Know Your Chocolate
There’s a Willy Wonka's worth of chocolate out there vying for your baking, cooking, and eating dollars. And, with so much to choose from, it's good to know the difference between the varieties, and how to pick the kind of chocolate that's just right for your recipe.
Quick Overview of Chocolate
Chocolate comes from the seeds, or nibs, of the cacao tree. They're roasted and ground to produce a liquid or paste called chocolate liquor, which can then be separated into cocoa butter and cocoa powder. Tweaking ratios of cocoa butter, cocoa powder, sugar, and other ingredients produces the different types of chocolate on the market. To keep everything legit, the FDA maintains industry standards for labeling chocolate.
The Right Chocolate for Your Recipe
Use this simple chart to see which kind of chocolate works best for melting and molding,cooking, baking, eating, or drinking.
Baking chocolate. Also called bitter or unsweetened chocolate. This solid chocolate liquor contains 50-58% cocoa butter and no added sugar. Best for cooking and baking.
Bittersweet chocolate. Darkest of all eating chocolates. Has the strongest chocolate flavor and contains at least 35% chocolate liquor. Some premium brands contain 70% or more cocoa butter and cocoa solids. Best for cooking, baking, and eating.
Semisweet. Often used in place of bittersweet, but has more added sugar. Contains at least 35% chocolate liquor. Best for cooking, baking, and eating.
Sweet chocolate. Has more added sugar than semisweet, and contains at least 15% chocolate liquor. Best for cooking, baking, and eating.
Milk chocolate. Contains at least 10% chocolate liquor and at least 12% milk solids to give it a sweet and creamy taste. Best for eating.
White chocolate. Not really a "true" chocolate because it does not contain chocolate solids. Contains at least 20% cocoa butter. Foodie Fact: When the cocoa butter is replaced with other, less expensive fats, it can no longer be labeled as white chocolate; it's sold as almond bark or confectioners' coating. Best for cooking, baking, and eating.
Cocoa powder. Can be sweet or bitter. Made by drying and grinding chocolate liquor and removing most of the cocoa butter, but must still retain 10-22% cocoa butter. "Dutched" or Dutch-process cocoa is treated with an alkalizing agent to make it darker, less bitter, and more soluble in liquids. Best for baking and drinking.
Couverture. Favored by candy-making pros. Contains at least 32% cocoa butter, which makes it very glossy and allows it to flow more easily when it's melted and tempered. Comes in bars or coins called pistoles. Best for melting and baking.
Cocoa Nibs. Made by roasting and breaking up cocoa beans. Adds crunch to cookies and dessert garnishes. Best for baking.
Now go forth and face the most daunting array of chocolate armed with the knowledge you need to get exactly what you want.