas is Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream, the best vanilla ice cream I’ve had that’s available in stores (even better, Strawberries & Homemade Vanilla, which is the perfect strawberry ice cream - vanilla, with strawberries).
'Sees title' <rubs hands> "Here we go!"