Let’s face it, dark chocolate isn’t for everyone. It seems like people either love it or hate it. However, the many people who are fans of this richer, stronger-flavored form of chocolate swear it is the ultimate chocolate indulgence and are constantly seeking out the best dark chocolate bars.
If you’ve always been loyal to milk chocolate, trying some premium dark chocolate brands may prompt you to rethink your stance. Especially when you consider the health benefits that dark chocolate can offer as a nice bonus.
Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate
Many people may assume that chocolate (of any variety) is off-limits if you’re trying to follow a healthy diet. But that’s not necessarily the case. As with anything, moderation is important. But experts say dark chocolate can have some positive rewards for your health.
“When it comes to taking advantage of chocolate’s health benefits, it’s the cocoa flavanols that count!” says Sheri Vettel, RD and Integrative Nutrition Health Coach with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. “Because dark chocolate tends to have a higher cocoa content, it packs in more beneficial flavonoids per ounce. Flavonoids act as antioxidant agents in the body, meaning they help lower oxidative stress levels, which, if left unchecked, can lead to chronic health issues and disease. In fact, studies have found that regular cocoa powder or dark chocolate consumption can help reduce oxidative damage from LDL, a potentially harmful form of cholesterol.”
That’s not all these powerful chemicals can do. “Flavonoids are also linked with a reduction in blood clotting, with some studies finding that flavonoid-rich cocoa has similar beneficial effects to that of aspirin on preventing platelets in the blood from clumping together,” Vettel says. “As summer approaches, it’s also interesting to note that some research has found flavanols to be protective against sun damage, while increasing skin hydration!”
Vettel adds, “Dark chocolate is also high in arginine, an amino acid that helps produce nitric oxide, an important molecule for blood pressure regulation as it relaxes and dilates blood vessels, increasing blood flow to the body’s tissues and organs.”
Related: 22 Best Chocolate Ice Cream Desserts
Choosing the Best Dark Chocolate for Your Health
To identify the healthiest dark chocolate options, read the labels carefully. Kim Bowman, F45 Challenge Nutritionist, MS, CNS, says you should look for “at least 70% organic dark cocoa or higher. Cocoa should be the first item on the ingredient list in a quality dark chocolate bar.”
Bowman said you should watch out for excess refined sugar and added sugar (like high-fructose corn syrup) and try to steer clear of partially hydrogenated oils such as sunflower oil and palm oil, which are “highly processed, and there is a significant amount of nutritional research demonstrating how these oils cause inflammation in the body over time.”
Other things to avoid: artificial colors and/or flavors. “Avoid dyes such as red 40, yellow 5, and yellow 6 which are known to have adverse health effects,” Bowman says. “Watch out for ‘artificial flavor’ on an item’s ingredient list, since you cannot be sure what the manufacturer used to create the flavor or how many ingredients are inside.”
The Best Dark Chocolate Bars
Here are our picks as the best dark chocolate bars, leading up to the one that tops the list. (Any of these are terrific options, though, and the one you like best will depend on personal preference and the percentage of cocoa content your taste buds can handle.)
11. HERSHEY’S SPECIAL DARK Chocolate Bar – $2.99
Hershey’s is perhaps one of the best-known names in chocolate – particularly for those of us who live in the northeast U.S. and have visited the company’s headquarters in the city known as “the town that chocolate built.” As someone who grew up on Hershey’s chocolate, I know it has a comforting, familiar taste. No chocolate round-up would be complete without it, although it does have a much lower cocoa content than others on this list (according to the Hershey’s website, this bar has 45 percent cocoa). Check out the dark chocolate offerings of their affiliated brands like Reese’s and KIT KAT, as well.
10. Congo Tropicals Congo Organic Dark Chocolate Bar – $44.70 for a 5-pack
Made in Costa Rica from premium cocoa beans, this Congo Organic Dark Chocolate bar contains 70 percent cocoa and has a smooth, silky texture. The company is also Rainforest Alliance Certified.
