The great thing about dark chocolate is that it’s both naughty and nice. As the basis of a decadent dessert, it’s an indulgence. But nibble on a square of it for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up, or in a trail mix, and you can feel quite virtuous.
However you choose to eat it, you want one that’s delicious. So which dark chocolate tastes best?
We put 37 supermarket dark chocolates, from brands including Lindt, Cadbury and Nestle, to the test.
We assess dark chocolates for both taste and nutrition, and recommend those that received an overall score (CHOICE Expert Rating) of 70% or more. Of the 37 products we tested, 11 make that list:
- Lindt Excellence 90% Cocoa (CHOICE Expert Rating 79%)
- Aldi Just Organic 70% Dark Chocolate (78%)
- Pico Super Dark 85% Cocoa Single Origin (74%)
- Lindt Excellence Smooth Blend 70% Cocoa (73%)
- Lindt Excellence 95% Cocoa (73%)
- Aldi Moser Roth Finest Dark 70% Cocoa (73%)
- Green & Black's Organic Dark Chocolate 70% Cocoa (72%)
- Lindt Excellence 85% Cocoa (72%)
- Lindt Excellence 70% Cocoa (72%)
- Green & Black's Smooth Dark Chocolate 70% Cocoa (71%)
- Whittaker's 92% Cocoa Ghana Intense Dark Chocolate (70%)
Two products in particular excelled for taste.
Lindt Excellence 90% Cocoa
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 79%
- Price per 100g: $4.50
- Country of origin statement: Manufactured in Germany.
- Experts say:
"Shiny appearance. A good all-round, pleasant, moderately bitter dark chocolate. Smooth texture with a distinct snap. Not sweet at all. Not too complex in flavour, good mouthfeel and melt and a lingering aftertaste."
Aldi Just Organic 70% Dark Chocolate
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 78%
- Price per 100g: $2.79
- Country of origin statement: Packed in Germany from imported ingredients.
- Experts say:
"Unique. Aroma has some floral and roasted notes. Shiny appearance. A very easy eating dark chocolate with good cocoa flavour. Smooth and creamy mouthfeel and aftertaste, pleasant bitterness. A smooth texture with a moderate snap."
The cheapest of the dark chocolates we tested was Woolworths Essentials Dark Choc Cooking Block.
The upside? At just $2.50 ($0.67 per 100g), this massive 375g block is a fraction of the cost of the most expensive blocks on test (Loving Earth chocolates, $8.63 per 100g).
The downside? It scored poorly for taste and is only 15% cocoa, the lowest by a sizable margin. It's also the only product in our test with vegetable fats (palm and shea) added.
If you're on a budget but don't want to compromise on deliciousness, the following products all scored 70% or more for taste, but cost $2.50 or less per 100g.
- Aldi Moser Roth Finest Dark 70% Cocoa ($2.39 per 100g)
- Aldi Moser Roth Finest Dark 85% Cocoa ($2.39 per 100g)
- Coles Finest Belgian Dark Chocolate 70% Cocoa ($2.50 per 100g)
- Coles Belgian 85% Cocoa Dark Chocolate ($2.50 per 100g)
- Frey (Woolworths) Supreme Dark Satin 69% ($2.50 per 100g)
It stands to reason that the higher the cocoa content of a block of chocolate, the lower the sugar content, as there's less space for it to fit.
So it's not surprising that the three products on test with 90% or more cocoa solids – Lindt Excellence 95% Cocoa, Whittaker's 92% Cocoa Ghana Intense Dark Chocolate and Lindt Excellence 90% Cocoa – are among the five products lowest in sugar.
The other products that round out this list – Well Naturally No Sugar Added Dark Chocolate Rich Dark and Lindt Dark Chocolate No Sugar Added – both contain non-nutritive sweeteners in place of sugar.
Of these five products, only the Lindt Excellence 95% Cocoa and the sugar-free products are 'low sugar' by definition (contain no more than 5g sugar per 100g as per the Food Standards Code).
For the sweet tooth, at the other end of the sugar spectrum is Nestle Plaistowe The Finest Dark 45% Cocoa with 53.6g sugar per 100g.
Of the 37 dark chocolates we tested, 23 (62%) are vegan. Despite the name, some dark chocolates – 14 in our review – do contain milk, or its products.
If you're trying to avoid animal products, keep an eye out for the following in the ingredients lists of dark chocolate:
- milk solids (sometimes listed as milk powder or cream powder)
- milk fat
- butter oil
Gram for gram, cocoa contains higher levels of flavonoids than other renowned sources such as red wine, tea, apples and berries.
Media reports in recent years have elevated the status of chocolate from guilt-ridden treat to functional food. Yet with more than 40% fat (including about 26% saturated fat) and almost 30% sugar, it's extraordinary that even dark chocolate – which is considered healthier than milk chocolate – could be considered remotely healthy.
True, it contains a little protein and various minerals, including iron, copper, magnesium and zinc. But its main saving grace is that it contains high levels of flavonoids – chemicals that help protect plants from disease and insects. Gram for gram, cocoa contains higher levels of flavonoids than other renowned sources such as red wine, tea, apples and berries.
