Chocolate Buying Guide

Gourmet & Gift Buying Guide

Chocolate is Royal Goodness
It is truly the food of royalty. Montezuma consumed vast quantities daily (mixed with red pepper!). Introduced to Europe after the explorations of the new world, its expense made it available only to the upper echelon. It, of course is chocolate. You may or may not be a chocoholic, but most people when asked, will freely admit that they do love the taste and experience of good chocolates. Whether it’s as simple as a young child biting off the ear of a chocolate Easter bunny, a pregnant woman pining for another scoop of rocky road, or a cultured adult reveling in the lusciousness of a chocolate molten volcano at an upscale chop house, chocolate still reigns supreme in the world of deserts. Let’s learn a little about the different types of chocolates, so the next time you’re out with your wealthy brethren and sisters at a fancy restaurant and the waiter wants to know whether you prefer couverture or white chocolate on their signature house ice cream, you’ll know what they’re talking about.

Types of Chocolate
There are many different types of chocolate which are classified on sort of a sliding scale based on the percentage of cocoa solids contained in the mix. The main types of chocolate (from least amount of cocoa solids to the most) are white chocolate, milk chocolate, sweet dark chocolate, dark chocolate, semisweet chocolate, bittersweet chocolate and unsweetened chocolate. There also specialty chocolates, which we’ll also describe. Chocolate types can be produced with ordinary cacao beans (allowing mass-production at a lower cost) or specialty cacao beans (which have a higher chocolate aroma and are more expensive) or a mixture of these two types. The composition of the mixture, origin of the cacao beans, the treatment and roasting of the beans, and the types and amounts of additives used greatly affect the flavor and the price of the final chocolate.

White Chocolate is made with cocoa butter, sugar, milk, emulsifier, vanilla and sometimes other flavorings. It doesn’t contain any non-fat ingredients from the cacao bean and has therefore an off-white color. In some countries white chocolate cannot be called 'chocolate' because of the low content of cocoa solids. It has a mild and pleasant flavor and can be used to make Chocolate Mousse, Panna Cotta and other desserts. White chocolate is useful also for color contrast in decoration, creating a dramatic effect when it is placed over darker backgrounds.

Milk Chocolate, as its name suggests, contains milk and is a sweet chocolate which normally contains 10-20% cocoa solids (which includes cocoa and cocoa butter) and more than 12% milk solids. It is seldom used for baking, except for cookies. However it does have its place in chocolate cookery, especially for decorations, and when a milder, creamy flavor is required. It is more sensitive to heat than dark chocolate so care must be taken when melting it. It has a lovely creamy, mild, and sweet flavor and is the most popular chocolate “eating” chocolate in the States.

Sweet dark chocolate, which contains between 35-45% cocoa solids, is between milk chocolate and semi-sweet chocolate in taste, but with a slightly stronger chocolate taste and aroma. It’s not always possible to distinguish between the flavor of sweet and semi-sweet chocolate. If a recipe asks for sweet dark chocolate you may also use semi-sweet chocolate.

Semi-sweet or Dark Chocolate can contain anything from 30% to 75% cocoa solids and is produced by adding fat and sugar to cacao. It is chocolate without milk as an additive. Dark chocolate has a slightly sweet flavor and a dark color and it is the chocolate type most used in cooking. For everyday cooking and the majority of the recipes for dark chocolate, choose one with around 50% cocoa solids. However, dark chocolate with a higher cocoa solid content will give a richer, more intense, flavor. This chocolate is often called luxury or continental chocolate and has a cocoa solid content of between 70-75%. Occasionally, cooking experts support that it is essential to use a better chocolate, but the recipe should specify when that is the case.

Bittersweet chocolate chocolate is dark sweetened chocolate which must contain at least 35% cocoa solids, but usually contains 60% to 85% cocoa solids depending on the brand. If the content of cocoa solids is high the content of sugar is low, giving a rich, intense and more-or-less bitter chocolate flavor. Bittersweet chocolate is often used for baking/cooking. If a recipe specifies bittersweet chocolate do not substitute with semi-sweet or sweet chocolate.

