Butterscotch, toffee, chocolate, molasses. Green apple, grapefruit, lemon and vinegar.

If you’ve never used these words when talking about bread, Michael Kalanty hopes to change that.

The first set of flavors describe a sweet crust, as opposed to a fruity one with hints of fig, raisin and stewed fruit. The second set describes the flavor of the crumb, the soft interior of the bread. It’s a sour/fruity crumb as opposed to a sour/dairy one, which he says tastes like fresh cheese, plain yogurt, buttermilk and aged cheese.

Michael Kalanty (pictured at top) used his background as a sensory scientist to develop the chart above, which attempts to help bread lovers identify the flavors they experience.

Michael Kalanty’s bread chart

Kalanty is a bread baker, sensory scientist and certified master taster from San Francisco who has developed a bread-tasting chart similar to the wine wheels used by oenophiles to describe the aromas and flavors in their wine glass. He’ll be at the 10th Annual Kneading Conference and Artisan Bread Fair July 28-30 in Skowhegan, teaching a class in which he’ll lead conference goers through the process of evaluating bread.

Just as wine lovers and serious coffee drinkers use certain vocabularies to express what they are experiencing as they imbibe, Kalanty wants to give bakers and bread lovers terminology so they can develop their palates and enjoy bread on a whole new level “instead of just saying, ‘Oh, I like this.’ ”

If you have words to describe the aroma and taste of bread, he continued, “then you can build your own bank of flavor memories and be able to recall what that baguette was the you had in Montreal that time, and why you liked it the way that you did. Was it the crust? Was it the crust versus the crumb? Was it the way the crumb soaked up the latte foam? What was it about that particular experience that struck you?”


Kalanty got the idea for the chart through his work as a sensory scientist and certified master taster at ChefsBest, a business that trains panels of chefs to judge grocery store food products in blind tastings. The ones that rise to the top are awarded a “ChefsBest” label that is similar to a chefs’ version of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

Kalanty has been a ChefsBest taster for nearly 15 years. Many private food corporations have their own internal group of sensory scientists and tasting panels who help them develop new products and update old ones. They spot new flavor trends – think sriracha on everything – and figure out how to incorporate those flavors in new products.


Tristan Noyes, executive director of the Maine Grain Alliance, said the group invited Kalanty to the Kneading Conference because he’s “been nationally known for quite a long time.”

Kalanty studied math and art history in college before turning to bread baking. He was an artisan bread baker at the California Culinary Academy for 11 years and a craft bread instructor for almost six years at the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of San Francisco.

“Michael brings 20 years of baking and cooking experience, and has been able to really influence artisan bread baking on a number of different levels, from being a bread baker himself to being a really well known culinary instructor,” Noyes said. “He was even named Chef Instructor of the Year for Le Cordon Bleu.”


Kalanty has written several books on baking, including one, “How To Bake Bread,” that has a cult following across the United States, Noyes said.

To become a Certified Master Taster for ChefsBest, Kalanty first had to pass a “palate acuity test,” a preliminary vetting process that identifies palates that are likely to be successful as trained tasters. The test, he explained, measures a person’s ability to detect basic tastes (sweet, salt, sour, bitter) and basic textural concepts such as adhesion (sticking to the teeth when chewed), cohesion (forming into a ball when chewed), and richness (perception of fattiness). It starts with three food samples placed in front of the taster, and the taster has to pick the sample that’s different from the two others.

Michael Kalanty

Michael Kalanty

If you are like most of the population and get only a third of your responses correct, you will be thanked and shown the door. If you get, say, 70 percent correct, your palate may be deemed worthy of training.

The next step involves a longer training called a “palate calibration” with a panel of experts. Working on a 15-point scale, the taster-in-training evaluates characteristics such as bite, crunch, chewiness, loudness of crunch, saltiness, and even how a food sticks to your teeth, Kalanty said. Then the taster’s evaluation is compared with the panel’s. For example, say the taster is evaluating a potato chip for saltiness and gives it a score of 13 out of 15. But the panel thinks that 9 is the correct number.

“What that tells the newbie is ‘OK, I’m running a little fast here on that, I need to throttle back,’ ” Kalanty said. “It helps you bring your perceptions in line with everyone else. I liken it to when the Hardy Boys set their watches for midnight. You’re basically turning a person’s sensory perception and ability to speak of that into a machine.”

Kalanty has tested products from Tofurky to Jelly Bellies to Pez candies. These days he guides panels of chefs through the process. If the chefs tell him a product sticks to their teeth, it’s Kalanty’s job to ask: “How much does it stick to your teeth? Does it stick to your teeth like a bagel does, or more like peanut butter does?”



It was while doing this work that Kalanty discovered that perceptions about bread flavor and texture were “different across the board.”

He started working on his “Aroma and Flavor Notes for Bread” chart with the help of Ann Noble of the University of California-Davis, who teaches wine sensory evaluation and developed the Wine Aroma Wheel. (He’s working on a separate chart for texture.)

The flavor of a bread, Kalanty says, comes from the combination of a wheat strain and its terroir. Flavor is enhanced, and new flavors develop, because of the choices the baker makes during the fermentation process. To taste these flavors using the chart, chew with your mouth open, aerating the bread as you chew because, Kalanty says, “the flavor happens retronasally – in the back of your mouth, up towards roof of the mouth and out your nose.”

Always start with the crumb, Kalanty says, “because that’s where the flavor of the fermentation comes through. That speaks directly to the intention of the craftsperson.”

The crust is next, and it’s more flavorful by nature, Kalanty said.


“The crust is the brûlée part of the crème brûlée,” he said. “It’s the end slice of the brisket.”

As the proteins in the crust break down into amino acids and starches break down into various sugar combinations, “these things recombine in as many ways as you can throw 10,000 dice,” Kalanty said. “As these caramelize light, medium and dark, they take on all of these different flavors. So the same bread dough fermented this amount of time versus that amount of time will bring different colors and flavors into the crust. That’s where the fun really happens.”

The end result of developing your bread palate may be that you learn to pair breads more wisely with your meals, Kalanty says. If you taste raisin in a crust, that loaf might go well with roast pork and grilled peaches, for example.

But at the very least, Kalanty hopes people will take his chart, visit different craft bakeries in their communities and learn to talk about bread using a new language.

“It’s like art appreciation in a way,” he said. “Each of these craft bakers is an artist.”


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