There has been a lot of fuss this week about Nestle’s attempts to trademark the shape of its Kit Kat bars – and also about Toblerone’s decision to revert to its original shape after experimenting with a new one.
All of which might prompt the question: How much does the shape of a bar of chocolate really matter? Surely it’s the taste that counts?
In fact, the shape of a chocolate bar matters for two reasons. The first is related to the public’s perception of the product. “It is about brand image,” explains Charles Metcalfe, a food and wine expert and Grand Jury judge at the Academy of Chocolate Awards, which were presented at Claridge’s in London last night. “Because mass-market bars don’t often taste of very much, the shape is important to distinguish one bar from another.”
As Metcalfe pointed out, the chocolate content of a Kit Kat is fairly bland in the first place, and is then augmented by wafers and can be further modified by inclusions such as peanut butter. It is also clear from pastel-shaded abominations on sale in Japan that even the coulour of a Kit Kat is wildly variable.
So the shape is really the only constant that might identify the bar. Hence Nestle’s concern, which will no doubt have intensified when taste testers compared its bar to a similar-shaped Norwegian rival called Kvikk Lunsj (on sale for more than 70 years) – and preferred the Scandinavian snack.
Spencer Hyman, chocolate connoisseur and boss of Cocoa Runners (cocoarunners.com), who sell top-quality bars from all over the world, ackowledged that taste is a marginal factor with a product such as Kit Kat. But he is clear that shape is an important factor defining the taste of chocolate and how the consumer experiences it.
“There’s no question that a big, thick, chunky chocolate such as Toblerone tastes different from a thinner bar of the same chocolate,” Hyman said.
The main reason for this is the way that chocolate melts, and the important factor here is cocoa butter, a constituent part of even the most ordinary chocolate, which melts at human body temperature.
As chocolate melts on the tongue, it releases flavour and aroma (most of the flavour of chocolate is perceived through smell). And the rate at which chocolate melts in the mouth is determined by the thickness of the chocolate.
This may not matter so much with a chocolate that is largely wafer, such as Kit Kit, or one that is so chunky that it has to be chewed and crunched up, such as Toblerone, but there is no doubt that changes in shape can influence flavour.
You can test this for yourself with a decent bar of chocolate by “doubling up” layers so that you can taste different thicknesses and compare how they melt and taste. This is a very good excuse to eat quite a lot of good chocolate.
Or, if you are in Japan or have access to Japanese chocolate, avoid the bright green, Matcha-tea-flavoured Kit Kats that are freely available there and instead look for a bar of top-quality Meiji chocolate, which is designed to offer different thicknesses of chocolate – and thus different tastes – within the same bar.
Do you know your Twix from your Topic? See if you can guess the chocolate bar from its shape alone...