A sweet guide on how to use different kinds of chocolate

Maya Valluru/Staff

Chocolate is mostly made from three ingredients: chocolate liquor, cocoa butter and sugar. Liquor is the product of cocoa nibs that have been fermented, roasted and ground up. Cocoa butter is fat that exists naturally in the cocoa bean. Sugar enhances the flavor of chocolate and makes it taste good. Milk chocolate contains the addition of milk solids. Adding vanilla is also common. Below are my recommendations on the best ways to use different types of chocolate.

10-30 percent cacao

This is generally milk chocolate, but it’s often too sweet. Some people like it for snacking. It’s not advised for recipes unless absolutely necessary. Cooking with milk chocolate will allow its sweetness to overpower any hints of chocolate, which are already low to begin with. Try to opt for darker chocolates for a more chocolaty flavor. 

30-60 percent cacao

This is semisweet/bittersweet chocolate. Lower percentages are fine for garnishing, but stay closer to 60 percent for recipes in which chocolate melts or is being used for baking. Ghirardelli 60 percent and Guittard 63 percent are phenomenal and great to eat on a regular basis, as I often do.  

60-80 percent cacao

Actual dark chocolates are my personal favorite category. If you like mainstream dark chocolate, this category is a step up from what you’re used to. It’s a great introduction to the complex world of chocolate. Higher percentages of cacao mean lower amounts of sugar. That enables the true flavor of chocolate to come out. Around 75 percent and up is where you can really taste the underlying flavor profiles of chocolate. Floral, fruity and nutty are all common notes, but in some varieties you can taste undertones of molasses, caramel and even tobacco.

80-100 percent cacao

This type of chocolate has little to no sugar, which means the chocolate really takes center stage. Many people don’t like it because it’s much more bitter than they expect. If you can learn to love this range of chocolate, you’ll become a true chocolate aficionado.   

As Americans, we are accustomed to an inordinate amount of sugar in our food. That’s why you see many labels like Guittard 63 percent advertised as “extra dark.” In reality, 60 percent is the bare minimum for dark chocolate to begin with. Subjective labels like “dark” and “semisweet” often confuse consumers because they can vary widely between brands. Stick to cacao percentage as the metric when buying your chocolate. As always, eat what tastes best to you while also exploring what else the culinary world has to offer.

Contact Abhi Varma at [email protected].