There are no rules for eating chocolate. But like most things, there is a better way.

Standing inside the tasting room at La Maison Cailler chocolate factory in the village of Broc, I watch hundreds of fellow tourists tasting varieties of sweet Swiss chocolate. This is the all-you-can-eat tour and the adults in the room are like kids in a candy shop—rather, like kids in a candy factory (although the younger kids know when to quit).

Quite smartly, Cailler has posted a lifeguard in the room—a “welcoming staff” who oversees the samples and prevents anyone from drowning in chocolate, if you will. Her name is Nadège Piller and whilst nibbling on squares of Cailler chocolate, I asked her what it’s like to watch people eating chocolate all day.

“It’s fun!” she said with a smile. “I like meeting all the people who come here. They all react differently to the chocolate.”

What does she wish people knew about eating chocolate?

“The biggest mistake is that they don’t look at it or smell it—they just pop it in their mouth.”

Nadège is right. Seeing and smelling the chocolate are essential to truly tasting it—she doesn’t know this because she works in a chocolate factory. She knows it from experience.

The Swiss did not invent chocolate (the Maya did—in Mexico!), but they helped perfect the solid bar-form that we all know and love today. In 1819, François-Louis Cailler opened the very first chocolate factory in Switzerland, and much of what makes Swiss chocolate so famous can be traced back to methods developed by Nestlé and Lindt.

Good chocolate is powerful stuff—it was considered a spiritual medicine for the Maya and forbidden for children. Today, chocolate abounds the world round, but in Switzerland, I find it still manifests that ancient power and is, in a way, still worshipped.

According to most everyone on the Internet, the Swiss consume more chocolate than anyone else on the planet, claiming they ingest some 22 to 26 pounds per year (the New York Times quotes 24 pounds/11 kg).

Made in Switzerland: A rich dark chocolate "pavé," the popular Swiss truffle named for its cobblestone shape. (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

 

But Swiss chocolate sage Michel Baud (who works for Philippe Pascoët) says the numbers are rubbish.

“The Swiss do eat a lot of chocolate, yes, but it’s not as much as the numbers say. Most of these statistics are per capita figures, based on Swiss chocolate production divided by our population. That’s a false figure—the fact is that we export a huge amount of our chocolate.”

In fact, the Swiss consume about half the chocolate they produce, which is still a lot of chocolate. The food holds a special place in the Swiss palate and I am very curious to know how much chocolate they actually eat.

And so, during my first week in Switzerland, I’ve conducted my own casual survey—asking every Swiss person I meet how much chocolate he or she eats in one day. According to my random sample of about 70 people (so far), the average Swiss person consumes 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of chocolate per day. That’s about one medium-sized bar.

Though some eat far more or much less, what strikes me is the one common response I hear from everyone: “I eat chocolate every day.”

Chocolate is a daily delight for the Swiss, and for me too while I’m in Switzerland. The research has proven intense, but I am keeping my own chocolate diary while I’m here (so stay tuned).

In the half hour I spent sniffing through his shop in Carouge, Michel taught me a lot about chocolate and quickly shattered some common myths about Swiss chocolate.

“I hate this image of the little Swiss miss bouncing up the mountain with her braids and bucket of milk. That is not what Swiss chocolate is about. Not all of us like weak milk chocolate.”

He also warns of chocolate being too dark.

“I know there are chocolate makers turning out varieties of chocolate with 90 to 95 percent cocoa, but honestly, it makes no sense—C’est la sciure—it’s sawdust!”

Michel believes the best dark chocolate ranges from 70-72 percent cocoa, and he shared some valuable tips with me on how best to enjoy chocolate:

  • Begin by snapping the chocolate in half. Inhale and ponder the aromas you can sense: cocoa, vanilla, smoke, malt, etc.
  • Let the first bite be small to “warm up” the tongue, which can taste only sweet, sour, salty, bitter. Some chocolates can hit all four tastes.
  • The second bite is the one that counts. Suck on the chocolate and feel how it melts, sense the texture (grainy or smooth?). Is it sweet or dry?
  • Don’t rush on to the next bit. Enjoy the aftertaste—good chocolate will offer new and subtle flavors after a few seconds.
  • Whether eating truffles or bars, always start with softer flavors and move slowly up to stronger varieties.
  • Don’t ever eat more than four or five different kinds of chocolate at a time. You will overwhelm your sense of taste and ruin the experience.
  • For very rich chocolates or truffles, don’t taste more than two in one sitting.
  • Cleanse your palate with water before and in between each new variety that you taste (not in between bites).

