In this complete guide to the different types of chocolate used in baking, you'll learn about all the chocolate kinds on the market, what to look for when you are shopping for chocolate, all the different shapes of chocolate sold, and their ingredients. If you have questions about chocolate, this guide to chocolate is for you!
This post was sponsored by Cacao Barry. Note that as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
How chocolate is classified
There are three main chocolate types on the market that most people are familiar with plus a new one on the market that's pink! The three kinds of chocolate are dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and white chocolate and they are distinct because they have varying amounts of cocoa (cocoa mass and/or cocoa butter) and sugar. Most chocolate will also contain a few other ingredients for flavour (like milk ingredients, vanilla and/or other natural/artificial flavours) or for stability and texture (lecithins, for example). The quality of these chocolates varies greatly from one brand to another. In many countries, the labeling of chocolate is regulated, meaning the naming conventions guarantee a certain cocoa content, percent sugar, emulsifying agents, etc.:
- In Canada, the Food and Drug Regulations on cocoa and chocolate products are a great place to start if you have questions about chocolate products and what the wording on the label means
- In the United States, consult the Federal Regulations on cacao products for more information about chocolate, what it contains, and how it's labelled in the US
- In Europe, visit the EUR-Lex to get more information about chocolate product designations, names, and ingredients
What does the percentage on chocolate labels mean?
The percentage that is printed on chocolate packages refers to any cocoa product in the chocolate, both cocoa butter (the fat from the cocoa bean) and fat free cocoa solids. So when a chocolate says 60%, it implies that 60% of that chocolate is chocolate products and the other 40% is fats, sugars, flavours, emulsifiers, etc. But that 60% could mean different things and again, reputable chocolate companies will disclose the breakdown of the percentage.
For example, Cacao Barry's Alunga milk chocolate is 41% cacao of which 31% is cocoa butter and 10% fat free cocoa. That's transparency at its best because on their website, they also breakdown the other key components for evaluating the quality of their product: 24% is milk products (4% milk fat and 20% fat free milk) and 35% fat (of which 31% is cocoa butter and 4% is milk fat). The more information chocolate companies disclose, the better. Now that you know what the percent on chocolate labels means, here's a rundown of the types of chocolate you can buy.
When shopping for quality chocolate, the percentage of cocoa solids is essential!
In order to judge a chocolate for its quality, the percentage cacao is essential. If a product label doesn't mention a percentage, you may want to question its quality. Reputable brands will include the % cacao on the front of the packaging so that you know you are getting what you pay for
These are the general categories of chocolate types you are most likely to use when you're baking + 1 new one:
Dark chocolate has a higher percentage of cocoa than other types of chocolate. In Canada, to be labelled as dark chocolate, it must contain at least 35% cocoa and less than 5% milk. Dark chocolate is usually sweetened, though there are some unsweetened, high percentage dark chocolates on the market too, which may have a pronounced bitter and/or sour taste. Sometimes unsweetened chocolate may be labelled as "baking chocolate" or "cooking chocolate." The dark chocolate I bake with is called Ocoa and it's by Cacao Barry. Ocoa has a 70% cocoa content and it is sold in many IGA grocery stores in Quebec as well as online from Vanilla Food Company. Some brands of baking chocolate don't mention the cocoa content on their packaging, instead referring to the chocolate as being either unsweetened (no sugar, sometimes referred to as baking chocolate or baker's chocolate), bittersweet (a little sweet), or semi-sweet (a lot sweeter but still dark chocolate). I tend to favour brands that disclose the percentage of cocoa. I love to use dark chocolate in recipes like classic chocolate chip cookies, one bowl brownies with raspberries, and baked dark chocolate donuts.
As a rule, milk chocolate has less cocoa content than dark chocolate. In Canada, to be labelled milk chocolate, the chocolate must contain at least 25% cocoa and 12% milk solids. Milk chocolate also contains cocoa butter and, of course, dairy (like milk solids, milk powder, etc.). The amount of sugar varies from product to product. Some milk chocolates are tooth-achingly sweet, which isn't great for baking purposes. I bake with Alunga by Cacao Barry, which the company refers to as a milk chocolate for dark chocolate lovers. Alunga has a 41% cocoa content which is quite high compared to the minimum standards for cocoa in milk chocolate in Canada. It's also sold in many IGA grocery stores in Quebec as well as online from Vanilla Food Company in 1 kilo bags. Alunga isn't cloyingly sweet, which is why I love it. It has a deeper, richer chocolate flavour, and a silky smooth texture. I am a devout fan of dark chocolate, but Alunga has led me to reconsider my stance on milk chocolate. There are some really great milk chocolates on the market and Alunga is one of them that I will happily bake with (and munch on too)! Milk chocolate works really well in recipes like milk chocolate ganache tart, creamy milk chocolate pots de crème, and even milk chocolate frosting or homemade chocolate bars, which make great gifts around the holidays. You can add milk chocolate to your favourite cookie recipes, like in these oatmeal cookies with chocolate and peanuts.
