Sunday, December 26, 2010

Europeans know… darker is often better

Whether chocolate, coffee, bread or beer, my vote has been cast, darker is generally better. This is something that our European friends have long known and appreciated.

Like so many from my baby boomer generation, I grew up on white bread. Our large family bought Wonder bread that was sold three loafs for a dollar. Reflecting back now I wonder what was in that bread that could preserve it, and make it so white and fluffy. With little work at all a slice could be rolled to pea size. Recently I’ve taken to making artisan bread. It is relatively easy, and I know exactly what’s going into a loaf. I use unbleached flour and a significant portion of whole wheat. Not only is it better for me, this bread tastes great. The French, Germans and Belgians have known this for centuries!

When it comes to chocolate, the only kind I ever knew as a kid was Hershey’s. Back in the day, when I was in the Metropolitan Boy’s Choir, we even got to tour their huge plant in Hershey Pennsylvania, while on one of our summer tours. I’ve since discovered the wonders of dark chocolate. It is like night and day, the richness of taste that comes with the dark chocolate as compared to many lighter chocolates. Of course, the Swiss have long been well aware of this. Not only is the taste great, it seems a week doesn’t pass before a new study comes out and finds another health benefit to dark chocolate. That’s news I can appreciate.

In college, I soon discovered the drink of choice at many parties and social gatherings was beer. However, it wasn’t the kind of beer many Europeans know and love. It was that light stuff, commonly sold by Miller and Budweiser. Try as I might, I never developed a liking for it. My taste buds were opened up to real beer after I had the good fortune to spend my junior year of college at the University Of Nottingham, England. Wow, I learned and developed an appreciation of lagers, bitters and even Guinness stout. Okay, Guinness is still perhaps a wee to dark for me, but I would still prefer it hands down to a Miller light. Why didn’t we American’s learn from the Germans and our British Isles friends about finer beers? Craft brews have sprung up all over the country in recent years. My local favorite beer is Summit Pale Ale, which, despite its name, is considerably darker than most American beers. And, like chocolate and bread, darker beer tends to be better for us nutritionally.

Finally, there is coffee. For years many Americans drank their coffee pretty light, relative to our European neighbors, who savored the rich tastes of espresso and the plethora of other varieties. An almost confusing array of coffee has now become available to us at coffee shops. I remember my Grandma Gladys, who enjoyed a tinny wintsy spoon full of Maxwell Freeze Dried coffee in her warm water. Pretty weak. Along with millions of other Americans over these past couple of decades I developed an appreciation of espresso and a whole array of darker coffee options. On the home front we keep it pretty simple. Our drink of choice is a dark French roast.

How did we as Americans get tricked into this light food and drink for so many years? Was it great marketing? I’m not sure, but am certainly gratefully to have discovered, like so many of my compatriots, that darker is often better.


  1. Perhaps American industrialism spurred by WWII led to all of this processed wonder bread-like food. In recent years, I think people have begun to reflect on American-style consumerism. People are less desirous of big box standardized goods, I think, and seek out the artisan, hand-made, quality items. Permanence over trendy. Maybe my comments don't exactly mirror your post, but there may be some connections. People are more into artisanal breads, people are interested in different ways of brewing coffee...

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  2. Good observation. I'm feeling encouraged by a trend toward quality over quantity. I think that one example of this is in our housing stock, which I believe was moving in the wrong direction for many years. Huge homes were being quickly constructed. This trend has started going the other way, with more compact footprints. Small is beautiful ;-)