Bewildering arrays of cocoa and chocolate products exist and vary widely in quality and availability. The first step in properly selecting these products is to understand the makeup of each and their uses.
Often simply called dark chocolate, the FDA regulates that this type of chocolate must contain at least 35 percent of cocoa solids from the bean. On average, most brands contain about 50 percent added sugar, with the remaining balance containing both cocoa solids and cocoa butter (the fat from the cacao bean). Although brands vary, bittersweet chocolate contains an average of 46 percent sugar by weight, and semisweet contains an approximate average of 57 percent sugar.
Though the percentage listed on a package of dark chocolate tells you how much cacao is in the bar, it can also give you a general indicator of sweetness. For example, a 64% bar of dark chocolate will likely be sweeter than an 80% bar of chocolate, since it contains more unsweetened chocolate, therefore leaving less room for added sugar. 60% is a good middle-ground for using in baking and pastries. Remember that for chocolate for dipping, coating, or chocolate decorations should always be tempered.
Cocoa powder is produced by removing the cocoa butter from unsweetened chocolate and grinding the resulting dry cake into powder. Two types of cocoa powder are available: natural cocoa powder and Dutch-processed cocoa powder (sometimes termed alkalized). Each has a distinct color and flavor. Natural cocoa powder is untreated and very acidic, resulting in a redder, lighter, and less chocolate-flavored product. Dutch-processed cocoa powder is less acidic (or more alkaline), which can result in a smoother and darker product and less bitter chocolate flavor.
Chocolate Baking Chips
Molded, flat-bottomed, teardrop-shaped bits can be made from a variety of chocolates and some nonchocolate substances, such as peanut butter. As they do not contain a significant amount of cocoa butter, these chips do not readily melt when exposed to heat; therefore, they do not lose their shape. They are not recommended for melting, or when chocolate is the primary ingredient in dessert, as when making chocolate truffles or mousse.
Milk chocolate is a light-colored, sweet chocolate, often with sugar as its main ingredient. On average, milk chocolate in the United States contains only 10 percent cocoa solids, with the remaining 90 percent made up of sugar, milk solids, and often vanilla.
Containing only cocoa butter, sugar, milk solids, and often vanilla, white chocolate is not considered a “real” chocolate as it does not contain cocoa solids. Essentially, white chocolate is milk chocolate without the cocoa solids, and it is often paired with more assertive flavors, like green tea, as its predominate flavor is vanilla.
Unsweetened chocolate is often referred to as baking chocolate. It is made from roasted cocoa beans and contains approximately 50 percent cocoa solids from the bean, and 50 percent cocoa butter, with no added sugar.