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What Does Quality Type of Chocolate Mean?

2022-07-07   ◆   5 minutes read

There’s always so much to choose from when you get to the chocolate aisle. The big question always pops up: “Which type of chocolate should I buy today?” But what exactly makes chocolate quality, and is it chocolate at all…? In the name of Chocolate Day, let’s say “chocolate” as many times as humanly possible, and find out!

The four type of chocolate: dark, white, milk, and ruby! Les quatre types de chocolat : noir, blanc, lait et rubis!
Four types of chocolate (First Classe)

What Makes a Quality Type of Chocolate?

The simple answer: Good quality chocolate bars will consist of mostly cocoa butter and cocoa powder, but very little sugar and milk. And definitely no artificial colours and flavours, or alternative fats like regular butter or vegetable oils. To better understand, we need to dive into the process (video) of making chocolate!

The process of chocolate making shown through cocoa nibs sprinkled into a cocoa grinding machine. Le processus de fabrication du chocolat montré à travers les nibs de cacao saupoudrés dans une machine à broyer le cacao.

Initially, chocolatiers ferment and roast cocoa beans, remove the shell and reveal the cocoa nibs inside. Cocoa nibs are the cracked hard beans or the seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree. The grounded cocoa nibs are turned into a thick, creamy paste, known as chocolate liquor or cocoa paste. The amount of cocoa butter already present in the nib isn’t enough for a finished chocolate bar, so chocolatiers need to add extra fat. Cocoa butter is expensive and low-quality producers are tempted to replace it with cheaper fat substitutes. In reality, the more cocoa butter you put in chocolate, the better the chocolate flavour is. Still, the quality of the chocolate bar is impacted by a couple of additional factors.

Fair Trade and Direct Trade

Another factor for quality is the source of the beans themselves. In the 1988 coffee crisis, a sudden lack of price regulations caused an immediate shortage and then a longer-term surplus. The crisis negatively impacted the earnings of chocolate growers. This period of history is when the trend of fair trade came into effect. Fairtrade is a certification to protect countries/growers vulnerable to exploitation, child and forced labour, and economic marginalization. Fairtrade certification allows farmers to rely on their income and work in safer conditions. Although fair trade began with the regulation of coffee, it applies to all trades, and the chocolate industry desperately needed it.

Fair trade sign amongst cocoa beans. Signe de commerce équitable entre les fèves de cacao.
Fairtrade cocoa can help humans and the environment (Chapman University)

In the late 2000s, direct trade emerged as an alternative way to Fairtrade certification. There are some limitations with fair trade mostly regarding the certification standards. Many farms that need fair trade protection the most cannot afford the required standards. And sometimes the standards are not achievable for the country and the resources. Some people also argue that Fairtrade certification is not strict enough. Direct trade is an alternative where the person making the cocoa beans is buying directly from the person who grew them. It requires more of an honour code from the buyer, as there are no official standards and they can still exploit farmers. When done properly, direct trade means less money to middlemen and more to the actual farmers.

Type of Chocolate and Climate Change

In addition safe working conditions and adequate pricing, Cocoa farmers are seeing the effects of climate change on their crops. Varieties of cacao trees that grow in full sun are withering from rising temperatures. This affects the tree’s overall health and makes them susceptible to disease and pest infestation. Although cacao is indigenous to South America, 70% of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa, mostly from the Ivory Coast to Cameroon. The rapidly changing climate in these areas is drastically decreasing the health of plants and sellable crops.

Yellow cocoa beans still on the tree. Des fèves de cacao jaunes encore sur l’arbre.
Cocoa beans before harvesting (Roatan Chocolate Factory)

There is a glimmer of hope, however. Shade-grown cacao trees aren’t experiencing the effects of climate change as much. They are much more adaptable to drought and actually have quite a positive influence on the biodiversity around them. A team of ecologists led by Viviana Ceccarelli also found that the indigenous uncultivated cacao trees of Peru are still thriving despite climate changes. They predict that the wild cacao tree population will increase by more than a third by 2070. One of the hopeful direction for cocoa bean farming to take is Permaculture. Permaculture integrates land, resources, people and the environment through mutually beneficial synergies – imitating the no waste, closed loop systems seen in diverse natural systems. There is early evidence that that is the direction that would allow cacoa trees to thrive again.

Chocolate Percentages

Now that we know more about how to make chocolate, how do we get white, milk, and dark? This is mostly by the different combination of adding sugar and milk! These ingredients get added right after the nib grinding process we talked about earlier and they soften the bitterness of cocoa. This means that chocolate before this step is naturally gluten-free and vegan. The percentage of chocolate refers to how much of the weight of the final product is that initial ground up cocoa nib. So, when you get a chocolate bar that is 100%, you’re essentially eating ground-up cocoa nibs. It’s so concentrated and has such minimal, if not a complete lack of, sugar, so you must looove chocolate.

Different types of chocolate
Different types of yummy chocolates (Spruce Eats)

What is White Chocolate Made of?

