If you’ve recently visited a grocery store, you must have noticed the myriad of different types of chocolate! Not just the different shapes of chocolate, but also the percentages on the label. So, how do you know what chocolate to use? What’s the difference between couverture and regular chocolate? Which chocolate should you buy for eating, and which is best for baking? And what about all the different shapes of chocolate?
If you have questions about the different types of chocolate, this comprehensive guide is for you!
The Process of Making Chocolate from Bean to Bar
Understanding how chocolate goes from the seeds of the cacao tree to the chocolate bar you can buy in the grocery store is vital in differentiating all the main chocolate types. Here’s a quick explanation:
The best chocolate is made using high-quality cocoa beans that are carefully selected, fermented, and dried to develop their flavor. Once dried, the beans are roasted to bring out their unique taste and aroma. The roasted beans are then winnowed to remove their shells, leaving behind cocoa nibs.
Next, the cocoa nibs are ground into a thick paste called chocolate liquor/cocoa liquor/cocoa mass. Chocolate liquor consists of cocoa solids (where the flavor comes from) and cocoa butter (where the texture comes from) – chocolate in its purest form. The chocolate liquor can also be further processed to separate the cocoa solids from the cocoa butter. The cocoa solids are ground into a fine powder called cocoa powder, while the cocoa butter is used in making chocolate or other products such as cosmetics.
Finally, chocolate liquor is mixed with sugar and other ingredients, such as milk powder or vanilla extract, to make different types of chocolates. This mixture is then conched – heated, and stirred for several hours to develop a velvety, smooth texture. After conching, the chocolate is tempered, a process of cooling and heating the chocolate to precise temperatures to form stable crystals. The tempered chocolate is then poured into molds and cooled to form various shapes of chocolate ready for packaging and consumption.
Classification of Chocolate
There are different types of chocolate on the market.
In many countries* the labeling of chocolate is regulated, meaning the naming conventions guarantee a minimum percentage of cocoa mass, milk, and sugar. Based on that classification, for a product to be called real chocolate, it must contain a minimum of total cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Chocolate that doesn’t meet that requirement is called compound chocolate.
Depending on the proportion of cocoa mass and other added ingredients, chocolate can be further classified as dark, milk, or white.
Finally, regardless of the type of chocolate, chocolate comes in various shapes and forms – blocks, bars, discs/wafers, callets, fèves, and chips.
*In the US, it’s the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); in Canada, it’s the Food and Drug Regulations (FDR); in Europe, it’s EUR-Lex.
Real vs Compound Chocolate
According to the FDA, for a product to be categorized as real chocolate, it must contain a minimum of 35% total cocoa solids and 18% cocoa butter.
Once the cocoa mass has been made, there are two paths forward:
- Add cocoa butter to the chocolate mass and grind it again to create smooth couverture chocolate.
- Squeeze the cocoa mass into huge hydraulic presses and separate it into cocoa butter and cocoa powder to create regular chocolate.
Couverture (Premium) Chocolate
The precise standards for couverture chocolate state that couverture chocolate must contain a minimum of 35% cocoa mass and 31% cocoa butter (31% is just the minimum amount, and some couverture chocolates contain up to 39% cocoa butter!). As such, couverture chocolate is the highest quality real chocolate available.
Couverture chocolate, unlike regular chocolate, is ground to a finer texture during production and contains a higher percentage of cocoa butter relative to other ingredients. These two differences produce a superior aroma, richer flavor, and a smoother texture, making couverture the preferred chocolate for tempering, enrobing, and dipping. It has a beautiful shine, deep chocolate flavor, and a firm snap, so it’s ideal for chocolate bars, chocolate bark, chocolate truffles, or chocolate-covered strawberries.
You can also bake with couverture chocolate, but since it contains more cocoa butter than regular baking chocolate, it might behave differently in recipes that call for melted chocolate, such as cakes or brownies. The different proportions of fat to sugar and cocoa solids might be a problem, depending on the recipe. Usually, it’s best to bake with regular chocolate intended for baking.
In the past, couverture chocolate was available only to professionals, but some of the best companies now make their products available in grocery stores and online. They have a wide range of flavors, from spicy to fruity to floral, in a full range of cocoa solid levels from unsweetened 100% to extra dark 70% to milky 32%. This allows for fantastic flexibility in crafting the flavor and intensity of the finished product. Some of the most popular brands include Amano, Callebaut, El Rey, Felchlin, Guittard, Valrhona, and Weinrich. There’s no “top” or “best” couverture chocolate to recommend, as it comes down to personal taste and preference.
Baking (Regular) Chocolate
Regular chocolate is not as shiny, aromatic, flavorful, or smooth as couverture chocolate. It’s also thicker when melted because it contains less cocoa butter (a minimum of 18%).
