Here’s How to Find the Best Quality Chocolate
Your taste buds will make the final call, but these tips can help steer you in the right direction.
Indulging in a square or two of chocolate can be a real treat—plus, the confection can have some health benefits, too! While we’d argue that there’s no such thing as truly terrible chocolate, there are differences in quality that make some bars better than others. Your personal preference and taste should always be the most important factor in choosing your chocolate, but if you want to expand your horizons beyond classic Hershey bars, we’ve got a few tips.
Know Some Cacao Basics
First, it’s important to understand the difference between milk and dark chocolate. As you might’ve heard, dark chocolate has a higher percentage of cacao, the bean chocolate comes from, and it also includes sugar to make it sweeter and less bitter. And as the name suggests, milk chocolate has milk added to the mixture, so it usually has a lower percentage of cacao.
If you like a stronger chocolate flavor and don’t mind some bitterness, look for bars with a higher percentage of cacao. That's the way Milène Jardine, a chocolatier and owner of Milène Jardine Chocolatier prefers it. But if bitterness isn't your thing, look for dark chocolate with cocoa butter. “If you can get a dark chocolate blend that has a high cocoa butter content in it, that can make it taste very rich and take away some of what scares people about dark chocolate,” Jardine says.
Though milk chocolate tends to have less cacao than dark chocolate, you can seek milk chocolate bars with higher cacao percentage for stronger chocolate flavor. (Milk chocolate generally needs at least 10 percent cacao to be considered chocolate. Lack of cacao is why white chocolate isn't actually considered to be chocolate.)
Growing Region Makes a Difference
Both milk and dark chocolate can taste different because of the region the cacao beans were grown in, though one region isn’t necessarily better than another (it all depends on your preferences). “Each region kind of has its nuances, just like, say, one region’s wine maybe tastes better than another,” Jardine says. “I like beans from Peru and Ecuador the best because they’re fruity and spicy, and to me, I use it when I’m making my chocolate because it doesn’t give you that bitterness.”
Check The Ingredient List
“The less ingredients you have in it, the purer it is, the closer it is to being actual chocolate,” Jardine says. Cocoa butter adds richness, sugar adds sweetness (so don’t reach for a dark chocolate bar with 100-percent cacao if you want sweet), vanilla adds flavor, and soy can help make the liquid chocolate flow more easily when chocolate makers are forming it into bars (and it can also be used as a replacement for more-expensive cocoa butter).
Jacques Torres, an acclaimed chocolatier, agrees that fewer ingredients usually indicate a better bar. “The high-quality premium chocolate has a clean ingredient label without any flavorings or other chemicals,” Torres says. “There should only be these 5 ingredients: cocoa mass, cocoa butter, sugar, [soy] lecithin and vanilla.”
Keep an eye out for chocolate with less sugar—a standard Hershey bar has 24 grams. If you're looking for richness, look for fewer grams, but you might have to experiment to find your ideal combo of richness and sweetness. “A lot of people kind of just throw sugar in to make sure that it tastes good, and then it kind of gets that film around your teeth—when you have a good quality milk chocolate, that shouldn’t happen,” Jardine says. “It will just be creamier, richer because of the milk, not necessarily sweeter because of the sugar.”
Look for Sheen
There are visual differences between high-quality chocolate and lower quality chocolate, too. “If chocolate has the right cocoa butter content in it and it’s tempered properly, it should have a really nice sheen to it,” Jardine says. “And also, it should have a nice snap. So when you literally break the chocolate, you should actually hear a snap—when you don’t and it’s kind of softer and mushier, it wasn’t tempered as well.”
Of course, the most important part is tasting. If you really want high-quality chocolate, focus on how it tastes and feels in your mouth. “Milk chocolate should naturally melt in your mouth fast because there’s milk in it, but dark chocolate that melts in your mouth fast will have that high cocoa butter content, and that’ll signify a better quality,” Jardine says. “And then if you get good quality chocolate, you can have them in your diet more because they’re better for you—it’s not necessarily a bad thing to eat chocolate.”
Ultimately, your taste matters the most, so don’t feel guilty about grabbing any candy bar at the store. If you’re willing to experiment a bit more, there are tons of great chocolate bars out there to discover. “There really is a beauty and art form to it when you search and you’re aware of it, because there is a lot of good quality chocolate out there,” Jardine says. The best way to find your favorites is to try different bars, so go ahead and indulge.