Updated: Feb 13
What are White, Milk, and Dark Chocolate?
This is actually quite simple, they are made similarly but have main ingredients swapped out for others.
When you continue further down, we will describe other common types of chocolate.
A cacao bean is made up of nibs and is covered by husk (shells). Chocolate is made by roasting fermented cacao beans, removing the husks (which we make as tea) then grinding the inside nibs:
Dark Chocolate is chocolate by the above definition.The high cacao percentage and no milk content lend an intense flavour. In my definition of a dark chocolate (there are several out there), at least 40% of the final product that’s ground up together is cacao nibs - but ideally higher.
See below also Dark Milk Chocolate.
Milk Chocolate Is usually 20-30% cacao, with milk powder (15-20%) and sugar. I consider vegan milk chocolates in this category if they have enough cacao, which they usually do, and truly give the milk chocolate experience, which most of them do not.
White Chocolate Is made of cacao butter that is ground up with milk powder and sugar. I am not an expert on white chocolate but I’ll try it if it's at least 30-40% cacao butter.
Different countries have their own definitions for what can legally be called “chocolate”, with definitions covering a range of products used in these countries, some of which don’t exist in others such as the American “bittersweet” or “semisweet chocolate”.
Chocolate has been made for a long time, in which Europeans have tried mixing it with everything.
The original recipe from which the name Chocolate was taken, is a Mayan recipe for a beverage made of coarse ground cacao beans mixed with hot water, chillies and spices. It is traditionally enjoyed in South America to this day.
The French, predictably, mixed it with cream and made ganache which bred chocolate truffles, rich cake icing or hot chocolate, and everything in between. Other flavours could even be infused into the cream making these creations versatile in the french pastry world.
The Italians roasted cacao with hazelnuts and made chocolate from it when cacao was hard to come by thanks to Napoleon’s trade restrictions, giving us gianduja, and Nutella.
The Swiss first mixed condensed milk into chocolate back before we had solid chocolate bars.
This began a series of developments in the 1870’s in Switzerland. Following Daniel Peter’s invention came Rodolphe Lindt’s (yes, that Lindt) one, the Conch. 9 years later Peter launched his milk chocolate company, Gala (Greek for milk) - wrapper pictured above. This series of developments shot these Swiss chocolatiers, as well as the Cailler family and Henri Nestlé (yep) up to huge success across Europe, defining the chocolate which made it into the industrial revolution.
Other types of chocolate
When you ask a chocolate maker a question about types of chocolate, you’ll normally hear some version of “what type of type?”
Chocolate is a very adaptable canvas that can become three dimensional chess to an ambitious chocolate maker. This said - these are the types you’ll likely encounter commercially.
Cacao beans are naturally made up of around 50% cacao butter and 50% solids, depending on the bean. Different types of chocolate are made by combining this with sugar, isolating one of the two parts and changing the ratio between them, and/or adding other ingredients.
Dark Milk Chocolate Is one of my personal favourites. It is typically made with 30-60% cacao. We make one at 52.5% and it’s the best of both worlds. It benefits from the intense cacao flavour and lower sweetness than that of milk chocolate, and also from the creaminess of the milk or milk alternative.
Ruby Chocolate was initially thought to be a newly discovered type of cacao - one that gives a bright pink chocolate “naturally” - but it turned out that Ruby was created by Barry Callebaut. It took about 80 years of development for the largest chocolate manufacturer in the world to create. Callebaut is (in)famous for making “Belgian chocolate” a vaguely used term that defines large production scale with little regards for quality and ethics. This pink cacao is actually made using a rather ordinary cacao that is unfermented and acidified (possibly chemically) resulting in a flat-flavoured, low quality cacao bean that is not that interesting in terms of terroir and processing. In terms of flavour, it tastes like a milk chocolate with a strong berries flavour.
Photo by Barry Callebaut
Couverture Chocolate Is chocolate for cooking with, mostly used by pastry chefs. It’s advantage is in its tempering (and sometimes emulsifying, giving it a different way of melting which feels artificial in the mouth, but allows a chocolatier to set it in more challenging designs). It is considered high quality chocolate among commercial chocolate, and is used as the ingredient in high end pastry.
And then there is my opinion. Most of the world’s Couverture Chocolate is still made in the same business model and from the same cacao as commodity chocolate. Pastry schools teach to use chocolate without much regard to its origin, notes or complexity, as a structural ingredient. Unless your Couverture is made by a good chocolate maker, do not expect it to be any nicer to eat than it’s fellow commodity chocolate.
