Is there anything more satisfying than unwrapping a tasty chocolate morsel at the end of a long day? It’s one of life’s little delicacies. But how much do we actually know about this sweet treat? By the end of this article, you’ll have a better grasp on the different types of chocolate, how they’re made and how they affect our health. Don’t worry, we’re not asking anyone to give up their lifelong love of chocolate — just to understand it more!
What is “baking chocolate”? Can I still eat it?
Well, yes you could but it would be bitter and probably pretty unenjoyable. That’s why chocolate is broken up into two main categories: baking chocolate and eating chocolate.
Baking chocolate is created by grinding the center of a roasted cocoa bean into a smooth and liquid state called chocolate liquor, and then forming that into a solid. In its purest form it’s bitter, unsweetened (aka unsweetened chocolate) and used in baking recipes where sugar is added separately.
So now that we’ve covered baking chocolate, what’s eating chocolate? Simple. It’s literally all other types of chocolate according to the National Confectioners Association.
What are the different kinds of eating chocolate?
The “big three” hold down the category of eating chocolate: dark chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate. Let’s take a closer look at each, shall we?
Dark chocolate is often viewed as the healthier of chocolates, and there’s a reason for that. They have more cocoa beans (at least 35% cacao) in them than their lighter counterparts, which means more flavanols. And what are flavanols besides a silly sounding word? They’re a compound which, at high levels, can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, improve cognition, and possibly lower the risk of diabetes. You should still limit your portions to one ounce per day to keep your weight in check.
What’s in a name? In this case, it’s milk. By definition milk chocolate contains at least 12% milk solids. You heard that right — milk chocolate is usually made with milk solids, not cold liquid milk. It also has to have at least 10% cacao, which means it does have some flavanols but significantly less than dark chocolate. The rest of milk chocolate is made up of sugar and sometimes vanilla or emulsifiers. So is there any health benefit to milk chocolate specifically?
Researchers at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland found that people who ate the most chocolate (mostly milk chocolate) had a lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke than those who ate the least or none at all. At the same time, the researchers admit that healthier people might just eat more chocolate. *shrug*
So at this point, we all agree that cocoa beans (or chocolate liquor) is the basis for all chocolate, right? Not in this case, friend. Instead, white chocolate focuses on cocoa butter — the natural fat in cocoa beans — as its chocolate flavor. It must be at least 20% cocoa butter and 14% milk — after that it can have lecithin, vanilla, sugar and other flavors added. Although it’s delicious and useful for certain recipes, white chocolate is the least healthy and least pure of the big three chocolates.
What about bittersweet and semisweet chocolate?
Ah, the awkward step-cousins of the chocolate family. Technically, bittersweet and semisweet are subcategories of dark chocolate and they straddle the line between baking and eating chocolates. They’re essentially baking chocolate with added sugar, and weirdly enough there’s no regulation in the United States to definitively separate the two. But things are different in Europe. A European regulation requires that semisweet varieties contain more sugar and less chocolate liquor than bittersweet varieties. So the next time you’re wondering what the difference is, just remember that “bittersweet” will probably mean more bitter.
Going straight to the source
According to Cole Adam, a SCL Health Registered Dietician in the Denver area, if you’re looking for the healthiest possible option when it comes to chocolate products, cacao nibs or cocoa powder are your best options. So what are they? Cacao nibs are the center of a cocoa bean, and you can purchase them roasted to eat for a crunchy snack. Cocoa powder is the ground-up “cocoa solids” that are left behind after chocolate makers grind cocoa nibs to extract cocoa butter.
Now that you know a bit more about everyone’s favorite indulgence, what do you think? Do you have a new favorite type of chocolate or are your views pretty much the same? Let us know in the comments!