White chocolate is made from cocoa butter, sugar, and often will also contain vanilla and dairy products of some sort (milk solids, milk powders, milk, etc.). Some cheaper white chocolate products may contain extra fillers or additives. These can be very sweet and many lack depth of flavour. Higher end white chocolate products as a rule have a simpler list of ingredients and a lovely, sweet cream flavour. Just like with milk chocolate and dark chocolate, the quality of the product can have a huge impact on flavour. I usually reach for Cacao Barry: I prefer the Zéphyr white chocolate but I often bake with Cacao Barry's Blanc Satin because it is conveniently available at the bulk store where I shop. White chocolate makes a great addition to many recipes. And just like with the other chocolate types, look for the % cocoa content on white chocolate labels to make sure you know what you are buying. White chocolate usually has a cocoa content around 20 %. Use it for coating these dipped chocolate cookies or white chocolate shortbread cookies. White chocolate makes a creamy addition to peanut butter cookies with white chocolate chunks and blueberry cookies with white chocolate too. And it makes the most decadent white chocolate pots de crème.
Ruby chocolate is the newest type of chocolate on the market and it's a stunning pink coloured chocolate with a naturally mild fruity flavour reminiscent of red berries, tangy and sweet. Ruby chocolate was developed by Barry Callebaut and launched in 2017. Ruby cocoa beans are grown in Ecuador, Brazil, and Ivory Coast. Ruby chocolate is the newest kind of chocolate on the market. The pink colour is naturally occurring and this chocolate isn't dyed, contrary to what you might think.
Other chocolate products that you can bake with and that you may see in certain baking recipes
There is a whole world of chocolate that goes beyond the usual dark, milk, and white chocolates.
Cocoa powder is sold in two forms: Dutch-processed cocoa powder and natural cocoa powder. As a rule, if the label on your cocoa powder does not specify whether it is natural or Dutch-processed, you should assume that it is Dutch-processed. But what is the difference between Dutch-processed and natural cocoa powder? By the way, check out this post on ways to substitute for cocoa powder, if you need a refresher.
- Dutch processed cocoa powder (or "Dutched cocoa") implies that the cocoa powder was treated with a basic (alkaline) solution, thus darkening the colour and improving the flavour. Most commercially sold cocoa powders are Dutch processed unless the label states otherwise. This also means that Dutch processed cocoa powder brings a certain basicity or alkalinity (higher pH) to baking recipes. You may notice that many chocolate cake recipes call for both (Dutch processed) cocoa powder and vinegar to balance out the pH of the batter. The vinegar ensures that chemical leaveners, such as baking soda can react to produce carbon dioxide and leaven your cakes. As a rule, don't use Dutch-processed cocoa powder in a recipe that calls specifically for natural cocoa powder. I use Dutch-processed cocoa powder in these cocoa coffee cookies, chewy chocolate sugar cookies, this fun cherry chocolate crumble, and this eggless chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting.
- Natural cocoa powders are clearly labelled as such. These cocoa powders are more acidic, have a redder or lighter colour and a much milder flavour. The acidity brought by natural cocoa powder in a recipe may be enough to react with baking soda to leaven your cakes. That acidity can interfere with baking results if the recipe you are following calls for Dutch-processed cocoa. As a rule, if a recipe doesn't state that it calls for "natural cocoa powder", I would assume that the recipe writer is using Dutch-processed cocoa. The recipes on this website are developed using Dutch processed cocoa, most were tested with Cacao Barry Plein Arôme or Extra Brute cocoa powders because they have a rich chocolate flavour and a darker colour.
- Black cocoa powder is a third type of cocoa, but it's not readily available in grocery stores. You may have to seek it out in specialty baking stores or order it from Amazon. Black cocoa is just more "Dutched" than the cocoa powder we find in most grocery stores. It's treated more to give the powder its signature black colour. Black cocoa powder is what you would use if you wanted to bake homemade Oreo cookies, for example.
Cocoa nibs (a.k.a cacao nibs)
Cocoa nibs are chopped or crushed bits of shelled cocoa bean, produced after the shell of the cocoa bean is removed and before the cocoa bean is ground and processed into chocolate liquor. Some producers sell raw cocoa nibs that are dried, unroasted cocoa bean. Others sell roasted cocoa nibs from beans that were dried and roasted. Whether or not the bean is roasted before producing nibs is brand dependent, though roasting creates more flavour compounds leading to tastier, less bland cocoa nibs. Roasted cocoa nibs have a deep, bitter chocolate flavour and a lovely crunch to them. When incorporated into a baking recipe, like these slice-and-bake cocoa nib shortbread cookies, cocoa nibs add a crispy texture to baked goods and a deep chocolate flavour without the extra sweetness.
