What Are the Major Types of Chocolate? | CoachSweetTooth

What Are the Major Types of Chocolate?

In 2020 the average American consumed 14 lbs. of chocolate per year, a steady increase since the 1960’s. While not the largest consumers in the world per capita, chocolate makers have seen an increase in the type of chocolate that Americans eat. Chocolate has become much more available worldwide, but the increase in sales is not just due to shipping and trade improvements. Many Americans are looking for a specific type of chocolate to satisfy their increasingly sophisticated palate. Dark chocolate in particular, has seen a huge surge in sales and preferences.

When most people think of chocolate types, they generally think of four categories: Dark Bittersweet, Dark Semi-sweet, Milk, and White. The categories are based on the percentage of cocoa (liquor) in each formula. The criteria standard is set by the FDA in America, but the criteria is different in other countries. The lower the percentage of cacao, the sweeter and softer the chocolate is. Most popular American chocolates (Snicker’s, M & M’s Hershey Bars) are made with milk chocolate.

Each type of chocolate is distinct in its taste, use, shelf-life, health benefits, and behavior. Today’s chocolate has a cocoa content ranging from 0%-100%. These variations will be described in the following paragraphs as well as current trends in the industry.

There’s nothing I like more than a dark chocolate bar that snaps when I break off a piece. I have attended many chocolate shows and always scout out offerings as I travel to find new combinations (fig, quinoa, lemongrass, cornflake, etc.) Yet, some days, I just yearn for my childhood favorite of milk chocolate M & M’s where I can play with the candy coating on my tongue before the chocolate melts. Unfortunately, it would not be wise to eat as much chocolate as I truly want and so I have resorted to taking note of which chocolates give me the most joy. Lucky for me, the journey is never ending as chocolatiers continue to surprise me with quality and combinations that amaze and satisfy my palate. Discovering what you like and learning about the types of chocolate helps all of us spend our money and calories wisely.

Table of contents


What is White Chocolate?

One of the most frequently asked questions in the realm of chocolate is, “Is white chocolate actually chocolate?” The answer lies between, “Absolutely!” and “Not really.”  White chocolate used to mean a molded bunny at Easter time. Generally speaking, this was made of a flavored composite product made with palm oil and added fillers. But in recent years, the quality and demand for white chocolate has risen. White chocolate is made with cocoa butter, milk solids, and sugar. It may be flavored with vanilla and often soy lecithin is added as an emulsifier to aid in mixing. White chocolate does not contain chocolate liquor or any other cocoa products besides cocoa butter. In the early 2000’s white chocolate was “defined” as having a minimum of 20 % cocoa butter. This gives it the mouth feel that we are used to with more traditional chocolates. Interestingly, the cost for producing a quality white chocolate has continued to rise as the cocoa butter needed for it is also in demand in cosmetics (think beauty creams and lotions). Yet, consumers are seeking out white chocolate more than ever. Chocolatiers have addressed the demand and offered a new generation of designer bars as well as mainstream drug store bars (think Hershey’s Cookies & Cream; debut 1994).

Besides mouthfeel and taste, white chocolate is unique in that it has the lowest melting temperature. This becomes significant when tempering it, melting it, and baking with it. When tempering white chocolate, the goal is to first bring it to 110 ° F, as opposed to 115° F or more with dark chocolate. Also, it is a lot easier to overheat or burn white chocolate. Although formulated for baking, even white chocolate chips run the risk of catching some brown when in the oven.

What is Milk Chocolate?

Milk chocolate is the most popular and most produced chocolate. It is the lightest in color of all the chocolate (white excluded) and is known for its smoothness and creaminess. To be classified as milk chocolate in the United States, it must have a minimum of 10% cacao, though it can have more. In Europe, the standard is 25%. Milk chocolate is particularly popular in “checkout” candy bars and in novelty chocolate, particularly around holiday time. It is also a common favorite of children and teens. Like white chocolate, it has a relatively low melting point. That is probably why the most famous chocolate chip cookie recipe in America calls for semi sweet chips.