When tasting truffles, begin with lighter flavors and move up to stronger tastes and darker blends. (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler).

Comments

  1. Paige AllOvertheMap
    Alexandria, VA
    June 26, 2012, 10:14 am

    Great story, and makes me wish for scratch-and-sniff technology on my computer screen.

    On a recent trip to Belgium I met a young chocolatier who had all but eliminated sugar from his chocolates to allow the flavor of the cocoa to shine. It did not taste like sawdust, but was indeed a very different chocolate experience than the rich chocolate confections we know and love.

    Chacun a son gout.

    • Andrew Evans
      June 26, 2012, 11:27 am

      Thanks for commenting Paige! Yes, I love Belgian chocolate too (I used to live there). I’ve eaten everything from 95-100% cocoa chocolate before, and it is just a different experience. I think I’m more of a 65-75% myself, but like all of the dark, really.

  2. Margot
    Los Angeles
    June 26, 2012, 9:06 pm

    You made me go out and purchase 100g of 70% dark chocolate. That’s the power of your article :)

  3. Andreea
    June 26, 2012, 11:34 pm

    Your article is so sweet..delicious….I mean so good:D

  4. Lina
    Zurich, Switzerland
    June 27, 2012, 1:30 am

    I feel very honoured that you are so passionate about understanding Switzerland in its full complexity. It really isn’t an easy job as the 4 languages represent 4 mentalities and 4 feelings of life. But there are also little things that unite the people of Switzerland, no matter from which part. Have fun discovering..

  5. Jenny
    June 27, 2012, 1:32 am

    Im lucky I have a bar of chocolate here with me now otherwise drooool :))

  6. Mac
    Philippines
    June 27, 2012, 2:37 am

    haha, i actually do the most of the step when eating chocolates., nice article :)

  7. Mila
    June 27, 2012, 3:55 am

    I LOVE Swiss chocolate! :))
    But eating a lot of sugar is very unhealthy for the body…and how they don’t get bored of chocolate if they eat it everyday?? @_@

  8. Mamta
    June 27, 2012, 5:56 am

    I agree. Chocolate is best when you spend some time analyzing it first. Smelling it and looking it first- using other senses besides taste- helps you end with the right chocolate.

  9. Dave
    June 27, 2012, 6:43 am

    Odd (which is to say interesting) how closely the author’s tips for eating and enjoying chocolate parallel the wine tasting experience. But let’s keep a reign on those lofty descriptions, shall we? I don’t want eating chocolate to become so snooty that we’re all going on about “leather,” “lead pencils” and “forest floor” when describing the stuff.

  10. [...] cast your net wider.1 Comment Loading… • Post • May 25, 2012   Gregg Galyean http://digitalnomad.nationalgeog…The Swiss do quite well.Comment Loading… • Post • 6:23am  Add [...]

  11. Alex
    June 27, 2012, 8:58 am

    The nice narrative and the nice chocolate.
    At the moment 6.00 PM, I am hungry… where can I buy a bar of chocolate?

  12. Lois
    June 27, 2012, 10:06 am

    I like Lindt 99% a lot, but sawdust… really??

  13. Misty Hosier
    United States
    June 27, 2012, 1:19 pm

    I would love to know where we here in the USA would be able to purchase chocolate of such quality.

  14. Annie
    Winterthur
    June 27, 2012, 3:29 pm

    Wow, I live in Switzerland and do not know anyone at all (!!) who eats chocolate every single day..!!!

  15. Habib Raoub
    Montreal
    June 28, 2012, 1:34 am

    You just showed me how much I lack in chocolate ethics !

  16. Cecilia
    June 28, 2012, 3:56 am

    I read your article and love it so much that I cannot help starting extract translating. Just post my translation here (http://swang928.pixnet.net/blog/post/28145207), please let me know if you feel offended.
    Thanks for writing such an interesting article on chocolate, my favorite comfort food.

