Understanding Chocolate Flavor
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Understanding Chocolate Flavor

Chocolate bars

The differences between chocolate flavors is based on the type of cocoa bean, terroir, fermentation, roasting, conching and the ingredients included in each chocolate formula. Real chocolate only has a short list of ingredients, so read labels carefully.

About Chocolate Flavor

As a chocolate professional or chocolate lover, you probably taste chocolate every day. Our Mastering Chocolate Flavor Program encourages you to focus on understanding chocolate flavor while tasting chocolate consciously in order to create better, more interesting chocolate recipes and experiences.

Dark chocolate flavor ingredients

  • cocoa, cocoa liquor (the essence of the cocoa bean)
  • added cocoa butter (optional)
  • sugar/sweetener
  • spices such as vanilla

Dark chocolate can come in a variety of flavors which are categorized by the industry as unsweetened chocolate, bittersweet chocolate and semisweet chocolate:

Unsweetened chocolate or brute chocolate

Unsweetened chocolate is mainly used for cooking purposes as it usually has a cocoa liquor component of 99%.

Bittersweet chocolate

(As a reference, the U.S. FDA requires that the chocolate contain 35% or more cocoa liquor)
Unfortunately, there's a big difference in flavor between chocolate with 35% cocoa liquor and that with 84%. The higher the cocoa liquor, the less the percentage of sugar. Your own palate should determine the percentage of cocoa liquor you prefer. Please note that percentage of cocoa liquor does not determine quality. You can make a 70% chocolate with badly processed beans that don't taste very good.

Semisweet chocolate or sweet chocolate

(As a reference, the U.S. FDA requires the chocolate contain 15% or more cocoa liquor)
Again, there's a wide range of chocolate liquor percentages in this category. What's interesting to note is that to be considered semisweet or sweet chocolate, the bar only needs to contain 15% cocoa liquor.

Milk chocolate

(As a reference, the U.S. FDA requires the chocolate to be 10% or more cocoa liquor)

Milk chocolate flavor ingredients:

  • cocoa, cocoa liquor
  • added cocoa butter (optional)
  • sugar/sweetener
  • milk or cream powder
  • spices such as vanilla

Milk chocolate flavor has a lot to do with the type of milk or cream product that's used in its manufacturer as well as the strength and taste of the cocoa liquor. Because the added milk or cream softens or masks the flavor of the chocolate liquor, many manufacturers rely on a bitter chocolate flavor bean such as forastero to deliver flavor.

Dark milk chocolate: There's a trend by artisan chocolatiers to use a "dark" milk chocolate which contains a higher percentage of cocoa liquor. This gives the creamy milk chocolate a more pronounced chocolate flavor.

White chocolate

(As a reference, the U.S. FDA requires the chocolate to be 20% or more cocoa butter)

White chocolate flavor ingredients:

  • cocoa butter
  • sugar/sweetener
  • milk or cream powder
  • spices such as vanilla

Because there's so little "chocolate" in white chocolate, the flavor is mainly that of milk, vanilla and sugar.

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What does cocoa percentage mean?

Many times fine chocolate manufacturers indicate the percentage of cocoa on the label. This basically tells you the percentage of cocoa liquor (i.e. the essence of the bean) and any added cocoa butter. The rest of the product is made up of sugar or a combination of sugar and dry milk powder in the case of milk or white chocolate.

Important note: This percentage does not indicate quality as you can have lower quality beans made into a high cocoa percentage bar. Use the percentage only as an indication of sweetness. Learn lots more about cocoa percentage.

Understanding special chocolate such as organic chocolate

In our curriculum at Ecole Chocolat, we address the important issues of sourcing organic chocolate, supporting fair trade chocolate and promoting sustainable cocoa and chocolate practices. Learn more about organic chocolate and other issues.

try tasting warm chocolate flavor

Sourcing good quality chocolate

We have put together a compilation of companies that offer chocolate for purchase online or through mail order to use in your chocolate making at home. Gourmet Chocolate Suppliers

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Photography by Jessica Washburn, Bliss Chocolatier and Ecole Chocolat

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