Raw Chocolate The name is a little bit misleading, as the definition of “raw” food determines it never exceeds 45ºC, and cacao goes over this temperature in fermentation. This said - other definitions go up to 49º which does fit. Raw chocolate is better described as Unroasted Chocolate as the purpose of this chocolate is to not go through the chemical and biological changes cacao experiences in roasting. In roasting, (1) some of the natural micronutrients in cacao die, (2) The bacteria from fermentation is sterilised (making it safe for pregnant people) and (3) The flavour develops to be more toasty (caramelised or maillard reaction, imagine the transformation between bread to toast, or sugar to caramel), more nutty (think of the same way almonds or pistachios transform when roasted), and a little bit more concentrated. I personally prefer the flavour of roasted chocolate on average but have tasted some amazing raw choc as well. It is worth noting that in order to winnow (peel) the cacao beans consistently, even in raw chocolate processing, the beans are “flashed” in the oven/roasting drum just to separate the nibs from the husk - when this is done well, the micronutrients and microorganisms are only marginally impacted.
Compound Chocolate is a mix of cacao solids (cacao powder) with vegetable oil and an emulsifier. It is usually used in candy bars and other trashy creations. I personally don’t consider this chocolate, only added it here for educational purposes. It is not legally “chocolate” in some countries. In my opinion this is a greedy attempt to include chocolate in a low budget, missing the point of using chocolate altogether, pricing it in the wrong category and while creating a desirable product, perpetuating a system that abuses humans and nature in cacao growing countries.
A huge part of the reason chocolate is the king of flavour is it’s natural “depth”: a feeling we get from a “distance” between different flavours and the way they reach your palate and sensory system. Tempered cacao butter melts at body temperature, creates a creamy and gradual delay after the flavour from the solids, and coats your tongue in a particular way, melting away slower than the water-soluble compounds, creating the tail end of the notes, and finishes on an amazing creamy sensation. So even ignoring the high amount of nutrition we lose in compound chocolate, it’s just not the mouth experience we call chocolate. It’s just brown. It's unsatisfying.
Before you say “but this is good enough for me and I can easily afford it!” Another reason for commercial chocolate bars’ low price is the exploitation of cacao farmers, which creates prices that make compound chocolate a financial possibility to begin with.
Coarse Ground Chocolate Is chocolate which is ground, on purpose, to an uneven particle size, intentionally noticeable to the tongue. This is the closest design to the “original” chocolate made by the Maya and Aztec in South America as they were grinding cacao by hand on a volcanic stone metate reaching a similar texture. In markets in Mexico, Bolivia etc you will find traditionally hand crafted chocolate used for drink-making made in this way. Conspiracy as well as a few other brands globally create the same texture using an electric stone grinder made of granite, a volcanic stone. This is one of my (and even more so Celine’s) personal favourite types of chocolate.
Photo by Hungry Cravings
Commodity Chocolate Is the Bean To Bar movement’s definition of most of the chocolate you will find in the supermarket. Cacao’s history is intertwined with the age of exploration, colonialism and the industrial revolution. These impactful global events have left their mark on what most people know as Chocolate, far removed from chocolate’s origins in Maya and Azetc societies which respected cacao’s natural complexity and inconsistency. Commodity Chocolate is made from a blend of low quality cacao cultivated in sub-optimal human rights conditions (and frankly sub-optimal cacao handling conditions), replacing fermentation with rotting/moulding in a pile, and replacing the careful creation process with a sterilised manufacturing process that takes all the fun out. Commodity chocolate tends to have no identifiable origin, is usually bought by the chocolatier as an already processed product (“cocoa mass”, “cacao liquor” or just “chocolate base”), and tastes so bad naturally thanks to the mould, genetics that promote volume in cost of flavour/nutrition/character, and sometimes rancid cacao butter, that it has to be covered/masked with vanilla, sugar and dairy to be palatable. It is often also emulsified to transport around the world, making its mouth experience similar to cardboard. More here.
Modelling Chocolate is chocolate mixed with syrup (glucose or golden syrup) used for decorations by pâtisseries and cake makers.