  17. Le chocolat! « French encounters
    June 28, 2012, 9:26 am

    [...] easily in the warm weather.  You can enjoy chocolate vicariously through the Digital Nomad’s experience tasting chocolate in Switzerland.  At the end of his post, you’ll find tips for tasting chocolate–I know I won’t [...]

  18. Ali
    Philippines
    July 1, 2012, 2:58 am

    Thanks for this article. You gave me idea. Now I know why my swiss boyfriend really loves to eat chocolate everyday. he said he just want to eat, and he can’t explain the reason…Yes, he eats more than i take. :D

  19. MRUDULAA
    india
    July 1, 2012, 1:41 pm

    I love Chocolate. What an insightful story. I’ll try eating that way and share it with others too.

  20. Dee Compton
    Martinsville, VA USA
    July 10, 2012, 7:48 am

    Some of the best chocolate I have had was in Mexico. I fail to remember the name but oh how smooth.

  21. Ohan barsoumian
    Lebanon
    July 10, 2012, 8:21 am

    I love chocolate too much but avoid it due to being over weight, so; how come everyone in Switzerland eats about 100 gm of chocolate without becoming fat? Because I haven’t seen anyone who’s over weight / fat people in Switzerland, almost all of them were slim.

  22. Frances Thurston
    New York
    July 10, 2012, 8:50 am

    I eat chocolate every day. The darker the better. Dark chocolate is good for the heart.

  23. Ramesh Kumar Pitchay
    Malaysia
    July 10, 2012, 10:27 am

    I am a huge fan of chocolate, Dark Noir is my fav…yummy!

  24. Inma Piret Ceballos
    Spain
    July 10, 2012, 5:15 pm

    The article is good. Sounds good and tastes better.
    I´m anxious to tell about it to a friend of mine who is a choc-fan!!

  25. Mahalakshmi
    Bangalore
    July 10, 2012, 11:11 pm

    Thanks for sweetest suggestions.. ‘ll find more flavors now onwards and enjoy still more..

  26. Tanmay Agarwal
    Jaipur, Rajasthan, India
    July 11, 2012, 12:39 am

    I liked this article. I love eating hazelnut chocolates from Germany.

  27. Elly
    Mataram Indonesia
    July 11, 2012, 1:44 am

    Love the article. thanks a lot. When in Europe I had chocolate everyday. my favorite was cadbury chocolate milk. with chocolate also had chocolate chip cookies & Swiss roll from Sainsbury’s Cambridge. So delicious. It didn’t make me fat, I was curious why. I have to admit that I love Swiss chocolate the most. Now I don’t really eat chocolate because Indonesian chocolate doesn’t taste nice. It could be the ingredient which keep it not melt in hot weather. feels like there is something between the chocolate & the tongue

  28. Vercruysse Geert
    Belgium
    July 11, 2012, 2:23 am

    I like this article and as a chocolatier and selling not Belgium chocolate in my shop but actually working with Felchlin Swiss chocolate. The reason is simple Felchlin is making the finest origin chocolate of Europe. Otherwise for the USA I could advice Misty Hosier for the best US chocolate to many small crafted chocolate makers, they easely may compeet with the best Europe chocolatemakers. Such as Dick Taylor, Askinosie, Taza, Amano, Madre,… All brands I follow because they are much better then Belgium sweet chocolate !!!

  29. Sara Silva De Somohano
    Habana, Cuba
    July 13, 2012, 12:02 am

    Excelente!

  30. [...] the rest of Andrew’s dispatch from Switzerland to learn more the confection that helped put the Swiss on the map and follow along with the rest [...]

  31. [...] the rest of Andrew’s dispatch from Switzerland to learn more the confection that helped put the Swiss on the map and follow along with the rest [...]

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    http://www.sire-search.com
    July 17, 2012, 4:19 am

    jobs life science belgium
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  33. Patricia
    Lucerne, Switzerland
    July 20, 2012, 4:27 pm

    Hallo Evans

    I follow your postings from all-around the world. Thank you very much for sharing your experience with us.