What is Dark Semi-Sweet Chocolate?

Semisweet chocolate contains at least 35 percent cacao solids, but even this varies between manufacturers.  Semisweet falls between milk chocolate and bittersweet chocolate on the scale of sweetness and firmness. Other than candy bars, the semisweet chocolate chip is hands-over the #1 choice when baking the American favorite chocolate chip cookie. It is not as sensitive in the oven as white and milk chocolate, yet it satisfies a large range of taste buds as it’s not too sweet or too bitter.

What is Dark Bittersweet Chocolate?

Bittersweet chocolate must contain at least 35 percent cocoa according to the FDA, but most bittersweet bars contain much more. Note that this is the same criteria used for semisweet chocolate in the United States. Since the guidelines are so ambiguous, it is manufacturers who ultimately label their dark chocolate as either semisweet or bittersweet. However, the trend seems to lean toward bittersweet having a cacao percentage greater than 50%.  Because of the health benefits touted by dark chocolate, bittersweet chocolate has been in high demand over the last several years. It has become commonplace for manufacturers to emphasize the percentage of cocoa right on the package. Bittersweet chocolate has less sugar than its counterparts, but likely more cocoa butter. It often has a deeper, more bitter flavor than other types of chocolate, but it depends on the cocoa beans used and other factors such as processing methods. In general, the higher the cacao, the higher the melting temperature. Thus, a milk chocolate morsel will melt in your hand faster than a bittersweet morsel.

What is Unsweetened Chocolate?

Whether unsweetened chocolate is considered a type of chocolate on its own is up for debate. It is sometimes called baking as it is used in recipes such as brownies, cakes and frostings. Unsweetened chocolate is just that-100% cacao with no added sugar. To most palettes, it is unpleasant to eat. When used in baking, it is combined with a measure of sugar, but retains a deep, rich flavor.

What about German Chocolate and Ruby Chocolate?

German chocolate is a dark, semi-sweet chocolate used in baking. It is most often called for in recipes for “German Chocolate Cake”. German chocolate has more sugar added to it than typical semi-sweet chocolate. The proper name is “German’s” chocolate as it was developed by a fellow with the last name of “German”. It originated from the Baker’s Chocolate Company and is not widely used or available. Many recipes allow for a simple substitution of regular semi-sweet chocolate.

Ruby chocolate is the new kid on the block. It was introduced in 2018 as a new chocolate, pinkish in color, with a somewhat fruity taste. It is a curiosity and is becoming easier to procure, but has not taken off in popularity as of yet.

Is Cocoa Powder a Type of Chocolate?

It depends on your criteria. Generally we think of types of chocolate as something that contains cocoa and cocoa butter (or in the case of white chocolate, just the cocoa butter). But if we’re making an exception for white chocolate, we can make one for cocoa powder as well. Cocoa powder consists of 100 percent cacao with no sugar, and has had the cocoa butter extracted out. It is very bitter and is used mostly in baked goods. It gives a good punch to chocolate flavored sweets such as cakes and frostings and is shelf stable. It is convenient because you don’t have to melt it, or wait until it cools to use in a recipe.

Which Type Is the Best Chocolate to Eat?

It depends on your personal preference. That is why there are so many chocolate bars to choose from. Even if you decide you like chocolate with a 60% cocoa content, your opinion might vary from one brand to another. It is best to try different chocolates and take note of what gives you the most satisfaction. Your homework will never be done as new flavor profiles and combinations continue to enter the market.


Lori Gilmore

Lori Gilmore

Lori has been a Culinary Arts instructor for twenty years. She has taught in the public school setting, at the collegiate level and through adult continuing education as well as running several cooking and baking camps for children. She has participated in several cooking, cake & chocolate contests and has been well recognized. She has raised thousands of dollars for charities using the byline “Saving the World one Cupcake at a Time”. Additionally, she has had several articles regarding food published in various magazines.

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