Drinking Chocolate is made for the purpose of dissolving in water, dairy, or vegan dairy replacement (commonly, but there are other options). Whether this chocolate should be heavier in butter or solids is not obvious to me as it creates different desirable textures and flavours. Personally I am still experimenting with this (although market-driven business practises clearly point to adding solids). To enjoy chocolate’s depth and complexity in a drink, I suggest aiming to keep the creamy bind between the water soluble solids and fat soluble butter left over by the tempering by adding the other ingredient slowly, and warm.
Bean To Bar Chocolate can be defined as chocolate where the maker controls the process from the moment the beans are fermented and dried until it is a chocolate bar.
This definition does not do the product justice as it include mass produced chocolate that does not follow the BTB approach but does own its supply chain, and excludes other important key elements to a BTB chocolate maker. In Bean to Bar, we not only “control” the fermented beans, but we choose a farmer based on his terroir, variety of tree genetics, and skill at cultivation and fermentation of cacao, then work with him or her on fine tuning this process for our desired bar. We also work with nature itself as the cacao, a natural product, arrives inconsistent and determines itself how it wants to be processed. We pay far higher than “Fair Trade” prices (in CC’s case, 2.5x) for a rare quality natural product and in our facilities, take many careful steps to create the ingredient Chocolate, which best represents this cacao's terroir, genetics, and farmer-fermentor's method.
Cacao powder or “Dutch Processed” Cacao Powder Is not a type of chocolate, but this is not a bad place to talk about it. Cacao plants vary but a rough estimate is 50% butter, and solids which are made up of 20% protein and 30% starches (some soluble, some non-soluble). Cacao nibs can be pressed just like olives to olive oil, to isolate cacao butter and a “cacao cake” made of the solids. Grinding this “cake” down to powder makes cacao powder. To manufacturers there are two issues with this process: residual butter, and bitter/acidic/astringent notes as the cacao is usually not roasted or conched before this step. In Dutch processing, the powder is treated with alkaline which takes care of both of these issues.
Cacao Butter again, not a type of chocolate. It makes up roughly 50% of a bean, depending on the bean and is made by pressing the cacao bean (see above). Cacao butter is incredibly rich in micronutrients, has a high smoke point, and a complex flavour profile that makes it one of the most amazing and versatile plant ingredients known to me. Watch this space for more articles about cacao butter :)
Photo by Silva Cacao
Ganache is a stable mix of chocolate with a liquid, usually a fatty liquid like dairy but could also be champagne, miso soup, or water. A ganache's flavour is defined by its ingredients and processing and its texture is defined by the ratio between chocolate/water/other fats, proteins, starches and sugars, It also allows a wide range of flavours to be infused as things like dairy can take on both fat and water soluble flavours. Ganaches play a key role in traditional French pastry and enable a wide range of chocolate creations from runny to creamy, soft, dense or hard, giving us chocolate truffles, many types of bonbons, cake decorations and fillings, all those creamy Royce chocolates, and much much more.
Photo by RecipeTinEats
Chocolate truffles, well the traditional ones are a semi hard pieces of ganache with tempered chocolate and cream rolled in cacao powder. The French culinary approach is not so much made of recipes as it is of formulas, allowing substitution of ingredients and flexibility. This produced a wide range of truffles with juices and coffee and more. Recently more vegan truffles are appearing and some are competitive to the loved traditional truffle. They typically come in semi-hard balls rolled in cacao butter, or creamy inside a chocolate casing, as a type of bonbon, even assorted looking nuggets/lumps, or other creative shapes.
I like to categorise truffles as shelf stable truffles and fresh pastry truffles. The former can not have any water in them (it is possible using gross additives or by keeping the level of available water/activity water at room temperature below a certain number, although the second way is risky). This means their texture is mostly made up of straight up fats, starch, sugar and protein. They tend to be more fatty/oily and less light and creamy (again, without using gross additives) or denser or harder. They are a tough balance to strike but it is possible to create a pleasant experience, my favorite way to mimic a stable water-fat bind is using a recipe-appropriate portion of tempered cacao butter. The latter last around a week in refrigeration, and have a wider range of textures and flavour layering as water soluble flavours reach your palate differently when dissolved in a noticeable amount of water.
Photo by Baker Jo
There are many other “types of types” of chocolate, practically infinite depending on how to slice and dice it. The above is only a guide to understand the products you’re likely to encounter as you dive into the world of chocolate and discover cacao’s practically-divine ways.
We will grow this guide based on new definitions that get on our radar or become popular, you are welcome to write us and ask to add others.