What Is Bittersweet Chocolate? | CoachSweetTooth

What is bittersweet chocolate? Is it the same as semisweet chocolate or milk chocolate? Can you substitute bittersweet chocolate with dark chocolate?

Bittersweet chocolate is darker in color compared to semisweet chocolate, and milk chocolate on the chocolate spectrum and home cooks can easily swap one for the other. It's not quite as dark as unsweetened chocolate or true dark chocolate (which normally has a cacao level exceeding 75%). Bittersweet chocolate is sometimes grouped with "dark chocolate" by manufacturers, but it is sweeter than the actual dark chocolate.

Bittersweet chocolate is a type of chocolate that has a cacao content of roughly 70%. The high cacao content allows the chocolate to have a deep, less sweet flavor and a slightly dry or crumbly texture. It has a taste and consistency that is strikingly similar to semisweet chocolate.

Bittersweet chocolate has an unlimited shelf life if properly packed and stored in a cold, dry location. However, because of its relatively high-fat content, it can quickly pick up other flavors, so keep that in mind when storing things near it.

After conducting our research and speaking with experts in the industry, we have put together this guide for home cooks to find out everything they need to know about bittersweet chocolate.

Table of contents


What is Bittersweet Chocolate?

Bittersweet chocolate is sweetened dark chocolate that is devoid of milk in any form. It's made up of cocoa butter, sugar, chocolate liquor, and occasionally vanilla. Despite what the name suggests, chocolate liquor contains no alcohol. Rather, it is a type of cocoa that is made by crushing cocoa beans into a liquid state. Unsweetened baking chocolate is made from solidified chocolate liquor that has been shaped into blocks. In addition, bittersweet chocolate also consists of lecithin, that is frequently used as an emulsifier.

According to the FDA, the bittersweet chocolate in North America must have a minimum of 35% chocolate liquor; whereas, in the United Kingdom, the figure is slightly higher and reaches up to 43%. The chocolate's flavor will be more powerful if it contains more chocolate liquor. Chocolate liquor can make up 65% to 70% or more of a high-quality bar of chocolate.

Although the phrases bittersweet and semisweet are commonly used interchangeably, the standards that define the two are not the same. Bittersweet chocolate includes more chocolate liquid and less sugar than semi sweet chocolate, despite the fact that it is not strictly regulated across the industry. Semisweet chocolate, on the other hand, can contain up to 35% liquor, which is what makes the two chocolates extremely similar. Many home bakers use bittersweet and semisweet chocolate interchangeably with success.

Recent research has discovered that consuming little amounts of bittersweet chocolate on a regular basis has several health benefits. For example, bittersweet chocolate is a great source of some flavonoids, such as gallic acid and epicatechin, that help to protect the heart due to its high cocoa content.

Bittersweet chocolate also contains antioxidant chemicals that may help to decrease blood pressure. However, like with Dutch-processed cocoa powder, the flavonoids included in this chocolate are eliminated during processing with alkali.

Temperature and humidity are highly important when it comes to chocolate, especially bittersweet chocolate. The best temperature window for storing chocolate is between 59 and 63 degrees Fahrenheit (15 and 17 degrees Celsius), with a relative humidity of 50 percent or less. Temperature fluctuations can create changes in the appearance and texture of chocolate, including a whitish "bloom" on the surface caused by the presence of fat and/or sugar crystals. Although the chocolate's appearance may be harmed, it is entirely fine to eat.

Theobromine, an alkaloid found in the cacao plant, is present in bittersweet chocolate, as it is in other types. Theobromine is known to cause polyuria, anxiety, and sleepiness and is attributed to aphrodisiac and antitussive qualities. Dogs and cats can be easily poisoned by theobromine, even in small doses; therefore, all chocolate should be kept out of reach of animals.

Substitutes for Bittersweet Baking Chocolate

The proportion of cacao in chocolate determines whether it is labeled as unsweetened, bittersweet, or semisweet chocolate. The chocolate will be less sweet and more chocolaty as the cacao percentage increases. Bittersweet chocolate has less sugar than semi-sweet chocolate and is used in recipes that call for a strong, intense chocolate flavor. However, the line between the two sorts blurs when it comes to branding.

You can successfully substitute semisweet chocolate with bittersweet chocolate if needed for baking. However, make sure that you substitute equal amounts of semi-sweet chocolate for the bittersweet chocolate in your recipe. Since the two are so close in flavor and composition, you shouldn't notice much of a difference in your recipe.

Chocolates with substantially varied cacao percentages can generate radically diverse outcomes, so the decision is intriguing. Unless a recipe calls for a very high-percentage chocolate, you must use bittersweet chocolate with a cacao content of 54 to 60%.

While most recipes call for melting chocolate in a double boiler, a broad, shallow skillet of water with a stainless-steel dish of chocolate sitting right in it can work just as well. The open bath allows you to see and control the water if it starts to boil or simmer too vigorously, whereas the water in a double boiler is normally hidden and, thus more difficult to monitor. Chocolate in an open bath must be observed constantly, stirred frequently, and withdrawn from the bath when melted, just as chocolate in a double boiler will scorch if the cook is inattentive.

The best option is to bake chocolate squares, but semi-sweet chocolate chips would suffice if you’re in a hurry. Just keep in mind that chocolate chips are supposed to be melt-resistant, so melting them will require a little more work. As a result, they're more suited to cookie and brownie recipes. One ounce of baking chocolate is comparable to three teaspoons of chocolate chips.

Alternatively, you can also use unsweetened cocoa powder in place of bittersweet chocolate. However, since cocoa powder is practically fat-free and sugar-free, you'll need to add those ingredients to make it work.

To make a decent bittersweet chocolate alternative, use one tablespoon cocoa powder, one tablespoon sugar, and two teaspoons butter in your recipe for every ounce of bittersweet chocolate you're replacing. There may be some changes in the end product's texture, but overall, this alternative should deliver a satisfactory outcome with lots of chocolate flavor.

If you require a replacement for more than a few ounces of bittersweet chocolate, use the first substitution. This will keep the sugar levels, chocolate solids, and fat content in your recipe at or near their intended levels. When substituting huge amounts of chocolate, it's critical to choose a substitution that won't change the recipe's chemistry.


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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