Types of Chocolate


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With so many types of chocolate available, do you know what’s in them, how they are made, and when to use each type when baking?

Different types of chocolate in various bowls.

Chocolate is so much more than a guilty pleasure snack or treat-yourself dessert. It comes in many shapes, forms, and sizes, and it’s essential to know the difference if you decide to cook or bake with it.

Unsweetened chocolate baking bar

Pieces of unsweetened chocolate baking bar.

It is made of 100% roasted and fermented cacao nibs. It’s ground into a paste that’s melted and then hardened into a bar that naturally contains cocoa butter but no added sweeteners. It’s a top choice to add a robust and complex chocolate flavor to baked goods like brownies, cakes, chocolate crinkle cookies, dessert sauces, and coatings.

Semi-sweet and bittersweet chocolate

Semi-sweet and bittersweet chocolate.

Unlike unsweetened baking chocolate, these will have some sweeteners added. Legally, it has to contain a minimum of 35% chocolate liquor and can go up to 99%. The rest can be sweeteners and emulsifiers. Semisweet chocolate tends to be sweeter than bittersweet chocolate. I use semi-sweet for chocolate cream pie and melted bittersweet for lava cakes. mix with sweetened condensed milk to make homemade fudge.

White chocolate

White chocolate squares on a plate.

Although controversial and not technically chocolate due to the absence of cocoa solids, white chocolate still gets classified as a variety. The cocoa butter creates its super creamy mouthfeel and the sweetest taste due to the lack of bitter ingredients. The vanilla flavor and light color make it popular for coating or decoration, which can also be colored for a festive design. Melt some to drizzle on top of chai tea latte popsicles.

Couverture chocolate

Stack of couverture chocolate in a small white dish.

This high-quality, top-shelf chocolate has a higher fluidity to make thin coatings and crisp products. It has more cocoa butter than traditional chocolate (between 32 to 39%) and is ground to a finer consistency during production, so it tastes very decadent. It’s the best chocolate for tempering when making truffles, enrobing, dipping strawberries, and homemade candies like chocolate bark.

Ruby chocolate

Ruby chocolate bar with gold foil.

Hearing the name, you might picture a red velvet color, but it’s more pastel pink. And food coloring isn’t responsible for the color. Ruby chocolate is derived from a ruby cacao bean and has a natural berry flavor. It has the sweetness and smooth texture of white chocolate, with a hint of cocoa taste.

You may also see it called ruby couverture or ruby cacao. Melt some and dip dried or fresh fruit pieces for fancy decoration. Dip with sugar cookies and top with sprinkles for a colorful treat.

Chocolate baking chips

Chocolate baking chips showing the differences in color.

These tiny morsels have been formulated to keep their shape when baked in the oven for cakes, cookies, brownies, and bars. Chocolate chips are made of chocolate liquor, cocoa powder, cocoa butter, sugar, milk fat, flavors, and soy lecithin to emulsify and stabilize the chips. They have a lower percentage of cocoa butter to reduce the melt to keep their teardrop appearance.

They come in dark, milk, and white varieties. Milk and semi-sweet chips are iconic for chocolate chip cookies or bursts of flavors in a mug cake. White chocolate chips have no powder or liquor. Add them into baileys brownies or apple oatmeal cookies. They can be melted for recipes like sauces, mousses, and beverages.

Candy coating chocolate

Candy types of coating chocolate in bowls.

Also referred to as melting chocolates, they often contain vegetable fats like palm oil and palm kernel oil instead of cocoa butter. This helps them set quickly at room temperature and does not require tempering. Other ingredients may include cocoa, sugar, milk powder, soy lecithin, preservatives, and vanilla. You’ve probably eaten it on dipped cake pops, chocolate-covered strawberries, and cookies.

Gianduja chocolate

Gianduja chocolate on a spoon.

Picture chocolate. Now, add hazelnut paste to the mixture. That’s gianduja chocolate. This Italian confection comes in the form of small candies or as a soft and velvety spread that contains at least 30% roasted Piemontese hazelnuts combined with sugar and dark or milk chocolate. It’s often added to gelato for a rich taste and hazelnut flavor. Homemade Nutella has a similar flavor base but is not as rich and thick.

The United States F.D.A. standards of chocolate

  • Dark chocolate bars must contain at least 35% chocolate liquor before adding sweeteners. Unsweetened, semi-sweet, and bittersweet baking chocolate fall into this category, though they have the most robust bitter flavor. They’re most often used for cooking and baking.
  • Milk chocolate has to be at least 10% chocolate liquor and 12% milk solids. It will melt better than dark chocolate because of the added dairy. This type has a mild cocoa flavor with a smooth and sweet chocolate taste. Most often used for candies and bars for eating.
  • White chocolate doesn’t contain cocoa solids (the powder) — only cocoa butter, milk solids, and additional sweeteners and emulsifiers — which is why many people argue it’s not actual chocolate. Authentic white chocolate contains at least 20% cocoa butter for a smooth melt, whereas other products mostly use palm oil and can’t be labeled as chocolate.

How is chocolate made?

First things first. You can’t call yourself a chocolate connoisseur without knowing where it comes from and how it’s made. Take a decadent chocolate cake, for instance. It started as cacao beans inside a fruit growing on a tree.

Then someone harvested, fermented, dried, and roasted the cacao beans. From there, the nibs were separated out of the shell and then ground up. This results in cocoa powder and cocoa butter that continue to mix as its ground, creating a cocoa liquor (also referred to as mass)—the pure, unadulterated chocolate.

That liquor can either be cooled and hardened to create unsweetened baking chocolate, or the cocoa powder and cocoa butter are separated in the process. The next step is a refining process called conching, where the ingredients are smeared against rollers until super smooth.

Cocoa liquor, cocoa powder, cocoa butter, and hardened baking chocolate (powder and butter together) can all be combined in various ways and proportions to create any number of chocolate products you know and love.

What does the percentage on the label mean?

The percentage listed on the label indicates how much of the chocolate bar is cocoa powder and cocoa butter, the pure unadulterated chocolate. The rest of the bar is made up of added sugar, sweeteners, and other ingredients.

The lower the cocoa content percentage, the sweeter the chocolate bar will taste because that means more sugar was added. The higher the percentage like 100% cocoa or cacao, the less sweet the chocolate will taste.

Various chocolate ingredients on a wooden platter.

What else is added to chocolate?

For dark chocolate, only sugar was likely added to the cocoa liquor. However, to make milk chocolate, milk powder is also added. White chocolate is just cocoa butter, sugar, and milk powder (no cocoa liquor, which contains the solids and would give it traditional chocolate color).

Chocolate producers also add vanilla to sweeten chocolate and lecithin as an emulsifier that helps the chocolate’s oil and water work together.

Ways to use chocolate

Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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2 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Hanna Debia says

    I hope you can offer some advice: love chocolatey drinks but have been avoiding store bought, so I ordered some organic pure cacao powder which I mixed with hot lactaid milk. It had a king of taste I didnt like, plus I thought it had undertones of grittyness, not as smooth as Nesquick. After trying with almond milk and then soy, I gave up.
    What could I use the rest of it for?

    • Jessica Gavin says

      I actually do something similar in banana almond milk, stirring in the cocoa. It takes a bit longer to dissolve and more agitation, otherwise it is a bit clumpy. Sometimes I stir it into oatmeal, you can use it to replace cocoa powder in baking recipes, or add it to smoothies.