Who doesn’t love chocolate? It’s sweet, tasty, and a major component of many universally loved treats, such as brownies, hot fudge, and the chocolate chip cookie. Thousands of companies, such as Hershey, Ghirardelli, Mars, Russell Stover, Lindt, and Cadbury, have enjoyed incredible success through the manufacture and marketing of their chocolate products. Chocolate is a key ingredient when it comes to baking, and amateur bakers will benefit from a familiarity with different types of chocolate. While almost everyone one is familiar with, and a fan of, chocolate, not many people know how chocolate is converted from the original cocoa bean plant into the final product we are familiar with. For those who are interested in where chocolate comes from, how it is processed, and the varieties in which it is commercially available, this guide will serve as an introduction to chocolate, and define its many forms and flavors.
How is Chocolate Made?
Chocolate is derived from cocoa beans, which grow on cocoa trees in Central and South America, as well as in parts of the Caribbean and Africa. Cocoa butter is extracted from cocoa beans, as are cocoa solids. Cocoa powder is the name for cocoa solids that have been ground down into a powder. Cocoa butter contains all the fat of the cocoa bean, and it is used as the oil or fat with which chocolate is produced. Chocolate is made by mixing cocoa butter, which provides the fatty part of chocolate, with cocoa solids and sugar. The first step in producing chocolate is the fermentation of cocoa beans picked from cocoa trees. Cocoa beans have a naturally bitter taste when they are first picked, and must be processed a certain way to yield traditional, sweeter chocolate. The beans are then roasted, shelled, and ground into cocoa mass, which is often called chocolate liquor. Chocolate liquor can be broken down into cocoa solids and cocoa butter. The mixture of sugar, cocoa butter, and cocoa solids results in the kind of chocolate that we can buy at the grocery store. Many chocolate products are made by adding particular fruits, flavors, or nuts to traditional chocolate mixtures. These kinds of chocolate additives include almonds, cherries, hazelnuts, nougat, caramel, and marshmallow.
Chocolate is classified as a sugar confection, more specifically defined as a food item that is rich in carbohydrates and sugar. Many governments, particularly those in European countries, enforce strict regulations in regards to the percentages of cocoa solids, cocoa butter, milk, or sugar used in chocolate production. Chocolate products can only be named and sold as milk, dark, or other types of chocolate if they meet these specific regulations for the percent of ingredients they contain. There is even an organization named the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, which deals with these kinds of regulations.
Many countries are famous for producing high-quality chocolate. These countries include Denmark, Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain, Mexico, and, perhaps most famously of all, Belgium and Switzerland.
Through the means of flavoring and processing, chocolate producers and manufacturers can create a huge variety of chocolate, all with different combinations of ingredients and levels of sweetness. The following are some of those varieties.
Dark chocolate is identified as such because it contains far less milk than other kinds of chocolate, and sometimes no milk at all. It is made by mixing cocoa solids, fat, and sugar. Usually, chocolate with a cocoa solid component of 35% or more is deemed dark chocolate, but any percentage higher than that would cause the chocolate to be classified differently. Because of the absence of milk, dark chocolate appears far browner in color, and is sometimes referred to as black chocolate. Varieties of dark chocolate are often used in baking and cooking, because those recipes often include the addition of sugar, which is balanced out by the less intensely sweet flavor of dark chocolate. Dark chocolate is available in a range of cocoa percentages, and is sometimes sold with cocoa solids percentages of up to 90%. Dark chocolate is far less sweet than other varieties, including milk and white chocolate. Dark chocolate with higher percentages of cocoa solids will taste more bitter than those with lower percentages.