    I also enjoyed your story about chocolate. I confess that I eat 20-40 grams of chocolate once a day sometimes twice! But not any kind, there is only one chocolate I love: Noir Special 72% http://chocolatfrey.ch/de/produkte/noir-special-72/287/3

    As you see by the Swiss it has been evaluated as the most favored one. http://www.kassensturz.sf.tv/Nachrichten/Archiv/2007/11/13/Test/Dunkle-Schoggi-Konsumenten-waehlen-die-beste

    Enjoy it!

  34. 66 Tips to Swiss Bliss – Digital Nomad
    August 15, 2012, 4:48 am

    [...] How To Eat Chocolate and then be the discriminate connoisseur. Switzerland offers more opportunities to eat superior [...]

  35. Nadège
    Fribourg
    September 7, 2012, 2:18 pm

    Nice article! :)

    It is soooo true that us Swiss people eat chocolate every day! But only while in Switzerland, because when you live abroad, you still crave for chocolate so you eat it and… nooooo… it’s different! So, chocolate becomes one of the tree things you miss the most (the two others being “real” cheese and “real” bread).

    Ce fut un plaisir de retrouver cet article! Lire le reste du blog a confirmé la première impression que j’ai eue : “quel homme intelligent et cultivé, et, surtout, quel job incroyable! Quelle chance!” Bien du plaisir pour la suite :)

  36. [...] If you love chocolate or would like to enjoy it even more there is an interesting article on National Geographic: How to Eat Chocolate. [...]

  37. Zindy
    Indonesia
    April 27, 2013, 7:46 am

    I love chocolates! I have it in my bag, ready for anytime :) I usually look at the chocolate before I eat it, and feel it melt in my mouth while enjoying the taste.

  38. Bill
    Ampleforth, England.
    April 27, 2013, 8:23 am

    Chocolate gives you energy to exercise, exercise keeps you slim, thus chocolate keeps you slim. Hurrah for chocolate!!
    Where is my chocolate? Oh dear, none left ! Must RUN to the shop for some now !!

  39. Stevin
    NYC
    April 27, 2013, 2:38 pm

    HA! Much easier said that done, but completely rewarding if you can keep the willpower. I treat myself to one chocolate every afternoon and try to follow these rules, erm, suggestions.

  40. Ernst Strickler
    Buenos Aires
    April 27, 2013, 5:57 pm

    Your article deserves a comment. Thank you for the interesting notes about chocolate, one of my favorate and of which I try to eat every day a few bites. Although I had been around the location you mentioned as a Swiss German born but next time I shall look for Cailler´s origin and live up to Michel´s recommendations. Kind regards, E.S.

  41. muzammil
    malaysia
    April 27, 2013, 9:43 pm

    I have tried 95% dark chocolate. It overwhelms you. As for my where I am from, we who eat dark chocolate are rare in numbers. I will try Michel suggestions.

  42. Dr. Atam Sehgal
    New Delhi,India
    April 28, 2013, 3:28 am

    Your artical opens a new horizan about chocolates taste,aroma and its effects on a person.

  43. Kristian
    Thailand
    April 28, 2013, 4:32 am

    I like this article! It makes me crave for a chocolate now! And now I know how to eat it in a better way to enjoy more! Thanks Mr. Evans!

  44. Viktorija
    Glasgow, Scotland, UK
    April 28, 2013, 6:09 am

    I didn’t know the Mayan origin of chocolate and that explains why it tastes divine! If you are ever in Scotland, we started doing whisky&chocolate tastings in Glengoyne distillery, the most beautiful whisky distillery jn the world, and believe it or not, but whisky and chocolate go perfectly together!
    Another wee tip, if you ever get as far as Lithuania, one of the Baltic States, you may want to try original chocolate from Ajskoladas, who imports own chocolate beans and makes modern chocolate with a twist, based on a Belgium chocolate school.

  45. Eric
    Armidale, NSW Australia
    April 28, 2013, 8:25 am

    I love chocolate and I find that the best way personally is to let it slowly melt in my mouth. I then take another much larger chunk which I masticate thoroughly swerling it to every possible corner of my mouth. I find it important to breathe through my nose as well as my mouth to capture the fullest taste and aroma. Unfortunately I am a type 2 diabetic and therefore can only partake on rare occasions. We have a flower here called the chocolate lily (Arthropodium strictum ) which has a beautiful chocolate vanilla aroma which is just fantastic to the senses.

