General Questions About Chocolate

about-chocolate

Got a question about chocolate? We answer your questions about chocolate here.

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What is up with those percentages on the wrapper? Who cares?

In the past few years, chocolate has become more of a gourmet food, tasted and talked about in much the same way as wine. The percentage you see on the wrappers of some of the better chocolates is the percentage of cacao (i.e. ground up cocoa beans) in the bar.

Some people prefer bars with a very high cacao content (up to 99%), others, myself included, prefer a middle of-the-road bar, with about 55-70% cacao. The percentages tell a chocolate connoisseur about how chocolatey the bar will taste. The more cacao, the healthier the bar – at 99% cacao, there isn’t much room for sugar!

What makes you such an expert on chocolate?

I’m not an expert on chocolate, I just really like the stuff! 🙂

I got interested in learning about chocolate early in 2005 and have been eating it and recording my impressions ever since. I guess chocoholic + freelance writer = chocolate website.

What’s the difference between chocolate and chocolates?

Okay, smarty-pants, it isn’t just the “s.” Chocolate usually refers to the actual chocolate, while “chocolates” are candies made from chocolate, such as truffles and creams.

Is chocolate bad for you?

Cacao, the stuff that chocolate is made from, is quite good for you. It is a powerful antioxidant. But chocolate is made from cacao plus other things, like sugar. Sugar, obviously, isn’t all that good for you.

The key to finding healthy chocolate is to select products with a high cacao content and quality, preferably organic ingredients. Dr. Andrew Weil “recommend[s] a piece of good-quality dark chocolate as a snack.” Read more about chocolate’s health benefits.

What is the best way to store chocolate?

Store in a cool (60-70° F), dark, dry place away from strong-smelling items such as peppermint or dirty socks. Chocolate has a tendency to absorb other odors. Do not store chocolate in the refrigerator.

What is chocolate “bloom”?

There are two types of chocolate bloom, fat bloom and sugar bloom. Both of them produce a greyish film on the surface of the chocolate.

Sugar Bloom: Surface moisture, which forms when chocolate is stored in a humid environment, or when it is moved quickly from a very cool environment to a very warm one, causes sugar bloom. The moisture dissolves sugar, and, after evaporating, leaves behind tiny sugar crystals. It feels grainy when touched.

Fat Bloom: If chocolate is improperly tempered, stored in an overly warm environment, or exposed to quick temperature changes, cocoa butter may separate from the chocolate and accumulate on the surface. Known as fat bloom, it feels greasy when touched.

Although both types of bloom are safe to eat, sugar bloom can be really nasty and grainy. Fat bloom can usually be fixed by melting and tempering the chocolate. Both can be avoided by properly storing chocolate.

How can I find good chocolate where I live?

I guess it depends on where you live, but you can find quality chocolate just about anywhere. If you are looking for bars from around the world, you can find many online. Check out our Where to Buy Chocolate page. In the US, try natural food stores, gourmet food stores, and importers such as Cost Plus World Market. Just keep your eyes peeled, and you will find all sorts of stuff you’ve never heard of or tried.

If you want chocolates (like truffles and such), I recommend looking for a small, local manufacturer (not a chain). Although many of the famous chocolatiers sell their products online, it’s good to support your local economy. You may be surprised at what you can find locally, and it should be nice and fresh, too.

What does “organic” chocolate mean?

Organic food, including organic chocolate, is grown without the use of most conventional pesticides, without synthetic pesticides or sewage sludge, without genetic modifications or radiation. Organic meat is free of growth hormones and antibiotics. In the US, the USDA must inspect a farm before its wares can be labeled organic. Organic farmers also tend to favor renewable energy and other conservation practices.

What does Fair Trade chocolate mean?

When farmers and laborers are paid a fair price for the products they produce, rather than being exploited for cheap labor, that is considered “Fair Trade.” Because they are paid a fair price, producers can avoid cost-cutting practices that sacrifice quality and are destructive to the environment. For example, Fair Trade cacao is typically organic and shade-grown, meaning it is grown under the canopy of the rainforest rather than in a clear cut field.

Products become Fair Trade Certified based on the standards set forth by Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International, a consortium of trade groups throughout the world who establish the criteria for Fair Trade products. A similar movement is called Equi-Trade. Read more about Fair Trade chocolate.

How do you know if a chocolate is good?

That’s the thing about chocolate – ultimately, only you can decide what tastes good to you. Just because there are “experts” who call one chocolate better than another doesn’t mean you are going to like the same things. And that’s okay! In general, if the manufacturer uses high quality ingredients, you’ll probably get a reasonably good chocolate.

You can read more about it on our Chocolate 101 and Chocolate 102 pages.

If you would like to learn more about chocolate, let us know!

34 thoughts on “General Questions About Chocolate”

  1. Thank you very much for a very informative website, I have learnt a lot by reading here this morning and following the various links. I will only buy fair trade chocolate from now on and look forward to trying your chocolate and tofu mousse!
    My question for you is: What is chocolate couverture? At what point in the process is couverture?
    Thank you again 🙂
    Regards,
    Carrie

    Reply
    • Hello Carrie,

      Couverture refers to chocolate that has had extra cocoa butter added. It is typically used for dipping or coating chocolates.

