Kinds of Chocolate

The Basics

There are three main kinds of chocolate:

  • Dark Chocolate: The bare essentials. Dark chocolate is simply chocolate liquor (the centers of cocoa beans ground to a liquid), extra cocoa butter, sugar, an emulsifier (often lecithin) and vanilla or other flavorings. Dark chocolates may contain milk fat to soften the texture, but they do not generally have a milky flavor.Dark chocolate also is known as semi-sweet chocolate. Unsweetened chocolate, or baking chocolate, is 100 percent chocolate liquor and is typically very bitter and astringent.Darker chocolates often have a higher percent cacao, which means they have a higher proportion of cocoa beans in them than other chocolates do.
  • Milk Chocolate: All of the above, plus milk solids. Surprisingly, sweet and creamy milk chocolate isn’t usually made with cold, frothy milk. It’s usually made with dry milk solids, which look like powdered milk. Milk chocolate has at least 10 percent cocoa liquor by weight, and at least 12 percent milk solids. It’s the most common kind of eating chocolate.
  • White Chocolate: Cocoa butter takes center stage. White chocolate features cocoa butter—think milk chocolate minus the cocoa solids. In addition to the cocoa butter, sugar, milk solids, lecithin and vanilla, white chocolate may contain other flavorings. It has at least 20 percent cocoa butter, 14 percent milk solids, and no more than 55 percent sugar.

The Details

Want to know more? Here’s a quick guide to other terms you might see.

  • Baking Chocolate: Chocolate liquor, served straight up, is all that’s in baking chocolate. Its bitterness comes from pure nibs, the finely ground centers of roasted cocoa beans. Also called unsweetened chocolate, it has no sugar and is used often in dessert recipes with sugar as a separate ingredient. All other chocolate is called eating chocolate.
  • Bittersweet Chocolate: The darkest of eating chocolate, bittersweet has the highest percentage of chocolate liquor and may contain extra cocoa butter. Both bittersweet and semi-sweet chocolate must contain at least 35 percent chocolate liquor, but bittersweet usually contains at least 50 percent cacao. Chocolates in this range are often referred to as dark chocolate.
  • Cacao and % Cacao: Pronounced “kuh-KOW” or “kuh-KAY -oh”, cacao represents the three ingredients derived from a cocoa bean—chocolate liquor, extra cocoa butter and cocoa powder. The % cacao refers to the total amount of these ingredients contained, by weight, in the finished product.
  • Chocolate-Flavored Coating: These coatings may contain chocolate liquor and/or cocoa powder, but use vegetable fats to supplement or replace cocoa butter. While often used to cover confectionery or ice cream products, they can be molded into solid bars or shapes. While coatings made with vegetable fats cannot be called “chocolate,” they may legally use the claim “made with chocolate” if they are made with chocolate liquor, since U.S. regulations consider “chocolate” and “chocolate liquor” as synonymous.
  • Chocolate Liquor: Grinding the nib, or center, of a cocoa bean into a smooth, liquid state produces what’s called chocolate liquor—also called chocolate mass, cocoa mass, cacao mass and cocoa paste. According to U.S. regulations, chocolate liquor may also be called chocolate, unsweetened chocolate, baking chocolate, or bitter chocolate. An essential part of dark and milk chocolate, this ingredient with the many names does not contain alcohol, or vegetable fat.
  • Chocolate Mass: Another name for chocolate liquor (above).
  • Cocoa Beans: The source of all things chocolate, cocoa “beans” are actually seeds from the fruit of Theobroma cacao, a tree native to the tropical Amazon forests that is now grown commercially worldwide within 20 degrees latitude of the Equator. Approximately 20 to 40 seeds cluster inside football-shaped pods and are covered by sweet white fruit pulp.
  • Cocoa Butter: Cocoa butter is the fat naturally present in cocoa beans. It melts just below body temperature, giving chocolate its unique mouthfeel. The nibs, or centers of the cocoa beans, are 50 to 60 percent cocoa butter. There is no connection to dairy butter.
  • Cocoa or Cocoa Powder: Comes from pressing chocolate liquor, the liquid that comes from grinding the nibs or centers of cocoa beans, to separate out of the cocoa butter. What’s left are the chocolate solids, called press cake. The press cake is then ground, becoming the dry cocoa powder used in hot cocoa mixes and baking. Under U.S. regulations, “cocoa” and “cocoa powder” can be used interchangeably.
  • Cocoa Solids: Chocolate liquor without most of the cocoa butter—the ground nibs, or centers of cocoa beans, with the cocoa butter pressed out. Cocoa solids, sometimes called chocolate solids, often are ground into cocoa powder.
  • Dutch (or Dutched) Process: While being ground into chocolate liquor and pressed into cocoa powder, nibs may be treated with an alkaline solution to neutralize acidity. This process darkens the color of the cocoa and produces a milder chocolate flavor. When treated cocoa is used in a food product, the terms “dutched” or “alkalized” are included on the ingredient declaration for products sold in the U.S.
  • Nib: The nib is the center or meat of the cocoa bean. Roasted or unroasted cocoa beans are cracked mechanically to break off the cocoa bean shells and expose the nibs. See more about how chocolate is made.
  • Organic Chocolate: Chocolate grown without agricultural chemicals and meeting USDA Organic requirements. See more about certifications.
  • Raw Chocolate: Raw chocolate is made from unroasted cocoa beans. See recommendations on raw chocolate from the National Confectioners Association.
  • Semisweet Chocolate: Like bittersweet chocolate, semisweet chocolate is required by U.S. regulations to contain at least 35 percent chocolate liquor. Generally, semisweet chocolate contains 35 to 45 percent chocolate liquor. Semisweet chocolate is often referred to as dark chocolate.
  • Sweet Chocolate: Sweet chocolate is a combination of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter and sugar containing at least 15 percent chocolate liquor.
  • Unsweetened Chocolate: The same as baking chocolate (above).