Cocoa butter is the solid fat extracted from the roasted cocoa bean. It's used in chocolate making quite often. For example, if you ever buy fancy chocolates and you noticed they are sprayed with bright coloured flecks (red, blue, green, etc.): the coloured flecks are usually a mix of cocoa butter and a food dye that gets sprayed onto chocolates after the chocolate has set or brushed into chocolate moulds before the chocolate is poured.
Caramelized white chocolate
Caramelized white chocolate is exactly what it sounds like: white chocolate that is roasted until it caramelizes. Caramelized white chocolate can be made at home by slow roasting white chocolate, but it's also sold commercially. Note that many commercial caramelized white chocolates are actually white chocolate + caramel flavours for better flavour, stability and consistency of product. It's up to you what you prefer to use. If you are making caramelized white chocolate at home, watch it carefully as white chocolate burns around 110 ºF (43 ºC).
Chocolate chips are widely sold in grocery stores, made with milk chocolate, dark chocolate (usually labelled as semi-sweet), white chocolate, and even other novelty flavours like peanut butter, butterscotch, etc. Chocolate chips are often much higher in sugar than regular chocolate and have a lower cocoa butter content in them so that they retain their shape when baked instead of melting into a puddle. This is especially convenient for things like chocolate chip cookies where you want the chocolate to hold its shape. Some brands include additional additives or stabilizers to make sure the chocolate chips keep their shape throughout the baking process, but sometimes these extra ingredients can have a big impact on flavour and mouthfeel. Choose wisely. I tend to favour reputable name brands if I'm going to bake with chocolate chips. Use dark chocolate chips or semi-sweet chocolate chips in this chocolate chip bundt cake made with sour cream.
Couverture chocolate is formulated to contain a higher percentage of cocoa butter so that it melts and pours more smoothly. Chocolate professionals use it for dipping and coating truffles, moulding chocolates, and for garnishing. Couverture chocolate can work well in baking too. I've successfully used couverture chocolate in this one bowl brownie recipe in the past. I've also written a guide to help with how to substitute for cocoa powder with dark chocolate.
Compound is one of the lowest quality chocolates that you can buy. It's a cheaper chocolate containing vegetable oils (coconut oil or palm oil for example) and high level of sugar. Compound chocolate is often made from cocoa powder, and it may contain soy, salt, emulsifiers, etc. Some candy makers use compound chocolate in place of couverture chocolate for coating candy bars because compound chocolate is cheaper. If you ever come across chocolate "candy melts" in a cake decorating supply store, it's probably compound chocolate and not couverture chocolate. I would not bake with compound chocolate as it will behave (and taste) quite different than finer chocolates and couverture chocolates. Compound chocolate serves a purpose and it is cheaper, but don't use it to bake brownies or cookies.
What to look for when shopping for chocolate to bake with?
When I shop for chocolate, I always read the label and you should too. You want to make sure the product is made with cocoa and you want to know the percentage of cocoa in the chocolate you are buying. In Canada, the names dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, semi-sweet, bittersweet, etc. are regulated and each name implies a certain minimum percentage of cocoa (see above). Still, if you are having trouble figuring out just how much cocoa is actually in a chocolate product, I'd skip it and look for a different brand so you know what you are buying. I believe product transparency and disclosures are important factors in the trust between a brand and a consumer. I try to buy products that are clearly labelled so I know exactly what I am paying for. Even when I buy chocolate chips at the grocery store, I read the label. Cheaper chocolate chips are made with hydrogenated fats. Many bulk stores sell lower quality compound chocolate chips that contain hydrogenated palm kernel oil. I would avoid those, personally. In general, chocolate in stores is sold at different price points and comes in a few different forms. Price is generally a reflection of quality. The best chocolate for baking will come at a higher price-point, as a rule.
Chocolate shapes: Pistoles, fèves, bars, blocks, chips, chunks...
Chocolate is sold in a variety of shapes, specifically chips, bars, pistoles, fèves, and blocks. Typical chocolate shapes include:
- Chocolate chips look like little droplets of solid chocolate and are what you use to make the classic chocolate chip cookie, as a rule. They are usually sold in half pound bags.
- Chocolate bars are the preferred manufacturing method for many chocolate companies that sell to grocery stores. The chocolate usually comes in 100 gram bars, wrapped in foil and tucked into a box that is labelled with the percent cocoa clearly on the packaging. I like to choose chocolate bars that clearly disclose the percent cocoa content and the ingredients.