  46. Ana María
    Berne, Switzerland
    April 28, 2013, 9:52 am

    I had to stop reading your article. I’m a latina in Switzerland, but am also a chocoholic. I’ve gained a lot a weight because of this Food for Gods. Living in Switzerland hasn’t been easy, because of the Chocolate. You find it everywhere and it is sooooo fine, it’s a temptation. Right now because of a promise, I can’t eat it! So you see, your article is quite disturbing… BUT I LOVED IT! THANKS!
    P.S. When I travel back home to Honduras, I have to take a lot of chocolate, every body is expecting a piece of the swiss!
    P.S.S. And chocolate was produced in the Mayan World, meaning, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador. Not only in Mexico.

  47. Saera Shyju
    Kerala,India
    May 2, 2013, 3:39 am

    I love chocolates …………….yumm I would try to taste the same way.

  48. Rajkumar Oberoi
    Walled city Delhi
    May 6, 2013, 2:08 am

    I always & will always regret not fulfilling the wish of a host in Germany in 1974-75 to send Swiss chocolates to them from my next destination to Switzerland because of paucity of even limited funds. I am sure they were embedding in me the popularity of Swiss chocolates. I confess to be pardoned. This article has refreshed my memories. But love for chocolates remained in my taste from that year till today.

  49. Justina Apatiki
    Anchorage Alaska
    May 8, 2013, 8:50 pm

    I heard It wasn’t so good. Oops. Its Yummy.

  50. 情趣用品
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    July 22, 2013, 7:04 pm

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  51. Ethel Vincent
    Ontario, CA
    August 12, 2013, 1:16 am

    Iam not a chocoholic, but I do enjoy chocolat from time to time,specially at Christmas. However, I enjoyed your article, and I will try your sugestions and learn more on the subject. Thank you, eth

  52. […] bu o kadar kötü durmadı sevgili kahveciler ve şarapçılar) konuşmuş, çikolata tadım turuna katılmış ve buradaki deneyimlerini yazmış. Benim gibi çikolata severlerin belki gözünden kaçmıştır […]

  53. Christopher
    Ottawa Canada
    February 3, 2:28 pm

    I discovered :Brix: chocolate a few years ago – I highly recommend (specially if you like wine). I’ve just followed your step by step tasting instructions, and now I like it even more.

  54. Louise Chatlynne
    Maryland
    February 3, 2:32 pm

    Be sure your chocolate is Fair Trade. Many of the large chocolate manufacturers use chocolate from the Ivory Coast and other west African nations that is harvested by impressed child labor. Enjoy your chocolate but know where it comes from. Most people now buy Fair Trade coffee insist on the same from your chocolate

  55. Julie McNeice
    February 3, 2:40 pm

    According to Xocai on their website “Cacao: Nature’s Supreme Antioxidant Source” and their chocolate is 99% pure. I am not at all fond of their pyramid financial plans but must say their chocolate tastes wonderful. And, if what they say is true, you can eat a lot of it in a day and, as an antioxidant, it makes you healthier and healthier!

  56. James Fisher
    United States
    February 3, 5:22 pm

    Wow I suddenly found out my chocolate consumption is under the Swiss norm. I hate being substandard– I vow to increase my chocolate consumption to TWICE the Swiss. It is a tough job but somebody has to do it.

  57. Steve
    Vancouver, BC
    February 3, 5:44 pm

    Surely National Geographic knows that the bulk of commercial chocolate comes from slavery.. This is no exaggeration. The Nat’l Geo could do a whole article on this tragic fact of western indulgence in chocolate.

