Chocolate Guide – Types Explained


It will come as no surprise that chocolate is the most popular ingredient used throughout the world, but it can be confusing when looking at a recipe or ingredient list, right?  Here is an easy-to-use guide I hope you find useful:

Cacao — This is the cacao bean, minus the shell, and nothing else, which can be bought raw or roasted. Whole cacao is the whole bean, cacao nibs are crunched up pieces of bean, and ground cacao is powdered. Even though it is the healthiest form of chocolate there is, cacao can sometimes be quite bitter.

Chocolate Liquor — It sounds intoxicating, but it’s not.  The basis for all forms of chocolate.  Nothing is added and it is created by grinding cacao nibs into a smooth liquid paste.  AKA cocoa mass.

cocoa_butter1Cocoa Butter — One reason we love chocolate is that it melts at body temperature.  How does it do this?  Look to the cocoa butter, which is also used in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.

Unsweetened chocolate — aka baking chocolate. It is chocolate liquor that has hardened.  Many bakers and cooks prefer to use this type of chocolate for baking since they can control the sweetness and flavor.

Bittersweet chocolate (aka Semisweet Chocolate, Dark Chocolate) — When talking to many different people in the industry, they say there is no technical difference between bittersweet and semisweet types of chocolate and are often referred to as “dark.”  Bittersweet chocolate has at least 35% chocolate liquor. Semisweet chocolate can have up to 35%, so they can be virtually identical.  What matters more is the quality of the chocolate you are using.  So stick with the good stuff!

Semisweet chocolate— see Bittersweet chocolate

Dark chocolate — Produced by adding fat (hopefully the natural cocoa butter and not gross palm kernel oil, etc) and sugar to cocoa mass (liquor). Don’t be fooled –> dark chocolate has NO MILK.  Otherwise, it would be…

Milk chocolate — Powdered milk or condensed milk has been added to the chocolate liquor, plus (again, hopefully) cocoa butter and sugar in varying amounts.

White “chocolate”– Yes…those are quotes.  Sorry, but this is not really chocolate in my book since it does not contain ANY chocolate mass (liquor).  It is made up of sugar and fat (hopefully cocoa butter).

Single Origin Chocolate — (aka Origin Chocolate, Estate Chocolate, Grand Cru, Single Cru)  These are terms borrowed from the wine industry and refer to beans grown in a single region or even a specific plantation.  The point is the manufacturer is carefully selecting the beans to create a unique flavor profile for their bar, but some people argue this is a scam.  These types of chocolate usually high quality, but pay attention to who is processing the chocolate.  This will tell you whether they care about quality and flavor or profit $$$.

Cocoa Powder — There are two forms.  Natural cocoa is light in color, a little acidic with a strong chocolate cocoapwdr1flavor and is commonly used in recipes with baking soda. Dutch-process cocoa is mild in flavor and is treated with an alkali solution of potassium carbonate to neutralize its acids.  It does not react with baking soda and must be used in recipes calling for baking powder.

Chocolate Coating — These are vegetable fat-based coatings that contain sugar and some amount cocoa powder, chocolate liquor and/or cocoa butter for flavor. They are not true chocolate. The advantage to using them is that they typically do not “bloom” in high heat. They are best used in making chocolate decorations.

Couverture — A chocolate rich in cocoa butter used by professional pastry chefs and sold in gourmet stores. Valrhona, Scharffen Berger and Guittard contain 70% or higher cocoa and a fat content of 30-40%, which means they are creamy and melt well.

So…chocolate coating or couverture?  Couverture is the good stuff.  It is usually some type of dark chocolate with extra cocoa butter added to make it melt nicely for enrobing (drizzling onto the outside of a chocolate confection).  The high cocoa butter content (roughly 35-45%) makes it melt well, so it is ideal for chocolate fountains and usually no oil needs to be added.

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