Cracking the Chocolate Code

In recent years, scientists have decoded the cacao genome; but there's another code all chocolate lovers should know the basics of...

According to Forrest Gump, "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get." That's a nice sentiment, but not necessarily true. If you're careful and knowledgeable, you can get a basic idea of what you're gonna get just by looking.

Let's take a closer look.

Hoping for the Best

Probably the easiest way to tell what's supposed to be in each slot is to look at the inside of the box's lid. If you're lucky, the chocolatier has included a little schematic showing where everything is. But that's almost like cheating, and some candy makers don't do it anyway.

Besides, what if someone gives you a bunch of loose chocolates? How do tell the goodies apart? Personally, I favor the surprise element, and just hope no one's been experimenting with chocolate-covered insects or fish... which, sadly, do exist (as you'll know, if you read this site much).

Bumps and Lumps

Sure, you can tell the type of exterior chocolate, more or less, just by looking at its shade. But what about what's inside? Well, the most obvious way is to determine the surface configuration and use your common sense. Are there large bumps? Probably has nuts in it. Lots of small bumps? That's coconut, no doubt.

If a chocolate is in a full wrapper, it's probably a soft, gooey candy, like a cordial. If it's in a cup (think cupcakes), it's very likely a peanut butter cup or something similar. Is it spherical, lumpy, and dusted with cocoa powder? It's a truffle.

But What About the Squiggle Code?

While there may have been a universal "squiggle" code for chocolates once, no one really uses it today. Confectioners do tend to use consistent codes within their own company, but while a square chocolate with single swirl on top may indicate a nougat here, it could be a strawberry crème over there.

If you're the unadventurous type, you could learn the code for a specific company and stick to its products exclusively... but if you were unadventurous, you wouldn't be a choco extremo, now would you? Live a little! Take some chances!

Within reasonable guidelines, of course. If you're allergic to pecans, you'll want to be able to recognize pecan turtles at a glance.

A Quick Guide

Back in 1987, Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope researched the squiggle code. He found that there were still some universals then, but that mechanization was washing them away:

Fair warning: this article is over 20 years old, so it's likely that even the codes immortalized there have changed over time. So if you're really worried about that box of chocolates, I recommend using the other methods to identify the types.