The advantage of regular chocolate over couverture chocolate is its affordability and accessibility. Regular chocolate is particularly popular among bakers because recipes that call for melted chocolate are formulated with regular baking chocolate. It’s still okay for tempering but a bit harder to work with because of its thicker consistency.
Although couverture chocolate is classified as the highest quality chocolate, regular chocolate can also be very high quality. Great chocolate should indicate the percentage of cocoa solids and contain only a few ingredients – cocoa solids, cocoa butter, and sugar. Lecithin as an emulsifier isn’t necessary but isn’t a deal breaker.
Compound (Candy Coating) Chocolate
Where real chocolate is made of cocoa butter, compound chocolate is made of vegetable oil (coconut, cottonseed, palm, or soybean). The oil in compound chocolate can either replace the cocoa butter entirely or partially. Real chocolate may also contain some vegetable oil, but not more than 5%.
The lack of cocoa butter in compound chocolate means that the chocolate doesn’t need to be tempered and sets just fine after melting. Compound chocolate is easier to work with, and more affordable than real chocolate. Manufacturers can also change the characteristics of compound chocolate depending on the desired end product. For example, in tropical countries, chocolate manufacturers can create a compound chocolate product that doesn’t melt at room temperature (86°F/30°C), making it easier to distribute and display in stores.
However, the obvious drawback of compound chocolate is the lack of cocoa butter, which results in chocolate that doesn’t have an attractive shiny look, rich, creamy mouthfeel (it melts at a higher temperature than real chocolate), and a firm snap (it’s more pliable, so it doesn’t have an audible snap). It also doesn’t contract when it cools, so it doesn’t release from polycarbonate molds (it does release from flexible silicone molds).
It’s important to note that while compound chocolate attempts to mimic the flavor and texture of real chocolate, the quality of the chocolate depends on the ingredients and proportions used.
Types of Chocolate
The three most common types of chocolate are dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and white chocolate. There is also new chocolate on the market that’s pink!
The difference between these types of chocolates is the proportion of pure cocoa mass and any added cocoa butter. Generally, the higher the percentage – the number you see on the label – the more intense the chocolate flavor and aroma. The regulatory organizations – FDA, FDR, and Eur-Lex – set minimum percentages for all the main chocolate types.
Dark chocolate is typically further categorized as unsweetened, bittersweet, or semisweet.
Unsweetened chocolate, also called bitter chocolate, is unaltered cocoa mass. In other words, it’s a mix of cocoa solids and cocoa butter without any added sugar. Because it’s so bitter, it’s almost exclusively used in baking, particularly in cakes and brownies, which already contain a lot of sugar and wouldn’t benefit from the extra sugar from the sweetened chocolate.
Bittersweet chocolate contains between 66% and 99% of cocoa mass. The remaining ingredients are sugar/sweetener and typically lecithin. The flavor profile of bittersweet chocolate can vary widely based on the cocoa content of the chocolate. Bittersweet chocolate is often very chocolatey and only slightly sweet, with fruity or earthy undertones. Due to the chocolate-forward flavor profile, bittersweet chocolate is ideal for most desserts, including truffles, cookies, mousse, ganache, or frosting.
Semisweet chocolate falls between 35% and 65% of cocoa mass. It’s typically sweeter and lighter in color than bittersweet chocolate and is used mainly for eating. That said, the amount of sugar in chocolate is not regulated, so one manufacturer’s bittersweet chocolate may taste sweeter than another’s semisweet chocolate.
Milk chocolate is a classic.
By definition, milk chocolate must contain a minimum of 10% cocoa mass, and 12% milk in the form of either condensed milk (most European varieties) or milk solids. The rest is sugar/sweetener, vanilla, and lecithin.
Because of the decreased cocoa content and increased fat content, milk chocolate melts more quickly than darker chocolate. Its flavor profile can be described as chocolatey and sweet, with notes of cooked milk, caramelized sugar, and a vanilla aftertaste. With its light brown color, sweet flavor, and creamy texture, milk chocolate is widely regarded as the most popular type of chocolate, especially for eating. Milk chocolate can also be used in baking, but its sweetness can sometimes overpower an already sweet dessert.
White chocolate is unique (and controversial) because it contains no cocoa solids. However, it’s still classified as a chocolate variety because it contains cocoa butter from the cocoa bean.
According to the FDA definition, for something to be considered white chocolate, it must contain a minimum of 20% cocoa butter, 14% milk or cream, and no more than 55% sugar/sweetener. White chocolate also often contains vanilla and lecithin. These ingredients give white chocolate its vanilla aroma and sweet flavor, with bold notes of sweetened condensed milk and vanilla. High-quality white chocolate has a rich, soft, and creamy texture – a characteristic of the cocoa butter base and high sugar and milk content.