9. Vervana Organic Dark Chocolate Bar – $8.99
The 72 percent cocoa content of the Vervana dark chocolate bar gives it a smooth, robust taste with just the right amount of bitterness to be delightful but not overpowering. Artisan-made in small batches in the U.S., the chocolate originates from sustainably sourced, organic Tanzanian cacao beans. Their Dark Chocolate with Coconut and Almonds bar is also a good choice if you’re craving something different.
Related: 15 No-Bake Chocolate Desserts
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If there’s one name that’s synonymous with the satisfying indulgence of luxury chocolate, it’s GODIVA. These dark chocolate mini bars are the perfect size for a convenient treat (stash some in your purse or desk drawer!) and offer the benefits of 72 percent cacao. You can also try their chocolate bars in a range of sizes that feature dark chocolate accentuated by other flavors, such as raspberry or mint.
7. Ghirardelli Intense Dark 92% Cacao Dark Chocolate Bar – $39.95 for a 12-bar box
This appropriately named Ghirardelli promises an intense flavor experience and it certainly delivers. With its spectacular 92 percent cocoa content, it stands apart from the pack in that regard. Some online reviewers described a fruity essence, while others noted that it wasn’t quite as sweet as they expected.
The 88 percent cocoa content of this Endangered Species dark chocolate bar gives it a powerful taste, while the company’s methodical, time-consuming production process ensures its smooth texture. Bowman notes that it is vegan-friendly, gluten-free and made with non-GMO ingredients. She also likes that the company donates 10 percent of its net profits to organizations that focus on wildlife conservation and protecting natural habitats.
With an impressive 85 percent cocoa content, this Lindt EXCELLENCE bar is packed with all of the health benefits of cocoa you’re seeking—combined with a rich, robust taste you will really enjoy. Check out other Lindt EXCELLENCE varieties like Caramel with a Touch of Sea Salt or the unique Chili Dark Chocolate bar.
4. See’s Candies Extra Dark Chocolate Bar – $10.50 for a 4-pack
See’s has a reputation for delivering high-quality candies prepared with loving care, and this dark chocolate bar lives up to that standard. It has a satisfying 62 percent cocoa content that makes it more on the sweeter side, so may not be the best option for those who like a more bitter element in their dark chocolate.
3. Chocolove Maple Glazed Salted Pecans in Strong Dark Chocolate – $39 for a 12-bar case
This bar from Chocolove has 70 percent cocoa which gives it a rich, bittersweet flavor. This is also chocolate you can feel good about, because the company is dedicated to social responsibility and ethical production practices. Their dark chocolate originates from traceable cocoa beans, and it is Rainforest Alliance Certified. They have plenty of unique and pleasantly surprising flavors—try the Orange Peel in Dark Chocolate bar for a refreshing combination of citrus tanginess and chocolate sweetness. The Raspberries in Dark Chocolate is another winning pick.
2. Hu Chocolate Simple Dark Chocolate Bar – $5.50 per bar in a 12-pack
Bowman likes this brand’s offering because Hu uses minimal ingredients that are all USDA-certified organic, with no preservatives/fillers and no dairy or processed ingredients like emulsifiers or soy lecithin. You can go with the classic Simple Dark Chocolate bar (70 percent cacao) or try one of the other flavors like Hazelnut Butter or Almond Crunch.
1. Divine Chocolate 85% Dark Chocolate Bar – $9.97 for a 3-pack
This dark chocolate bar from Divine Chocolate boasts an impressive 85 percent cocoa content, which gives it an intense flavor. The company also stands out for its strong support of farmers. It is co-owned by cocoa farmers via Kuapa Kokoo, a cocoa farmers organization in Ghana which has a significant presence on the Divine board. The brand offers something for everyone: varieties with a lower cocoa content for those who prefer the flavor to be more subtle, plus a terrific assortment of flavors like dark chocolate with blueberry & popped quinoa or dark chocolate with refreshing lemon.
Next up, check out these 57 easy and delicious low-calorie snacks.