Knowing how chocolate is made is especially important with white chocolate. Although it contains no cocoa powder that makes chocolate brown, it still cosists cocoa butter! In the UK, white chocolate types need to be a whopping 20% cocoa butter to sell as chocolate legally. Sometimes you’ll see words like “chocolatey” or “chocolate-flavoured” on the wrapper to allow for a sneaky surplus of sugar and milk. The history of white chocolate is unclear, but the consensus is that Nestle popularized the commercial success of it as late as the 1930s, after the great economic depression. It was an economical way to eat chocolate without the cost of real chocolate.

Chunks of cocoa butter amongst cocoa beans. Morceaux de beurre de cacao parmi les fèves de cacao.
White chocolate even looks like cocoa butter! (Wild Mountain Chocolate)

White chocolate chips are a pretty popular way in desserts because it softens the bitter tastes. A really popular dessert with white chocolate chips is macadamia nut cookies. You’ll also find bits of white chocolate in brownies, blondies, or different types of fudge. Those who like white chocolate may enjoy it as a centerpiece in cakes and chocolate bars. It also goes really well with citrusy, coconutty, or even floral additions.

Milk Chocolate

Milk chocolate is so popular because it holds the classic taste of chocolate, but has a lot of the bitterness cut out by the large percentage of sugar and milk. Thus, it appeals to more people. For this reason and you’ll easily find it during holidays such as Valentine’s day, Easter, Halloween, and Christmas

Did you know that the milk chocolate type was not in existence until the late 19th century? Actually, even adding milk to chocolate was not common until a Swiss chocolatier, Daniel Peter created it in 1876. Later, he went on to establish Nestle with Henri Nestle. Nestle has two points on the scoreboard for creating these popular light chocolates! Today, the percentage to qualify as milk chocolate must be at least 10% or 25% cocoa mass (ground-up cocoa nib) depending on the country.

The wrapper of the first milk chocolate bar. L’emballage de la première barre de chocolat au lait.
The original milk chocolate bar! (Worth Point)

 While eating a milk chocolate bar is amazing on its own, milk chocolate also pairs well with many other ingredients; from nuts, to wafer, to caramel, and all the way to cookies. Milk chocolate also melts really easily, so you’ll find it in no-bake desserts like s’mores, hot chocolate, ice cream, or fondue. You’ll most certainly find it in a chocolate chip form in baked desserts like cookies, brownies, and cakes. And if you’re a peanut butter lover, you can’t forget about peanut butter cups! These come most popularly in milk, but they do work quite nicely in dark as well.

Milk chocolate fondue

“Dark” Chocolate

While milk chocolate is anything from 10%-50% cocoa mass, dark chocolate type is anything from 50-100%. Although dark chocolate may not always be vegan, theoretically, it should not include milk. 

Dark chocolate, especially above 70% cocoa is where you will start getting the environmental and health benefits of chocolate. Fair or direct trade makes a positive social impact and because there is no use of milk, it is great vegan sustainable eco treat. Regarding health benefits, the flavanols in chocolate are anti-inflammatory antioxidants that can help with the brain, heart, and immune system. Unfortunately, the potency of flavanols is much higher in raw chocolate and some of that is lost during the process of making commercial chocolate. The flavanols and tryptophan also help release serotonin which brings a sense of calmness and “happiness” to the body. We talk about it a bit more in our weed edibles blog, but chocolate also has some really wonderful benefits that hold similarities to and enhance the effects of THC.

Dark chocolate heart
Dark Chocolate is delicious and good for your heart! (Wild at Heart

Dark chocolate is used a lot in baking, and it’s usually called semi-sweet or unsweetened chocolate. Semi-sweet chocolate is more than 35% cocoa, and unsweetened goes the whole nine yards at 100%. Usually, chocolate cakes or fudgy brownies will also need ingredients such as milk and sugar for the baking process, so for a good amount of chocolate taste, it’s important to go dark. Because salt is a really effective way to cut the bitterness, salted dark chocolate is a really delicious pairing. Mint is another great dark chocolate pairing, and the iconic peppermint patties and After Eight bars are perfect examples of that.

Ruby Chocolate

New type of chocolate alert! Ruby is another Swiss creation and has very close ties to Nestle. Chocolatier Barry Callebaut invented Ruby chocolate as recently as 2017. He was working on a way to make a type of naturally pink cocoa bean found in Ecuador into chocolate since 2004 and finally succeeded. It has a sweet and sour taste that is sometimes described as citrusy.

Ruby chocolate bar
Much of ruby chocolate is a secret but there is no colouring added! (HuffPost)

Because it is fairly new and the method of creating ruby chocolate is a well-kept secret of the Barry Callebaut Group, there are a limited number of desserts with ruby chocolate. The first unveiling of this new chocolate was ruby kit-kat chocolate bars for Mother’s Day. Since then, there has been ruby hot chocolate, ruby ice cream, and Starbucks even had a ruby Frappuccino. It’s exciting to see this new chocolate develop and we look forward to new desserts with it in the future.

What a world of chocolate we’ve uncovered! Willy Wonka would have been very proud. There’s an art and beauty that goes into this beloved sweet, and it’s wonderful to get a glimpse into that through the varieties we know and love. No matter what type of chocolate is your favourite, we can help you find chocolate desserts near you. Enjoy and bon appetit!

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