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Next time you’re in the baking aisle, spend an extra minute or two in the chocolate section—the possibilities are endless! Want to know how to melt chocolate for dipping fruit? Cocoa powder for Ree Drummond’s sheet cake? How about a rich chocolate for brownies? Or chocolate chips for cookies? There’s a chocolate for everything! But how do you know what to use? Read on for 12 of the most popular types of chocolate—and the best ways to try them.
Most recipes will specify the type of chocolate needed, but understanding the why behind it all is important. You’ll have more success substituting one for another, and you can tweak any recipe to achieve a sweetness that is just right. But first, a quick lesson on where chocolate comes from: Cacao beans are where it all begins, and these are actually the seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree. Once the beans are dried and roasted, the refining process continues and yields two products: cocoa butter and chocolate liquor. Chocolate liquor is the purest form of cocoa, and can remain in a solid or liquid state, depending on whether it’s heated and melted. From here, chocolate liquor is used to make chocolate as we know it. Chocolate contains both cocoa butter and chocolate liquor, along with sugar to sweeten things up and other ingredients to flavor and shelf-stabilize the final product (which is important to know if you’re wondering, does chocolate go bad?). Here, we also explain the differences between chocolate in bar form versus cocoa nibs and cocoa powder. All that’s left is to check out these chocolate desserts for inspiration!
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This option is extra-sweet, but it’s generally less “chocolatey” tasting than the darker varieties. (Milk chocolate only has to contain a minimum of 10% cacao to be labeled as such.) Though it’s great in cookies, pancakes, brownies and more, it can be a bit finicky if you’re melting it, as the high concentration of milk solids makes it prone to overheating.
Dark chocolate is a blanket term for any variety that contains 30% to 80% cacao (bittersweet and semisweet chocolates are considered “dark chocolate.”) The higher the percentage of cacao, the less sweet and more bitter…or dark! Note that dark chocolate doesn’t contain any milk solids, which means it doesn’t have the same creaminess as milk chocolate—but it does have that characteristic “snap” when you break it.
Mainly considered an American chocolate that was developed for baking, semisweet chocolate is made up of at least 30% cacao. Semisweet chocolate is considered dark chocolate, but it’s not all that dark—it’s a good middle-ground choice, and is generally the default for chocolate chips.
Also considered a dark chocolate, bittersweet is less sweet than semisweet chocolate—it ranges from 50 to 80% cacao. The flavor is deeper and more bitter than semisweet, but it’s a great choice for serious chocolate-lovers—and it makes a mean brownie!
No matter what you call it (“baking,” “bitter,” or “unsweetened”), this chocolate is 100% cacao—it’s essentially chocolate in its purest form without any added sugar to mask the bitter flavor of natural cacao. This stuff is not for snacking but it’s great for baking, as it imparts a rich chocolate flavor and allows you to control the added sugar.
With a higher-than-usual percentage of cocoa butter and a high percentage of chocolate liquor, couverture chocolate is an expensive chocolate that’s beloved by professional candy makers and is great for dipping. The high ratio of cocoa butter makes for a smoother, more even melt—and when it sets, it’s thin, glossy and snappy.
Similar to candy melts, these chocolate disks are made with vegetable or palm oils instead of cocoa butter and do not contain high percentages of chocolate liquor (which means they may not taste all that chocolatey). These inexpensive chocolates are ideal for melting and are often used for dipping or coating.
This rosy-hued chocolate is the newest chocolate to hit the block since the 1930s invention of white chocolate. First developed in late 2017, ruby chocolate comes from ruby cacao beans, which are grown in South America and West Africa. It’s best described as a fruity, berry-flavored white chocolate, though there are no actual berries involved—the unique flavor and color comes from the cacao bean itself.
Named after its inventor Samuel German, this dark baking chocolate was produced after German decided to add more sugar to the production process, thinking the added sugar would be more convenient for bakers. The most popular way to use this variety of chocolate is in German chocolate cake, also named after the sweet chocolate inventor.
This one is the most divisive—you either love it or you hate it! White chocolate is made from the cocoa butter extracted during the cacao bean refinement process and does not contain any chocolate liquor. Chocolate purists have argued that because it lacks chocolate liquor and a “chocolatey” taste, it shouldn’t be called chocolate, but its smooth, rich, vanilla-like flavor has won over plenty of others.
Made up of pulverized pure cacao with all fat removed and no added sugar, cocoa powder is bitter-tasting chocolate in powder form. It’s ideal for mixing into doughs and batters. Just be sure to note if the recipe calls for dutch-process cocoa powder, which is an alkalized cocoa powder (recipes calling for dutch-process cocoa powder are more likely to be paired with baking powder for leavening, as baking powder contains its own acid). When in doubt, stick to regular (natural) cocoa powder and only use dutch-process when directed.
One could argue that cacao nibs are chocolate in its rawest form, considering they’re 100% crushed cacao beans. After the beans are harvested, they go through a fermentation process before being cracked to form these dark, crunchy and bitter bits. They’re loaded with antioxidants and other healthful properties.
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