Dark Chocolate Differences

So what's the distinction between bittersweet, semisweet, and other dark chocolate? Let's explore the definitions

Those of us who love dark chocolate revel in the wide variety available, but you've got to wonder: What, exactly, is the official difference between one and another? What distinguishes bittersweet chocolate from semisweet chocolate, or even mildly sweet chocolate for that matter? Where are the cutoff points?

As it turns out, there aren't many hard and fast rules; to a large extent, a manufacturer can categorize a dark chocolate as it pleases. Our great nation has notoriously lax chocolate standards.

Lame U.S. Practices

As chocolate giant Hershey's helpfully points out on its website, "Dark chocolate has no official 'standard' or definition in the U.S."

Well, that explains the evolution of their Special Dark brand, as the description morphed, over the years, from Bittersweet to Semisweet to Mildly Sweet. Whatever... it basically tastes the same, though the last change did include a shift toward higher sugar content (maybe).

But Hershey's hastens to add that there are, in fact, standards for two sub-varieties of the dark: semisweet chocolate, which (aha!) also may be called bittersweet, and sweet dark chocolate.

The Requirements

Bittersweet/semisweet chocolate must include a minimum of 35% chocolate liquor and added cocoa butter, with a fat content averaging 30-35%. Sweet dark chocolate consists of at least 15% chocolate liquor, with added sweeteners.

And that's it, though it begs the question of what precisely chocolate liquor is. So here you go: it's the liquid squished out of cocoa nibs during the grinding process. Yum!

Pour Some Sugar On Me

Of course, pure chocolate liquor has a rather brisk flavor... as anyone who's experienced the mouth-searing bitterness of 100% old school chocolate knows. Even for most of us dark chocolate lovers, the ambrosia requires a heavy-duty sweetener to make it truly edible.

Bless the genius who figured that out! Chocolate's original imbibers, the Aztecs and Mayas of Central America, had to use chili peppers to make it palatable. (Apparently honey didn't occur to them, or they hadn't invented it yet). Talk about your extreme chocolate! No wonder they were so fierce.

Just Enough of a Good Thing

Still, there's such a thing as too much of a good thing. Milk chocolate is more sugar than chocolate, for example. On the other end of the scale, about 60% cacao content is more than enough for most souls.

If you're considering a foray into the dark for the first time, we recommend that you start at 60%, and then either increase or decrease the extremity until you hit what you consider a happy medium. Enjoy the journey; we expect you'll have a good time.

And remember: with all the antioxidants and nutrients it packs, dark chocolate doesn't just taste good, it's good for your health!