- Chocolate pistoles (also referred to as chocolate wafers) look like flattened large dollops of chocolate. Cacao Barry distributes much of its chocolate in the form of pistoles. Pistoles are convenient for melting applications and making ganache because you don't have to chop the chocolate. The work is done for you! At many IGA stores in Quebec, we are lucky that we can find Cacao Barry Alunga milk chocolate and Ocoa dark chocolate, sold in 1 kilo resealable bags of chocolate pistoles. I also visit my local scoop shop to buy pistoles which they sell by weight.
- Chocolate callets are sold by the brand Callebaut and these also look like large, flattened chocolate chips, available in white, milk, dark, and flavoured chocolates.
- Chocolate fèves are a signature of the luxury chocolate brand Valrhona. The shape of the pieces of chocolate is meant to mimic the cocoa bean. Chocolate fèves come in a variety of chocolate percentages and again their size is convenient for melting purposes, especially.
- Chocolate blocks are large, very thick, heavy bars of chocolate. You may have seen broken hunks of chocolate blocks at your local bulk store. I find them rather inconvenient and tough to chop on my own, so I always buy chocolate pistoles or thinner bars instead of blocks. Pistoles and small bars are more manageable! If you are ever faced with a block of chocolate that you need to chop, use a serrated knife to saw through into more manageable pieces that can be processed in the food processor into thinner shards that are very interesting baked into cookies instead of chocolate chips!
Frequently asked questions about chocolate
Are chocolate chips a good substitute for chocolate in baking?
Depending on what you are baking, chocolate chips, though convenient, might not be the right chocolate for your recipe:
- If you are making something like a dark chocolate ganache, milk chocolate ganache, milk chocolate frosting, milk chocolate pots de crème, or homemade chocolate bars where the chocolate is the star of the recipe and the main ingredient, use good quality chocolate, not chocolate chips, especially if the recipe you are following doesn't specifically mention using chocolate chips. Remember chocolate chips tend to have a lot more sugar than solid chocolate and they also may have less cocoa butter/fat.
- For things like peanut butter cookies with white chocolate chunks, chocolate zucchini muffins, chocolate scones, and a chocolate chip bundt cake, where the chocolate is folded into a batter or a dough, you can get away with either chopped chocolate, pistoles, or chocolate chips without worrying too much. Stick to a chocolate product that is good quality from a brand you trust and with a clear list of ingredients.
Can I replace cocoa powder with hot cocoa mix in a recipe?
Hot cocoa mix is sold in grocery stores and is NOT the same as cocoa powder though it may contain cocoa powder. Generally, hot cocoa mixes are a mixture of cocoa powder, sugar, milk products, starches, gums, etc. Do not replace cocoa powder with hot cocoa mix in a recipe, or if you do, know that the results may be quite different than what you were expecting if you don't make any adjustments to the recipe (especially in terms of sweetness). In fact, if you want a cup of hot chocolate, I suggest making your own hot chocolate from scratch using your favourite dark chocolate or milk chocolate. It's so easy!
Expensive chocolate vs cheap chocolate: is "expensive" chocolate really worth the investment?
In general, cheaper chocolates are mass-produced from a mixture of beans. At lower price points, the manufactured chocolate probably contains less cocoa solids and more additives (sugar, dairy, etc.). They may contain vegetable fats (possibly hydrogenated). Cheaper chocolate lacks depth of flavour and can be overly sweet and sometimes even waxy. On the other hand, there are reputable brands that produce chocolates in a bean-to-bar approach from specific cocoa beans selected for flavour and often produced in smaller batches. Many higher end chocolates are made from single-origin beans, meaning the cocoa beans from a specific region are selected to produce the chocolate. These chocolates have more character and different flavour profiles. Taste a chocolate from Saint-Domingue and compare it to a chocolate from Mexico or Ecuador, and you will notice a huge difference in flavour and aroma. Companies like Cacao Barry work closely with the farmers and producers to ensure safe practices, improved quality, traceability, and sustainability.
Why does my chocolate have white spots or specks on it?
As chocolate is stored, the cocoa butter may crystallize on the surface of the chocolate, leading to white specks or streaks. This is called fat bloom. It's harmless and once melted, the fat will melt too and the chocolate will be shiny again. Ideally, when working with chocolate, the melted chocolate is tempered to control how the chocolate solidifies so that it will set with a shiny coating.
Does chocolate expire?
Chocolate definitely does expire. Visually, you can't tell if your chocolate has gone bad and the white specks (fat bloom) is NOT an indication of if your chocolate has expired. You will have to look for the expiry date on the packaging to know for sure. Expired chocolate won't necessarily harm you, but the flavour will be off.
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