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03.Buying good quality chocolate

Making chocolate processing cocoa beans powder nibs

With chocolate manufacturers proudly advertising the percentage of cocoa their products contain, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the higher the percentage of cocoa, the better it is. But it isn’t necessarily the case. 

Cocoa content claims

Cocoa percentage claims don’t tell you anything about the quality and type of cacao bean, or the way it's been fermented and dried. Nor does it distinguish the amount of cocoa butter.

The cocoa content (or cocoa solids) claim on a block of chocolate simply refers to everything in the block of chocolate that is derived from the cacao bean. This includes cocoa mass/liquor (ground-up cacao nibs, which contain around 45-55% cocoa butter) as well as any extra cocoa butter added to the chocolate. Overall cocoa content tells you more about how intense the chocolate flavour is rather than quality.

Cocoa butter

According to one of our experts, Jodie Van Der Velden, cocoa butter content is a better indication of quality than the overall percentage of cocoa as it's what makes the chocolate melt in your mouth, giving it a luxurious feel.

In other industries such as cosmetics, cocoa butter is a valuable commodity. So many lower-grade chocolates such as compound or cooking chocolate have the cocoa butter extracted and replaced with vegetable oil (usually palm oil) so it can be sold off. 

Unfortunately for consumers, there is no requirement to label cocoa butter percentages on chocolate. The best indication as to cocoa butter content is how far up the ingredients list it is placed. The highest grade of chocolate, couverture chocolate, has a minimum cocoa butter content of 32%, with some as high as 41%. 

Other factors, such as the raw ingredients used and the way it is made and stored, will also affect the quality of the chocolate. 

Chocolate ingredients

Cacao beans from South and Central America are typically the best quality. Generally, criollo and trinitario beans are better than forestero. While the label won’t tell you everything, you can gather some wisdom from it. No single piece of information, such as the region or the cocoa content, determines the quality of chocolate. But a good chocolate should have very few ingredients. 
  • Cocoa mass
  • Cocoa butter
  • Sugar
  • Milk in a milk chocolate. Dark chocolate, by definition, shouldn’t have any (but dark chocolates do contain milk)
  • Vanilla (keep an eye out for vanillin, which is artificial)
  • Emulsifier such as soya lecithin (should be less than 0.5%). It’s simply holding the chocolate together.

For more information on food and nutrition, go to our Food and drink section.


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