A Chocolate Primer

A Chocolate Primer

When it comes to chocolate, we all have different preferences. Some of us love dark chocolate; others prefer milk chocolate or are crazy about white chocolate. But what’s the difference between these chocolate varieties?

All chocolate contains cocoa, an ingredient that comes from the beans of the cacao tree. To make cocoa, the cacao beans are fermented and roasted for flavor. Then the cacao nibs (the meat inside the beans) are extracted, ground up, and liquefied to become chocolate liquor. The liquor is then processed into cocoa solids and cocoa butter. It is the cocoa solids that give chocolate its distinct flavor.

A chocolate’s cocoa percentage is the actual percentage of the cocoa solids and cocoa butter that are in the chocolate. The remaining components of the chocolate are usually sugar, a tiny bit of lecithin (a stabilizing ingredient), and often milk solids/powder and vanilla. As a general rule, the higher the percentage of cocoa solids and cocoa butter, the smaller the amount of sugar and other ingredients, and the more intense the chocolate flavor.

Dark chocolate has the highest percentage of cocoa solids and cocoa butter. It has a rich, dark color and typically contains anywhere from 45-80% cocoa. Dark chocolate that has the highest percentage of cocoa can be quite bitter tasting, while dark chocolate in lower percentages can have an intense chocolate flavor without being overpowering. Depending on the sourcing and processing of the cacao beans, some types of dark chocolate taste fruity, while others taste mellow and smooth. Dark chocolate is also considered “the healthy chocolate.” It’s not only a powerful source of antioxidants that help fight disease, but it has been shown to lower blood pressure and improve vascular health.

Milk chocolate has much less cocoa than dark chocolate and therefore has a lighter appearance, creamier texture, and sweeter taste. Milk chocolate, as the name implies, contains milk solids or powder with a minimum of 10% cocoa solids and cocoa butter, although higher quality milk chocolate often contains as much as 30-40% cocoa. The other ingredients in milk chocolate are sugar, lecithin, and vanilla. In the 1870s, the Swiss chocolate maker Daniel Peter, working in conjunction with Nestlé, formulated the first commercial milk chocolate recipe by adding condensed milk to chocolate. Other companies followed his lead in making this sweeter and milder flavored chocolate that is now the most popular and plentiful chocolate on the market today.

White chocolate was invented by Nestle in the 1930s as a way for the company to use up its excess cocoa butter. White chocolate contains many of the same ingredients as milk chocolate – milk solids or powder, sugar, lecithin, vanilla and cocoa butter – but it contains no cocoa solids. For this reason, some people argue that white chocolate is not really chocolate, although its cocoa percentage from the cocoa butter alone is at least 20%. Without cocoa solids, white chocolate lacks the dark color and bitter complexity of regular chocolate, but it gains its extremely sweet and creamy taste.

No matter what kind of chocolate you love best – dark, milk, white (or all of the above!) – you will find a varied and delicious selection at Fazio’s Chocolate to both sample and take home.

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