When Dark Chocolate Isn’t

January 31, 2012

Image by EverJean

There is a lot of chocolate out there masquerading as “dark”. If I see a chocolate labeled as “dark”, all it means to me is that I have to check the cacao percentage. If it doesn’t list it, I don’t buy it. Why? Because “dark” doesn’t really mean anything. There is no regulation in North America as to what constitutes “dark” chocolate. Consumers seek out dark chocolate because it’s healthier, and makes for a more guilt-free treat. And so companies label their chocolates as dark, wanting to sell more. Of course, since dark chocolate is higher quality (more cocoa liquor and butter and less sugar), it costs more. But if companies can label their regular chocolates as dark, and still charge more – Ka-Ching! What a great business plan. Win-win for the company, lose-lose for the consumer.

% Cacao = Chocolate Liquor + Cocoa Butter + Cocoa Powder

Cocoa nibs consist of fatty cocoa butter (typically 50-60% of the bean) and non-fatty cocoa solids. The cocoa solids can be ground into cocoa powder. Grinding the entire cocoa nib to a liquid makes chocolate liquor (also known as cocoa mass and cocoa liquor).

Chocolate = cocoa (liquor, extra butter, powder) + sugar (optional) + milk or cream (optional)

So in a 60% cacoa chocolate, 60% of the ingredients are cocoa (liquor, butter, and powder), and the remaining 40% consist of sugar, flavorings, and potentially milk ingredients.

Types of Chocolate by % Chocolate Liquor

The percentage of cocoa liquor determines the type of chocolate, except in the case of white chocolate where it’s the cocoa butter content:

Milk chocolate: Minimum 10% chocolate liquor and 12% milk ingredients.

White Chocolate: Minimum 20% cocoa butter and 14% milk ingredients. Doesn’t contain any nonfat cocoa solids which create the chocolatey colour.

Semisweet or Bittersweet Chocolate : Minimum 35% chocolate liquor. This is the chocolate that most companies try to sell as “dark”. Keep in mind that the 35% refers to the chocolate liquor only, meaning the cacao % is actually higher since it also accounts for the cocoa butter.

Brute / Bitter / Unsweetened / Baking Chocolate: Typically minimum 85% chocolate liquor (but not necessarily an FDA requirement).

So, let’s take a look at my favourite chocolate, Green & Black’s Organic 85% as an example.

Ingredients: Organic Cocoa Liquor, Organic Cocoa Butter, Organic Fat-Reduced Cocoa Powder, Organic Raw Cane Sugar, Organic Vanilla Extract, Organic Whole Milk Powder, Emulsifier: Soya Lecithin.

Its cacao percentage is listed as 85%. So, the cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, and fat-reduced cocoa powder make up 85% of the total ingredients. Which means that the chocolate liquor percentage is less than 85%. The remaining 15% of the ingredients are made up of sugar, vanilla, milk powder, and soya lecithin.

I’ve seen many chocolates that claim to be “dark”, but only have a cacao percentage of 50-something. As always, it’s best to do a little homework and read ingredient labels rather than relying on marketing claims. The FDA might not have standards for “dark” chocolate, but I sure do.

Do you indulge in dark chocolate? How dark?

Shared with Real Food Wednesdays.

Leave a Comment


{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Allison January 31, 2012 at 3:50 PM

I’m a big fan of the Endangered Species 88% bar. Lindt also make a 90% and a 99%, which are great for when I want something even more intense.


Allison January 31, 2012 at 4:06 PM

I’m also currently enjoying a Ghirardelli 100% cacao baking bar. Sometimes I really just want some straight chocolate, without any sugar getting in the way.


[email protected] January 31, 2012 at 4:32 PM

I like your style :p I’ve been meaning to try some unsweetened baking chocolate.. Thus far the highest I’ve gone is Lindt 99%. Oh and I’ve tried nibs which are definitely unique tasting!


Douglas Wallace January 31, 2012 at 10:59 PM

Interesting article. I have a chocolate article that I am submitting in a week or two, I have referenced this article in mine. When I was at whole foods researching the vast array of chocolate bars there, I did get the impression that some were saying dark chocolate, but they had low percentages of cacao. Even more interesting, others would just use a dark wrapping to their product. So you have any opinions on the sugars that are in these bars?



[email protected] February 1, 2012 at 3:21 PM

Hi, thanks for the comment. I hope my post helps with your article.

I say the less sugar the better, so I go for the chocolates that have a higher cacao %. It just bugs me when chocolates that are low in cacao are marketed as “dark”, since that’s misleading to the consumer.


Ruth @ Ruth's Real Food January 31, 2012 at 11:10 PM

When I want to get really high quality chocolate, I don’t look just at the percentage. I also look for one that doesn’t have soy lecithin. Chances are the soy is GMO.


[email protected] February 1, 2012 at 3:04 PM

I try to avoid soy also. They’re tricky though – the G&B’s I got from the store didn’t list soy lecithin as an ingredient, but did say it may contain traces of wheat, soy, and nuts….. Whereas the website ingredients listed soy.


Angeleen February 1, 2012 at 7:16 AM

I go for anything around the 70% range. I also like to find ones that have some spice to them (cayenne) or espresso beans. Since I have a piece after dinner only a few times a week, I don’t worry about the percentage as long as it’s 70% or above.


[email protected] February 1, 2012 at 2:05 PM

Mmm, I’d like to try some spicy/flavored ones, but I prefer >85%, and haven’t seen any flavored ones at that high of a percentage..


Mike Ward October 5, 2012 at 3:23 PM

Perhaps you copied the ingredients off of the wrong wrapper, or you meant to say that milk chocolate was your favorite. Perhaps their ingredients have changed over time. Whatever. Soy lecithin? Green & Black’s Dark 85% 3.5 oz. chocloate bar lists the following ingredients (in caps): ORGANIC CHOCOLATE, ORGANIC COCOA BUTTER, ORGANIC COCOA, ORGANIC RAW CANE SUGAR, ORGANIC VANILLA EXTRACT.

It is the first ingredient in the list that has me puzzled. Who’s chocolate do you think they start with, and what ingredients does it have.


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