Unsweetened chocolate is a bitter chocolate which is only used for baking. The flavor is not good by itself, so it is not suitable for eating. Use it only if a recipe specifies 'unsweetened chocolate'. It contains almost 100% cocoa solids, about half of which might be fat (cocoa butter).

Couverture is a term used for chocolates rich in cocoa butter. Couverture is generally only used by professional pastry chefs and is often only sold in gourmet and specialty food stores. These chocolates contain a high percentage of cocoa (sometimes 70% or more) and have a total fat content of 30-40%.

Chocolate Glace is a chocolate-flavored cake decorating cover. It is generally considered an inferior chocolate product, however, due to its high fat content. It is easier to handle when making some decorations such as curls or caraque. It is often mixed with higher quality chocolates to improve their decorating qualities.

Chocolate Chips are available in dark, milk, and white chocolate varieties, and are used primarily for baking and as decoration materials.

Cocoa Powder is the powder left after the cocoa butter has been pressed from the roasted and ground beans. It is unsweetened and bitter in flavor. It main use is in cooking where it gives a good, strong chocolate flavor.

Belgium Chocolate, to the chocolate connoisseur, is one of the world's finest delicacies. The different types of Belgium chocolate are of the highest quality and Belgians take tremendous pride in their chocolate-making abilities. Many try to imitate its distinct flavor; but it cannot be duplicated. There are two specific types of Belgium chocolate. The first type of filled chocolates is known as pralines. The chocolates are typically filled with butter cream, fruit cream, or other types of paste from a variety of nuts. The second type of Belgian chocolate is the truffle. Truffles are known to be excessively rich and creamy and are made from a mixture of creamy and solid chocolate. Pure Belgium chocolate is costly, but the quality of the chocolate is worth the price. Obviously, the best chocolate you can buy would be handmade and fresh. Belgians do not use preservatives in their chocolate, so it will not maintain its freshness and distinctive flavor for very long. Most Belgium chocolate will taste best when served at room temperature.

Choosing Chocolates
Chocolates are not all created equal, and in general, there is a strong correlation between quality and price. You shouldn’t always buy the most expensive chocolate, because each type of chocolate has a specific purpose, but be aware that high-quality chocolates with large amounts of cocoa butter and cocoa solids will cost more than those with lesser amount of these ingredients. Chocolate preference is very personal, and you know what tastes good to you, so select chocolate that you will enjoy eating. Here are a few tips for buying higher quality chocolates.

Selecting chocolate is a sensory experience. Before you taste the chocolate, look at it closely. Good chocolate has a glossy surface and is free from blemishes such as scarring, cloudiness (or blooming), or other coloration. These blemishes may be signs that the chocolate is old or has been subject to extremes in temperature or handling. Chocolate should break with a clean, hard “snap”. If it bends or crumbles, either the quality is low or the chocolate is old. Good chocolate, due to its high cocoa content, will smell strongly of chocolate. If you rub your fingers over the surface to warm the chocolate, you can then smell the bar. If it doesn’t smell like chocolate, or if it smells primarily of vanilla or other added ingredients, it probably won’t taste very much like chocolate either. Chocolate easily picks up odors from its environment, so be aware if your chocolate smells like coffee, tea, (or worse!)

There are many, many different brands of chocolate and chocolate manufacturers to choose from, each with their own distinctive styles and flavors. Common brands to consider include: Hershey, Cadbury, Nestlé, Belcolade, Blommer, Cacao Barry, Callebaut, Carma, El Rey, Felchin, Ghiradelli, Guittard, Lindt, Scharffen Berger, Valrhona, Van Leer, and Wilbur.

Here is the key to chocolate: find what you like and indulge yourself occasionally. Good, high quality chocolate (especially dark chocolate) is high in antioxidants which help fight aging. So not only is chocolate delicious, it might help keep you looking young! So if you are a man buying chocolates for a lady, remember this: She’s only indulging in chocolate to keep herself looking her best for you!