Types of Chocolate

So you love chocolate, but do you know what it’s in it, how it’s made, and when to use each of the different types of chocolate?

Types of Chocolate

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 important to know the difference if you decide to cook or bake with it.

The F.D.A. standards of chocolate

  • Dark chocolate bars have to contain at least 35% chocolate liquor before sweeteners are added. Unsweetened, semi-sweet, and bittersweet baking chocolate fall into this category, though they have the strongest 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 dairy that’s added. This type has a mild cocoa flavor, 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 that it’s not true chocolate. True 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.

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 percentage, the sweeter the chocolate bar will taste because that means more sugar was added. The higher the percentage, the less sweet the chocolate will taste.

Unsweetened chocolate baking bar

Unsweetened chocolate baking bar

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 strong, complex chocolate flavor into baked goods like brownies, cakes, 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. Semi-sweet tends to be sweeter than bittersweet chocolate.

White chocolate

White chocolate

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 tasting due to the lack of bitter ingredients. The vanilla flavor and light color make it popular to use as a coating or decoration, that can also be colored for a festive design.

Couverture chocolate

Couverture chocolate

A high quality, top-shelf chocolate that 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 the production process, so it tastes very decadent. It’s the best chocolate for tempering when making truffles, enrobing, dipping, and homemade candies.

Ruby chocolate

Ruby chocolate

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.

Chocolate baking chips

Chocolate baking chips

These small morsels have been formulated to keep their shape when baked in the oven for cakes, cookies, brownies, and bars. They have a lower percentage of cocoa butter, emulsifiers and stabilizers to keep their teardrop appearance. They can be melted to use for recipes like sauces, mousses, and beverages.

Candy coating chocolate

Candy coating chocolate

Also referred to as melting chocolates, they often contain 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, fruit, and cookies.

Gianduja chocolate

Gianduja chocolate

Picture chocolate. Now, add hazelnut paste into it 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.

How is chocolate made?

First thing’s first. You can’t call yourself a chocolate connaisseur 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 finally, roasted the cacao beans. From there, the nibs were separated out of the shell and then ground up. This results in both cocoa powder and cocoa butter that continues to mix as its ground, creating a cocoa liquor (also referred to as mass). The pure, unadulterated chocolate.

Variety of chocolate ingredients on a wooden platter

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 the 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 else is added to chocolate?

For dark chocolate, it’s likely that only sugar was 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 which helps the oil and water in chocolate work together.

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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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