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What Is Dark Chocolate?
There are several types of chocolate, as you probably already know. Most people divide chocolate into three categories: white chocolate, milk chocolate and dark chocolate. The FDA actually does not have a standard of identity for dark chocolate, but the general consensus is that dark chocolate typically contains between 70 percent to 99 percent pure cacoa or cocoa solids. Some set the standard for dark chocolate even lower at 60 percent or less. This can be done since there is no set standard at the moment.
Dark chocolate is made from cacao or cocoa. All chocolate starts as harvested cacao beans from the plant’s seed pods. Once harvested, the cacao beans are typically fermented and dried before being sent off to factories for further production. Pure cacao and pure cocoa powder both have antioxidants and health benefits. However, raw cacao powder is different because it does not undergo any heating and therefore has more nutrients and health properties. Raw cacao powder is made by cold-pressing unroasted cocoa beans so it retains more of its natural goodness while cocoa powder is typically heated at much higher temperatures. Dutched cocoa also gets washed in a potassium solution that neutralizes its acidity, which gives it a darker color and a more mellow flavor. (12)
Dark chocolate is also called semisweet chocolate while extra dark chocolate is often considered the same as bittersweet, although the ratio of cocoa butter to solids may vary between the varieties. (13) According to the FDA, semisweet chocolate or bittersweet chocolate is a sweet chocolate that contains no less than 35 percent (by weight) of pure cocoa. (14) Semisweet and bittersweet are both commonly used in baking, and although the FDA defines them in the same way, bittersweet chocolate typically has a deeper flavor and less sweetness than semisweet chocolate. (15) Unsweetened or baker’s chocolate is usually almost 100 percent cocoa with no sweetness whatsoever.
Due to the higher cocoa content, dark chocolate has a much richer flavor than milk chocolate. The higher the percentage of cocoa, the richer the taste. Cocoa is naturally bitter and very strong-tasting. Chocolate-makers (especially makers of milk chocolate) mellow this flavor by processes, such as alkalizing, fermenting, roasting, and adding milk and/or sugar, all of which can destroy healthy flavanols, alter our ability to use them or negate their health effects all together with unhealthy additives.
Legally, milk chocolate only needs to be at least 10 percent pure chocolate with at least 3.39 percent milk fat and at least 12 percent milk solids. (16) Studies have shown that the proteins in milk might reduce the absorption of the healthy antioxidants from cocoa. What’s the problem with milk? Milk actually appears to bind itself to the flavonoids in chocolate, making them unavailable to our bodies. (17) This is why milk chocolate is not a good antioxidant source. It’s also why you don’t want to drink milk with your dark chocolate.
White chocolate is even worse than milk chocolate. White “chocolate” is not really chocolate at all because it doesn’t even have contain any cocoa solids, only cocoa butter. (18)
I only recommend eating small amounts of minimally processed dark chocolate with at least a 70 percent cocoa content or higher. This type of chocolate is a healthy chocolate that contains the most powerful antioxidants and the least amount of sugar, providing the most benefits of dark chocolate you can get.