  58. AnnieLaurie Burke
    United States
    February 3, 6:11 pm

    Tasting and enjoying chocolate is a lot like tasting and enjoying wine. Interestingly, these are two foods that have had a bad reputation in past years, but which modern science is discovering have health benefits, in moderation. Life is too short to drink bad wine, or to eat plasticized, mass produced fake chocolate. And, like all other crops and foodstuffs, there are abusive growing systems, but this is by no means universal. Every time any food writer writes about any food, the self-righteous leap forth and insult our intelligence by telling us how bad it is for the planet and for humanity to eat that food. If we heeded their advice, we would all starve — and the responsible growers and producers would go out of business. I think most National Geo readers are smart enough to seek out sustainably produced foods, rather than listen to oversimplifications and alarmism.

  59. Corinne Ching
    Honolulu, Hawaii
    February 4, 12:01 am

    Fantastic! Hope Hawaii can follow suit…

  60. Andy Main
    Cambodia
    February 4, 12:54 am

    Oh such sweet,sour,salty,bitter heaven!
    I’m in a remote Cambodian village & your words have driven me a wee bit crazy… C H O C O L A T E…Hmmm
    I will re-read it & that should send me WAY over the edge!
    Thank you!

  61. Gary Friedrichsen
    Arcata, California
    February 4, 1:51 am

    I just returned from a trip to Belize and had the good fortune to visit a Mayan family that is producing wonderful (66-72%) chocolate. Their company is called IXCACAO (her chocolate) and is totally organic, from their own cacao orchard. It’s a very small operation but the results are fabulous. Their motto is “Chocolate will save the rainforest”.

  62. Gala
    Philippines
    February 4, 4:36 am

    Wow. Gr9 atticle!! Thanx for this :) Made me drool.. I do agree w/ James Fisher that i should increase my chocolate intake!! ;p
    Btw, for all those choco gourmands out there, we have these local chocolates w flavors like Green Mango and Salt, under the name Theo nd Philo of HUman Heart Nature.
    They are also available in the US!
    Here’s the link: http://humanheartnature.com/buy/index.php/content/the-story-of-theo-philo-chocolate
    I’ll be happy to answer inquiries!!

  63. Gala
    February 4, 4:37 am

    Oh, all these are fair trade chocolates :)

    Pls click the link to know that buying these products will also go a long way in helping out the less fortunate :)

  64. Donal Williams
    Irelandnd
    February 4, 6:09 am

    Look everything you wanted to know about chocolate. Heres the definitave guide from Bean to Bar

  65. Donal Williams
    Dublin
    February 4, 6:09 am

    http://youtu.be/ToX9SouNk1o
    Follow the link

  66. PREM SETH
    New Delhi
    February 4, 12:12 pm

    Pleasantly surprised to note that I enjoy it the way the chocolatiers suggest. I take it almost everyday. The Dark chocolate varieties from Lindt, Ghirardelli and Cadbury’s are great.

  67. enrique melian
    peru
    February 4, 12:39 pm

    the forests of peru produce some of the best organic cacao in the world but i understand this fact is not very well known. i have been able to buy round patties of pure cacao in the producing areas, then i experiment with varied proportions and added ingredients depending on my mood.
    i have even tried it to spice up a good steak!
    Enjoy!!!!!

  68. Monnette
    February 4, 11:17 pm

    I had no idea that chocolate-eating is an art akin to wine-tasting. Unfortunately, I can’t eat a lot of it in a day or even over several days since it would bring on tonsillitis (seems like a conduit for virus or bacteria).

  69. Sophia
    USA
    February 6, 8:47 am

    Now I’m curious if the French and people from other chocolate loving countries such as Belgium also have tips and cues for devouring this life essential food!?

  70. Peten
    Belgique
    April 10, 7:28 am

    Les Maya ne connaissaient pas le chocolat. Il faut torréfier la fève pour avoir du goût.
    Une dame française torréfia au XVI° et en fit du chocolat liquide comme boisson.
    La première usine de chocolat Nestlé se trouvait à Anvers, avenue de Belgique.
    Le lait de la Campine au Nord d’ Anvers fournit le meilleur lait.
    Le lait de la Gruyère servait alors pour faire du fromage de renommé internationale.
    Mon père avait avant la guerre un bloc de Cadbury.
    Ma préférence actuelle va au Cote d’Or noir à 70%
    Que c’est bon …..

  71. Peten
    April 10, 7:33 am

    I like warm chocolate from Gombaud, Ravensteinstreet in Brussel front of Bozar.