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Dark, Milk, White Chocolate - What's the Difference?

There are lots of different types of chocolate bars available and it can be confusing working out which is which. There’s a widespread misconception that all dark chocolate bars are ‘fine,’ whilst all milk chocolate bars are packed full of sugar. You might be surprised to hear that it’s actually not always so straightforward.

In fact, some dark chocolate can contain less cacao than some milk chocolate bars, and even taste sweeter too. So, next time you’re looking for a new bar to enjoy, take a look at the ingredients to understand what the cocoa/sugar/milk ratio is before you make your choice.

What Does the Cocoa Percentage Mean?

Cocoa percentages can be confusing. In short, the percentage a bar of chocolate indicates how much of the bar, by weight, is made from derivatives of cacao – this includes both the cocoa beans as well as cocoa butter. This is why two bars with the same percentage, can have very different levels of intensity, flavour and sweetness. Cocoa butter is added to give a bar a creamier taste, whilst cocoa beans provide the intensity of the chocolate flavour.

A Hershey’s bar or Cadbury Dairymilk might contain only 10% cacao, whereas a bar of craft chocolate might have as much as 100%, as it’s comprised of only cocoa beans and cocoa butter.

In short: Cocoa Beans + Cocoa Butter = Cacao or Cocoa Percentage

 

Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate should consist of only cocoa beans, cocoa butter and sometimes sugar. It usually has a cocoa percentage of between 60% and 100%. Not all dark chocolate bars are created equally – most commercial brands use low-quality cacao with high levels of sugar and sometimes other additives like vanilla to mask off-flavours.

How it’s made:

Once the cacao pods have been harvested from the tree, the cocoa beans within are removed and fermented to a certain standard. The fermented beans are then dried and shipped to the chocolate maker who roasts them. After they’ve been roasted they are cracked and sorted.

The inside of the bean, also known as cocoa nibs, are separated from the shell, or husk. The nibs, along with the cocoa butter, are then ground and heated to create a thick chocolatey substance known as cocoa liquor.

If sugar is part of the recipe then it’s added towards the end of the mixing process. The chocolate is then cooled in a process also known as tempering before it’s poured into chocolate bar moulds. This process is the standard chocolate-making process and is also known as “bean to bar.”

Milk Chocolate

Milk chocolate is made up of cocoa beans, cocoa butter, sugar and milk powder. By law in the U.S., a milk chocolate bar only needs to contain 10% cocoa, in the EU this number is 20% – a figure set by big chocolate companies, as the lower the cocoa contents the cheaper it is to manufacture. In commercial milk chocolate, the rest of the bar (the remaining 90%) is made up of sugar and other preservatives, which is why milk chocolate often has a bad reputation.

Craft chocolate milk bars, however, usually contain between 35% to 55% cocoa – more than double, even triple the amount of than commercial bars! This is why craft chocolate often comes at a higher price tag than commercial bars, they have much more quality ingredients in them which not only taste better but also are much healthier for you.

How it’s made:

A Swiss chemist and entrepreneur, Henri Nestlé, discovered how to produce powdered milk in 1867. Fast forward a few years and people started mixing the powdered milk together with the cocoa liquor during the bean to bar process. This method is still used by chocolate makers today.

Dark Milk

As the name might imply, Dark Milk is a fusion between milk chocolate and dark chocolate. The chocolate-making process is the same, however, the cocoa percentage is often between 55% to 68%. Very rarely sugar is added to Dark Milk chocolate, however, some craft chocolate brands rely purely on the sweetness of the milk powder. The outcome is a bar of milk chocolate that is less sweet and with a stronger chocolate flavour.

White Chocolate

White chocolate, just like milk chocolate, is another victim of commercial chocolate brands. Many people associate white chocolate with an artificially sweet flavour that has little to do with chocolate and more to do with candy.

In reality, white chocolate comes from the same cacao pod as dark chocolate. The difference is that white chocolate is made up of cocoa butter, milk powder and sugar. It’s white because it doesn’t contain the cocoa liquor and instead takes the colour of cocoa butter, which has a caramel-like colour. Craft chocolate makers use high-quality cocoa butter which is packed with antioxidants and healthy oils.

In the U.S., a bar of white chocolate must contain a minimum of 20% cocoa butter and no more than 55% sugar or sweeteners – the EU has adopted a similar rule. Most big chocolate brands will stick to the bare minimum of cocoa butter (20%) in order to save costs. Many craft chocolate makers, however, often include double (30% to 40%) the amount of the nutritious and healthy cocoa butter.

How it’s made:

A Dutch chemist by the name of Coenraad Van Houten was the one who discovered how to separate the cocoa liquor into cocoa powder and cocoa butter. On a side note, it was Coenraad Van Houten who also invented “Dutched Cocoa Powder,” which is made by treating the cocoa powder with alkaline salts. Whilst this improves the mixability for cooking baking purposes, it also washes out crucial nutrients found in cacao powder.

It wasn’t until many years later that the cocoa butter was mixed together with sugar and milk powder to create the first white chocolate bar. The same process is used today and thanks to craft chocolate makers, white chocolate is making a proud come back as a delicious fine food.

Some chocolate makers even have caramelised white or blonde bars on offer. These bars are made by heating the white chocolate mixture for longer than usual causing the sugar to caramelise and create a fudgy flavour and golden colour.

Inclusions

“Inclusions” is another popular label you might find on a bar of chocolate. An inclusions bar is often dark or milk chocolate with extra ingredients (such as nuts or dried fruit) added to it. The extra ingredients might be added for flavour and texture purposes or to make a bar look aesthetically pleasing.

How it’s made:

There are generally two ways to make an inclusions bar. The first of which is to add the extra ingredients towards the end of the grinding and conching process. The second method is to sprinkle the ingredients onto the tempered chocolate bars as they begin to set.

We hope this post has helped in demystifying what dark, milk, dark milk, and white chocolate is and how they are made!

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