Milk chocolate is probably the variety with which most people are familiar; milk chocolate is arguably the most popular kind of chocolate in terms of commercial consumption. It is made by adding milk, most often milk powder, to the traditional chocolate combination of cocoa solids, cocoa butter, sugar, and frequently vanilla flavoring. Before milk chocolate was available in solid form, people could only consume it as a liquid beverage. The use of condensed milk or milk powder, which is made by evaporating milk until only a powdered substance remains, enabled chocolatiers to create milk chocolate in solid bars, since powdered milk has a far longer shelf life than its liquid counterpart.
White chocolate is a very sweet chocolate variety. White chocolate is unique because it is not made using any cocoa solids, and is therefore classified as a chocolate derivative rather than a traditional type of chocolate. White chocolate is a mixture of sugar, milk, and cocoa butter. The absence of cocoa solids and the presence of milk explain why this particular chocolate product appears ivory or yellow rather than brown in color. Interestingly, white chocolate will stay solid at a far higher temperature than milk or dark chocolate will, because the melting point of cocoa butter, its main ingredient, is very high. White chocolate lacks many of the antioxidant properties found in traditional chocolate, because it lacks the cocoa solid ingredients.
Unsweetened chocolate is a term often used interchangeably with baking chocolate. Unsweetened chocolate is produced without the addition of sugar, and thus it maintains more of its original flavor, which can be very rich and rather bitter. Chocolate liquor and fat are the two ingredients used to make unsweetened chocolate. Adding sugar or milk product would turn unsweetened chocolate into milk chocolate. Unsweetened chocolate is sold primarily for use in baking recipes, since its bitter flavor is balanced out by the large amount of sugar often called for in such recipes.
Semisweet chocolate is technically a kind of dark chocolate. For dark chocolate to qualify as semisweet chocolate, it must contain half as much sugar as it does cocoa solids. Chocolate with any sugar to cocoa solid ratio larger than this one will be classified as sweetened chocolate. Similarly, bittersweet chocolate must contain sugar that amounts to no more than a third of the amount of chocolate liquor in the product. Like unsweetened chocolate, semisweet and bittersweet chocolate are most frequently used for baking and cooking purposes, and are commonly sold in larger quantities than other kinds of chocolate, such as blocks.
Compound chocolate is made by combining cocoa solids with one of a number of substitutes for cocoa butter, including vegetable oil, coconut oil, and a variety of other hydrogenated fats. Many countries’ chocolate regulations do not permit compound chocolate to be sold as traditional chocolate. Compound chocolate is often used as a topping or a coating for other confectionary goods. Compound chocolate tends to be cheaper to produce and to purchase, because the substitution of oils or fats is less expensive than the process of adding cocoa butter.
The term raw chocolate refers to chocolate that has not been processed in any way, or mixed with different ingredients. Raw chocolate contains only cocoa butter and cocoa powder, a form of cocoa solid. These ingredients are usually melted and combined to form raw chocolate. Raw chocolate is often sold as a healthy alternative to traditional chocolates, since it does not contain sugar or milk products.
Couverture is a relatively new term for chocolate that contains a high percentage of cocoa butter. This kind of chocolate is popular among gourmet chocolatiers and pastry chefs. Some semisweet and bittersweet chocolate varieties qualify as couverture chocolate.
Cocoa powder is used mainly for baking and as chocolate drink mix, to which hot water or milk is added, to create hot cocoa or chocolate milk. Cocoa powder is a byproduct of chocolate production, and is sometimes used in its natural, unsweetened form for these purposes. Another kind of cocoa powder is called Dutch-process cocoa, which is made by removing the cocoa butter from pulverized chocolate liquor, and adding alkali to neutralize the acidic nature of the cocoa.
Baking with Chocolate
Now that you’ve been introduced to the many different kinds of chocolate, you can work them into your own baking more creatively and effectively. Whether your favorite kind of chocolate is white chocolate, or you’re a fan of dark or unsweetened varieties, there are a multitude of recipes available that include every kind of chocolate. Remembering how many types of chocolate there are, and how each one is produced, will help you to become a master of baking, helping you to create sweet chocolate treats for yourself and your loved ones.