Preferences run deep and strong when it comes to the choice of dark vs. milk chocolate, as we discovered during a recent Allrecipes Tasting Panel. Whether leaning toward bittersweet or light and creamy, chocolate lovers everywhere can certainly agree there's never been a better time to be a cocoa bean fan. The selection is vast from mass market bars to high-end artisan products made with organic, fair trade, single origin beans. These are the 15 bars sampled in a blind tasting by the panel, a group of chefs and food writers, with the winners revealed below.
The details: Made with Belgian chocolate, these bars from Boulder, Colo., contain 33 percent cocoa content, but also soy lecithin, which is an inexpensive emulsifier found in many mass-produced bars. Inside each wrapper is a poem about love.
The details: In addition to being organic, Newman's Own also purchases its cocoa products from growers that are part of the Rainforest Alliance. This widely available bar contains 34 percent cocoa, but also uses soy lecithin.
Blanxart Milk Chocolate
The details: Made in Spain from organic beans grown in the Philippines, this premium bar is 44 percent cocoa.
The details: Beans from around the globe are selected by a master chocolatier in France for this milk chocolate with 65 percent cocoa.
The details: Made with organic, fair trade beans this Seattle-based company uses 45 percent cocoa in its milk chocolate.
The details: A mix of cocoa butter, chocolate liquor sourced from Madagascar, whole and skim milk powder (all milk chocolates use milk powder), this Belgian-made bar contains 32 percent cocoa.
The details: Made in Germany with sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa mass, dried milk and sunflower lecithin, this fair trade bar contains 26 percent cocoa.
The details: Made in Italy, this bar contains organic cocoa butter, sugar, organic whole milk powder, vanilla extract and soy lecithin. There's a 34 percent cocoa content. One of the first to produce a bean-to-bar product, the company was purchased in 2005 by Cadbury, which is owned by Kraft.
The details: This Missouri-based bean-to-bar chocolate makers feature single origin beans in selected bars. Dark milk chocolate made from beans from the island of Davao in the Philippines showcases the farmer who grew them with a photo on the package. This bar contains 62 percent cocoa in addition to cocoa butter made from the same beans, and goat milk powder.
The details: The 65 percent cocoa content comes from cocoa liquor and cocoa powder, while this bar also contains soy lecithin.
The details: Organic chocolate liquor, sugar and cocoa butter are combined in this Belgium-made bar that weighs in at 72 percent cocoa. A portion of the proceeds are donated to fund education in Tanzania.
The details: A mix of organic, non-GMO certified cocoa bean, sugar, cocoa butter and vanilla create a 70 percent cocoa content.
The details: A hefty 85 percent cocoa content comes from cocoa solids made with organically grown beans from Belize and the Dominican Republic.
The details: Just four ingredients, organic cocoa beans, cocoa butter, sugar and vanilla bean, this 85 percent cocoa bar is fair trade certified and GMO-free.
The details: A small batch bean-to-bar operation with a shop in historic Pike Place Market, indi's 73 percent cocoa dark chocolate bar contains beans directly sourced by owner Erin Andrews from Central America. Andrews also makes chocolate body care products.
Before the tasting started, Becca Roebber from indi chocolate shared some suggestions on how to best sample chocolate:
- Smell it first, introducing some of the flavors you will taste.
- Chew on the chocolate just to break it up and then let it melt in your mouth. The best chocolate will pick up flavors of other fruits grown in the region, characteristics such passion fruit. Higher quality chocolate is made with carefully sourced beans, while many brands use cocoa butter combined with chocolate liquor for the chocolate flavor, a cheap shortcut, according to experts.
- If you're going to taste a large number of chocolates, saltines or water are good palate cleansers.
And the winner was indi. Tasters said they appreciated the intense, yet balanced flavor and the delicate texture. "It has a great mouth feel and meltability, you could taste pure cocoa, a quality bean. It wasn't super bitter or super acidic," said chef Sam Crannell from LloydMartin in Seattle. Pastry chef Stacy Fortner praised its beautiful appearance with cacao pods etched onto the bar.
Second place was Divine, a milk chocolate that brands its bars as "Seriously Smooth" with panelists buying that slogan, and third place was the Chocolove dark chocolate. Those two, widely available bars beat the artisan chocolates in the mix, surprising some.
Thanks to panelists: Sam Crannell, chef/owner of LloydMartin, Stacy Fortner, pastry chef for Tom Douglas Restaurants, Art Stone, owner of Honest Biscuits, cookbook author Cynthia Nims, Zagat Seattle editor Jackie Varriano, food blogger, Frank Guanco, senior food editor at Allrecipes, Vanessa Greaves.