      Reply
  2. Good day
    My question is: One Million Dollars Rich Dark Chocolate Bars does it contain alcohol, I see it has Chocolate liquor but does not give an alcohol content.

    Thank you
    Regards
    Zee

    Reply
    • I know that couverture chocolate has coconut in it but I’m not sure what glaze chocolate is. Any way I hope that helps 🙂

      Reply
  3. What kind of chocolate melts fastest, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, or white chocolate? My daughter is doing a science fair project and we found that the milk chocolate melted the fastest.

    Reply
    • I don’t think anyone knows why chocolate was made, anymore than anyone knows why lasagna was first made. People have been experimenting with foods for thousands of years, and chocolate is one happy result of that!

      Reply
  4. Can someone please tell me, I want to make my own easter eggs do I have to buy untempered chocolate or can I use any chocolate? I don’t want it to go all marbled I want a shiney finish many thanks.

    Reply
  5. I like fudge bars, Mars bars and twixes the best. I love the asdas own make milk chocolate that is only 33p as it is really chocolatey!!

    Reply
  6. Hi, Im trying to make chocolate truffles (ganache covered with chocolate). When I dip them in melted milk chocolate (31*c) they come out ok, but when I dip them in melted white chocolate (29*c) the ganache melts into the white chocolate and ruins the truffles. How does the lower temperature white chocolate melt the ganache but not the hotter milk chocolate? Thanks, Colt

    Reply
    • Hi Colt, is it possible the ganache is melting regardless, but that it’s more easily visible with the white chocolate? If the ganache is melting a little and mixes with a milk chocolate coating, you might not be able to see it. Either way, you might consider refrigerating the ganache briefly before coating to help prevent this. Better yet, you can leave them overnight in a cool room, and they should form a film that helps them keep their shape while dipping. You may also try using a little less cream and a little more chocolate in your ganache.

      Reply
  7. Help! I temper my own chocolate (buy couverture). I ended up this holiday baking round with 3 lbs. of dark chocolate (70%) and 1/2 lb of milk. I’ve been mixing the dark and milk in different proportions for various results. However, the dark by itself is too bitter for many people. Is there a way I can sweeten it and still temper it for use in molds and hand dipped chocolates? I did make a ganache once and didn’t use enough cream–it hardened–maybe if I add sweetened condensed milkk??? Will it cause my melting chocolate to seize up or change abIlity to temper it? I hope someone can help me. I am concerned, btw, that sugar crystals and my seed chocolate will compete for crystallizing ?

    Reply
    • Hi Beryl,

      I’m with you in that I don’t think adding sugar would be a good idea, since it might encourage crystallization. I think your best bets are adding in a sweeter, lighter chocolate, and/or trying the sweetened condensed milk in lieu of cream (I’ve never done it, but it seems like a rational strategy). Barring that, you should just get some friends with better taste in chocolate! 😀

      Reply
  8. I am curious about how the dark chocolate makers arrive at their suggested serving size. I do not see any rhyme or reason to the amounts. For example Pacari has a bar that is 100% chocolate, The bar weighs 50 grams and the suggested serving size is 10 grams. I would calculate that as a serving of 10 grams of chocolate. On the other hand Green & Black have a 85% bar that weighs 100 grams and the suggested serving is 40 grams. I would calculate the amount of chocolate per serving for G & B is about 34 grams of chocolate (.85 X 40).
    I have seen various websites recommended eating 1-2 oz of dark chocolate per day but not state the percentage of chocolate in the bars.
    How do they arrive at the suggested serving size? Is it based on clinical information or convenience: the Pacari bar would last 5 days but the G&B bar only 2.5 days.
    Thanks for all the information you have provided.

    Reply
    • The suggested serving size listed on a package is somewhat arbitrary, based on how much a person might reasonably eat of that product in one sitting. Pacari, at 100% cacao, is dark enough that most people aren’t going to want to sit down and eat more than 10 grams or so, whereas an 85% cacao bar might be the sort of thing someone eats more of, since it would have a bit of sugar to make it more palatable to more people.

      Keep in mind that a serving size on a wrapper is NOT THE SAME as a suggested amount to eat. It is merely there so that people can gauge the nutritional content of a given portion.

      This is a separate issue from the 1-2 oz of dark chocolate per day suggestion for health. That recommendation is based on about 100 or more studies on the health benefits of chocolate, and yes, it is somewhat vague, but you may be overthinking it! If you eat 1-2 oz of any dark chocolate, where chocolate, and not sugar, is the first ingredient, then you will be getting at least a minimum threshold–if not more–of cocoa flavonols, the part of the chocolate that’s supposed to be most beneficial.

      Reply
  9. How can you infuse or combine herbs or spices into chocolate? Should I just pour it into melted chocolate or somewhat make them into a paste?

    Reply
    • You can add herbs and spices directly to chocolate, or infuse them in oil and add a small amount of oil to the chocolate. Don’t infuse in water, as this will just cause your chocolate to set up prematurely.

      Reply
  10. Congratulations for the article. I learned a lot. I thought that know something about chocolate but I seem that I don’t know anything.

    Reply

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