There are some “white chocolate” products available that contain vegetable fats instead of cocoa butter – these should be avoided from a taste standpoint, as they contain no cocoa products at all, and are not technically chocolate.
In 2017, Belgian chocolate maker Barry Callebaut discovered a fourth type of chocolate – ruby.
Ruby chocolate is derived from a ruby cocoa bean that grows in Brazil, Ecuador, and the Ivory Coast. Because the exact making process developed by Barry Callebaut is proprietary, there’s no standard definition for ruby chocolate. It’s made of 47.5% cocoa mass and 26.3% milk. It has the sweetness and smooth texture of white chocolate, with an intense berry flavor and fresh sour notes.
With its red-pink hue, this distinctive type of chocolate is great for creating bold, fruit-forward chocolate confections.
Types of Chocolate Shapes
Chocolate is sold in various shapes – blocks, bars, discs/wafers, fèves, callets, and chips. There’s a time and place for each one of the following chocolate forms.
Chocolate blocks are large, very thick bars of chocolate. They are more economical than the other chocolate shapes because they are sold in big quantity blocks. You might have seen them at your local bulk store.
Chocolate blocks are great for chocolatiers who use large amounts of chocolate daily but impractical for an average baker. They are more difficult to chop than bars, and there is typically quite a bit of waste in the form of chocolate dust from the chopping.
Chocolate bars are the most versatile baking chocolate, usually sold in 100-gram bars.
They are easy to chop into irregular chunks, slivers, or shavings to be dispersed throughout dough or batter. They can also be roughly chopped for melting and tempering for enrobing or dipping. An often overlooked use for chocolate baking bars is shaving them into tiny curls or fine shavings to decorate chocolate cakes or tiramisu.
There’s no limit to chocolate bars in this flexible size!
Chocolate wafers are small, disc-shaped pieces of chocolate (0.79 inch/20 mm in diameter).
They’re ideal for melting and rough chopping to fold into batters and doughs.
Chocolate callets look like large flattened chocolate chips but are formulated for melting rather than baking. They are smaller than standard chocolate discs (0.47 inch/12 mm in diameter) and sold by Callebaut.
Chocolate fèves are flat and ovoid in shape (0.47 inch/12 mm long and 0.16 inch/4 mm wide) with an indentation in the center on one side, mimicking the shape of a cacao bean.
These chocolate “drops,” were explicitly designed to melt quickly and evenly, starting the melting process in the center at the thinnest part and gradually dispersing the heat to the edges. The fève shape carries the Valrhona seal.
Chocolate chips are tiny tear-shaped drops of chocolate (0.27 inch/7 mm in diameter).
They have less cocoa butter and contain stabilizers to help them retain shape and not melt even at high temperatures. This is convenient for recipes like chocolate chip cookies, where the chocolate should hold its shape. However, stabilizers compromise the flavor of the chocolate and give it a waxy texture.
When chocolate chips are melted, the chocolate is thick and grainy, and shouldn’t be used for tempering. If you’d like to use chocolate chips for tempered chocolate, look for brands that use minimal ingredients.
Q&A About Different Types of Chocolate
How many types of chocolate are there?
Theoretically, there are only four main types of chocolate – dark, milk, white, and ruby. However, a more detailed categorization would further distinguish dark unsweetened, dark bittersweet, and dark semisweet chocolate, so seven types of chocolate.
Is expensive chocolate worth the investment?
Reputable chocolate brands produce chocolate in a bean-to-bar approach. They work closely with farmers from specific regions, and as such, high-end chocolates are made from single-origin beans, which are carefully selected for their specific flavor and aroma. If you taste chocolate from Saint-Domingue and compare it to chocolate from Ecuador, you will notice a vast difference in flavor and aroma. The process of making high-quality chocolate is also more refined, resulting in superior texture and mouthfeel.
On the other hand, cheaper chocolates are mass-produced from a mixture of beans. They typically contain less cocoa mass and cheaper ingredients like sugar, dairy, and vegetable oils. As a result, cheaper chocolates can lack depth of flavor and be overly sweet.
Is it possible to substitute dark chocolate for cocoa powder?
Dark chocolate and cocoa powder are two different products. Dark chocolate contains cocoa butter, whereas cocoa powder does not. This means you can’t replace 100 grams of dark chocolate with 100 grams of cocoa powder. Instead, replace 100 grams of dark chocolate with 56 grams of cocoa powder + 44 grams of fat (or as low as 22 grams of fat). The reverse is also true – you can replace 56 grams of cocoa powder with 100 grams of dark chocolate + reduce the fat in the recipe by 20-40 grams.