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Know Your Chocolates

You're working on your latest baking project and you've headed to the baking aisle to pick up all of your ingredients. You look at the chocolates and see semisweet, bittersweet, milk, white, unsweetened. The choices can be overwhelming, but what's the difference? Is bittersweet sweeter than semisweet? Is white chocolate even chocolate? How can chocolate be unsweetened? If any of these questions have ever crossed your mind, you're not alone. To check out my mini-chocolate primer,

Let me start by talking about cacao percentage. Cacao percentage is the amount of cacao to sugar. So a bar that is 75 percent cacao contains 25 percent sugar. The higher the percentage, the darker the chocolate. Fran Bigelow (a great chocolatier based out of Seattle) has stated, "If the cacao percentage dips below 50 percent, that chocolate bar contains more sugar than cacao, meaning less chocolate flavor—a sacrilege as far as I'm concerned." I would definitely have to agree with her, bring on the chocolate flavor!

Now that you've got basic cacao percentage understanding in your back pocket, let's talk about the different kinds of chocolate.

Dark Chocolate
Any chocolate that contains very little to no milk solids (less than 12 percent) and at least 35 percent cacao content.

Bittersweet Chocolate
A dark chocolate that has a cacao content of 50-99 percent (it is usually more like 65-80 percent). It's darker with a strong flavor. The higher the content, the stronger the flavor.

Semisweet Chocolate
Also a dark chocolate, but with a lower cacao content than bittersweet (35-50 percent). Some consider it the "gateway" dark chocolate as it has a more accessible creamy flavor than bittersweet.

Sweet Chocolate
A dark chocolate that contains very little cacao content (15-35 percent).

Milk Chocolate
Any chocolate that contains more than 12 percent milk or milk solids is considered milk chocolate. The cacao content tends to be 33-45 percent.

White Chocolate
White chocolate is actually a bit of a misnomer, as it contains no chocolate (cacao solids) at all. Contains 20 percent cacao butter.

Unsweetened Chocolate
This bar contains 100 percent cacao and has no sugar added. It's not meant to be eaten plain - believe me, as a kid my dad left some on the counter and I thought it would be great to sneak some. Let's just say I learned not to take things off the counter without knowing what it was first.

I hope that helps some of the chocolate confusion, if you'd like to learn more, then check out this great chocolate explanation from Fran Bigelow.

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Join The Conversation
dewzi dewzi 10 years
to use the microwave, don't melt more than a cup at a time so you get even heat in the middle. My favorite brand of dark chocolate is D'Or.
tifygodess24 tifygodess24 10 years
I always wonder about what makes each choc. so different from the others . Especially with all the advertisments now about the cacao and which is offering more and so on. Thanks for the tips.
puddinpie puddinpie 10 years
If you're careful, you can also melt chocolate in the microwave. Just heat it until it's about 60-75% melted (liquid) and then take it out of the microwave and stir. The residual heat will melt the rest, and it won't burn.
Food Food 10 years
Have you tried using a double boiler? I find this method best for all types of chocolate. This way it's not in direct contact with the heat (chocolate burns easily). If you don't have a double boiler, a metal bowl or pot over another pot containing simmering water (makeshift double boiler) will work. Just make sure not to let the bowl touch the water/direct heat. Also, make sure no water or steam gets into the chocolate. If it does it may seize up. Hope that helps!
mcewen mcewen 10 years
I 'work' with chocolate a great deal, but I've never had any luck melting white chocolate [which of course isn't really chocolate at all]. Any tips? cheers dears
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