The debate rages on among chocolate purists. What makes chocolate healthy? What do the cacao percentages really mean? And why on earth is white chocolate allowed to be called chocolate at all???
Let’s start at the beginning. The trend as of late is for chocolate companies to prominently display the percentage of cacao on the packaging. This trend is usually reserved for dark chocolate, also called semi-sweet & bitter-sweet. If a chocolate bar says “52%,” for example, you can expect that 52% of the ingredients are derived from cacao beans. Specifically, chocolate liquor (or paste)…what makes chocolate, well…chocolate.
Sounds good, right? OK, so your next question is, “what does the other 48% contain?” Depending on the manufacturer, it can contain sugar, cocoa butter, dairy, vanilla and an emulsifier (the stuff that holds the chocolate together). It’s coming together now & much easier to understand. In a nutshell (or cacao shell): the higher the cacao percentage, the lower the amount of sugar (and other ingredients); therefore, the more bitter the taste. So why bother? Because the purer the product (higher percentage), the more antioxidants it will contain.
Some people have trained themselves to appreciate a good 70-85% dark chocolate to get the maximum amount of heart-healthy chocolate they can tolerate, and to avoid as much sugar as possible.
A noble cause! But if it’s too bitter a pill to swallow (and for most of us, it really is), consider this: the difference in other nutrients is barely noticeable when you’re talking about percentage points. For one ounce of chocolate, the amount of fiber, fat and calories will hardly (if at all) budge when jumping 10 or even 20 percentage points.
That’s because quantity matters.
Enjoying one square of dark chocolate of any percentage is always better than inhaling 12 ounces in one sitting. Always. And we love chocolate!
“OK, so what about milk and white chocolate?” Great question!!
The FDA says that white chocolate can be called chocolate so long as it contains at least 20% cocoa butter (the fat of the cacao bean) along with sugar and milk and other ingredients. I guess it is chocolate because a main ingredient comes from cacao.
Milk chocolate has to be a minimum of 10% cacao content in order to bear the chocolate status. Not a huge hurtle, but still a benchmark.
Dark chocolate on the other hand…has no real distinction. So knowing the cacao content is really the only way you’ll know just how much of the bean it contains.
Now to further complicate things (come on, this is fun!), this only applies to the chocolate itself. A truffle for example, may contain chocolate that has 63% cacao content, like ours does, but because of added inclusions & ingredients in the ganache, the ratio of chocolate to other ingredients will shift considerably. The chocolate used is 63%, but the product is not. Confusing? Yeah, it can be.
So what’s the bottom line? Cacao content is a very useful tool in determining the sugar content and bitterness of the chocolate. But if you don’t like the taste, then it really doesn’t matter how good it is for you. And if you love milk chocolate, go ahead and have some without hiding your head in shame.
Compare the nutrition facts and enjoy that special treat. In the end, it’s about the quantity when determining health benefits. A really good tasting chocolate will satisfy you far more regardless of the cacao content, and if you’re satisfied, you won’t feel the need to overindulge.