Studies researching the benefits of both cocoa and high-cocoa chocolate have shown that it:
- improves blood vessel health by increasing the elasticity of artery walls so they can dilate more readily, which in turn affects blood flow volume and pressure
- reduces blood pressure in people with high blood pressure. And the more you eat, the greater the drop. People with normal blood pressure don't appear to be affected
- reduces inflammation and plaque build-up in blood vessels, which can lead to atherosclerosis
- decreases blood platelet activity. By clinging together to make clots and to the sides of blood vessel walls, blood platelets are involved in stroke and other clot-related problems such as thrombosis, as well as atherosclerosis. Chocolate has been found to have the same anti-platelet effects as aspirin
- improves cholesterol profile by increasing HDL (good cholesterol) levels and lowering LDLs (bad cholesterol). Even though it contains high levels of saturated fat, one of these fats, stearic acid, is converted to oleic acid – a monounsaturated fat that doesn't raise cholesterol. Combined with the oleic acids already present in the chocolate, these appear to counteract the negative effects of the other saturated fat, palmitic acid, making it at least blood cholesterol neutral and perhaps even lowering it
- improves insulin resistance and sensitivity.
There are plenty of other, perhaps healthier, ways to boost your flavonoid intake than through chocolate.
Given the positive health findings, it's not surprising that chocolate is being promoted – especially by chocolate companies – as a deliciously useful part of the diet for improving cardiovascular health. Yet many health professionals have hesitated to embrace chocolate as the new cure-all superfood.
Some of the main reasons for scepticism are:
- it's unclear whether or not short-term trial effects will translate into long-term real-life health benefits, especially when taking a person's normal diet and lifestyle into consideration
- favourable results are often overemphasised, and measurable differences are not always clinically significant – that is, they do not make a meaningful difference to a person's health
- not all chocolate is created equal – levels of flavonoids vary according to the percentage of cocoa in the chocolate, the growing conditions, initial handling of the cocoa beans and the manufacturing process. What you buy might not be in the same league as what was proven beneficial in tests
- the amount of chocolate consumed in some of these studies is enormous. The 100 grams of chocolate in some studies would account for more than one quarter of the average person's daily kilojoule requirements – with little other nutritional benefit. You can understand why health professionals are reluctant to encourage this level of consumption!
- some people really don't like dark chocolate; they would much rather eat milk chocolate and see the good news stories as licence to do so. However, the findings aren't transferable, with tests suggesting that the milk proteins inhibit the absorption of the all-important cocoa flavonoids
- much of the research is conducted or sponsored by the chocolate or cocoa industry, which leaves it open to potential bias, such as not reporting findings that are negative or insignificant.
All in all, the evidence suggests that eating a small amount of dark chocolate won't do much harm, and may do some good.
If you enjoy strong dark chocolate, you get more of the good stuff – cocoa – and less of the sugar, and your chocolate craving should be satisfied with less.
And if you substitute plain dark chocolate for junk food, you may well come out ahead health wise.
On the other hand, there are plenty of other, perhaps healthier, ways to boost your flavonoid intake: fruit and vegetables give you the added benefits of fibre, vitamins and minerals; while straight black or green tea gives you a kilojoule-free antioxidant boost.
Many chocolate products carry the logos of certification programs on their labels, most commonly UTZ, Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade.
These logos certify that the cocoa used in the chocolate has been sourced from producers that comply with a specific code of conduct. While this varies between certification programs, it tends to encompass sustainable farming methods, improved working conditions and sustainable incomes for farmers and their families.
Being able to shop ethically is important for many people, so we've partnered with Shop Ethical on our dark chocolate review. Shop Ethical utilises formulas based on third party independent ratings to derive an ethical rating for each company (not product) ranging from A for the best to F for the worst, and we've displayed this rating for each company featured in our review.
Dean Gibson is one of the pioneers of the Australian pastry scene – dedicated to the baking, patisserie, hotel and restaurant industry for nearly 40 years.
He is a TAFE NSW technical education teacher of professional bakery and patisserie trade education, and a consultant to the global hospitality industry.
Dean is a judge in the Sydney Royal Fine Food Show Chocolate Competition and has appeared on television programs such as MasterChef Australia, Masters of Chocolate and Pastry Battlers.
Brigid Treloar has been a freelance food consultant for over 30 years. The author of eight cookbooks, she also contributes to newspapers and magazines, reviews restaurants, judges cookery and recipe competitions, and is a judge in the Sydney Royal Fine Food Show Chocolate Competition.
Brigid has presented specialist cooking classes around Australia and overseas, and often appears on TV and radio.
She's an industry assessor for Le Cordon Bleu, and advises many of Australia's food companies on product and recipe development.
Andre Sandison has worked as a pastry chef in hotels, restaurants, and production patisseries in Japan, Britain, Switzerland and around Australia for more than 25 years.
He has competed in patisserie and gelato competitions both nationally and internationally, in Singapore, France and Italy, with success.
He loves craftwork and in a pandemic, getting back to basics where a focus on simplicity and quality is more important than ever.
Jodie Van Der Velden
Jodie Van Der Velden is the founder and owner of Josophan's Fine Chocolates in Leura, Blue Mountains. She is a firm advocate for and committed to the use of fair trade and ethically sourced ingredients.
Jodie has won Salon Culinaire medals for dessert making, Champion Chocolate Exhibit twice at the Sydney Royal Fine Food Show Chocolate Competition, and the Callebaut Australia Chocolate Dessert Competition.
In 2018 she was named as one of Australia's first 'Chocolate Heroes', a prestigious program run by the Belgian chocolate company Callebaut. Jodie is the Chair of Judges of the Sydney Royal Fine Food Show Chocolate Competition.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.