What is something that almost everyone loves, regardless of age, gender, or where they live? If you answered chocolate, you are correct. Europeans alone consume around 40% of the world's cocoa per year, and the annual estimated sales of chocolate around the world contribute about $83 billion to the global economy. It’s safe to say that the world loves all different types of chocolate.
Who doesn’t find joy in a milk chocolate bar after a rough day at work, or hasn’t given a box of chocolates to someone they love? From dark chocolate bars to white chocolate bars and everything in between, there’s no arguing that this treat is a symbol of nostalgia, love, and pure happiness.
There are many different types of chocolate, which can be a little confusing when you’re searching for gifts or wanting to try something new. Here, we break down the differences and what each one is good for. But first, here’s a little history about the origin of chocolate itself.
The History of Chocolate
Did you know that chocolate has a 4,000-year-old history? The first cacao plants were found in Mesoamerica, which is present-day Mexico. The Olmec were one of the earliest civilizations in Latin America, and they were the first to turn the cacao plant into chocolate. Their version was a sort of hot chocolate that they would drink during special rituals. The Olmec also used it as medicine.
Fast forward centuries later, and the Mayans referred to the chocolaty drink as the drink of the gods. They created a thick beverage called “xocolatl” (meaning “bitter water”) by roasting and grinding cacao seeds, then mixing them with water, chillies, and cornmeal.
The Aztecs also thought that chocolate was blessed. By the 15th century, they were using cocoa beans as currency. Aztecs believed that chocolate was a gift from the god Quetzalcoatl. They drank it as an aphrodisiac, and even to help them prepare for war.
Chocolate Comes to Spain
There’s no exact proof of when chocolate came to Spain, but the legend is that the famous explorer Hernán Cortés brought it back to Spain in 1528. An Aztec emperor is said to have given Cortes a cup of cocoa during one of the explorer’s expeditions. Cortes brought the cocoa seeds back to Spain and it was mixed with sugar and honey to make a sweet drink. Chocolate was very popular among the wealthy in particular, and was so beloved by the Spanish that they managed to keep it a secret until 1615.
Chocolate Becomes Worldwide
Almost a century later, chocolate was introduced to France through the marriage of French King XIII and Anne of Austria, who was the daughter of Spanish King Phillip III. Chocolate soon began appearing in other parts of Europe and in 1828, the chocolate press was invented and revolutionized the chocolate-making process.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Different Types of Chocolate
There can be a lot of confusion when it comes to what separates different types of chocolates, especially dark chocolates. There are five main types of chocolate: unsweetened, bittersweet, semisweet, milk chocolate, and white chocolate.
This is chocolate in its simplest, purest form. Unsweetened chocolate is also known as bitter or baking chocolate and it is the most bitter of any form of chocolate. Because there is no sugar or added flavours, unsweetened chocolate isn’t generally recommended for snacking. It is, however, a great ingredient in rich chocolate cakes, cookies, and brownies. If you’re using baking chocolate, you’re probably working with a recipe that calls for quite a bit of added sugar.
Baking chocolate bars like these are ideal to cook with because they melt evenly and smoothly, unlike their commercial counterparts.
This type of chocolate is slightly sweeter than unsweetened chocolate. A small amount of sugar is added during the chocolate-making process. This gives bittersweet chocolate a slightly creamier flavour than pure baking chocolate. Bittersweet chocolate is considered dark chocolate. Chocolate with 60-72% cacao is generally considered bittersweet.
Bittersweet chocolate is among the different types of chocolate that you can eat on its own, although many people still consider it to be too bitter. It’s excellent for cooking with desserts like ganaches, truffles, candies, frosting, cookies, and more.
If you’ve ever made chocolate chip cookies, chances are good that you made them with semisweet chocolate chips. In fact, most chocolate chips are semisweet, unless otherwise labelled. This type has the most uses of all baking chocolates. Semisweet chocolate also falls under the “dark chocolate” category. Chocolate with 35-55% cocoa is considered semisweet.
Semisweet chocolate is different from bittersweet in that it contains more sugar, extra cocoa butter, and is a little less intense on the palate. These chocolates are perfect to eat on their own if you want something that will satisfy your sweet tooth but that isn’t too sugary.
Easily one of the most popular types of chocolate, milk chocolate is what most people around the world prefer for snacking chocolate. Milk chocolate bars contain between 10-25% chocolate liquor and must contain at least 12% milk. Artisan chocolate milk bars, however, usually contain between 35% to 55% cocoa – more than double their commercial counterparts.
The average milk chocolate bar has about 50 mg of caffeine, which is more than a shot of espresso. According to recent studies, one milk chocolate bar has more calcium and iron than one average dark chocolate bar. This, however, is also one of the reasons why milk chocolate has more calories.
White chocolate bars, while delicious, are not technically chocolate. White chocolate does not contain cocoa solids or chocolate liquor, which is why it isn’t brown like other types of chocolate. It does, however, come from the same cacao pod as dark chocolate. The main difference is that white chocolate is made up of cocoa butter, milk powder, and sugar.
A word of caution when you buy a white chocolate bar: white chocolate’s high fat content causes it to absorb other odours, so it’s best to store it in a cool, dark place.
Fun Facts About Chocolate
While chocolate is probably the most popular kind of decadent delight in the world, there are a lot of interesting facts about it that most people don’t know. Here are some of our favourite little-known facts about different types of chocolate:
- It takes 400 cocoa beans to make one pound of chocolate
- It takes two to four days to make one chocolate bar
- Each cacao tree produces approximately 2,500 beans
- Some cacao trees are more than 200 years old, but most only give marketable cocoa beans for the first 25 years
- Eating dark chocolate every day can reduce the risk of heart disease by 33%
- The smell of chocolate increases theta brain waves, which can trigger relaxation and joy
- Chocolate melts in your mouth because it’s the only edible substance to melt around 32°C, which is just below human body temperature
- If you’re looking to pair an adult beverage with your chocolate, it’s good to know that champagne and sparkling wines are too acidic to pair well with milk or dark chocolate. Try pairing a sweet bubbly with white chocolate and red wine with dark. In general you want to match the sweetness level of the wine with the sweetness level of the chocolate
- If you get a craving for chocolate, don’t try to outsmart it. It has been proven that chocolate cravings can ONLY be satisfied by eating chocolate. Other foods simply won’t do the trick.
- Did you know there’s an International Chocolate Day? This is celebrated each year on Milton Hershey’s (the founder of Hershey’s chocolate) birthday, which is September 13.
Health Benefits of Chocolate
Chocolate can get a bad wrap because of its high sugar, fat, and calorie content. In fact, many people grow up with parents monitoring their chocolate intake and reserving it for special occasions. Whether it’s acne, high blood pressure, or weight gain, there are some not-so-great things associated with chocolate. But did you know that there are actually a number of health benefits that can come from different types of chocolate?
Dark chocolate specifically is full of antioxidants. The higher the percentage of cocoa, the more benefits. Dark chocolate also contains less sugar and fat than its counterparts, which is a big plus. The darker the chocolate, the more it is thought to benefit, and that’s because of the flavonoids in the cocoa. Flavonoids are various compounds found naturally in many fruits and vegetables. Flavonoids are rich in antioxidants and can help your body fight off toxins.
A 2017 study published in Appetite showed that participants who rarely consumed chocolate had almost twice the risk of developing diabetes in five years, compared to participants who ate dark chocolate at least once a week.
A study at Harvard suggests that drinking two cups of hot chocolate a day could help keep the brain healthy and reduce memory loss. The scientists leading the study found that hot chocolate helped improve the blood flow to parts of the brain where it was needed.
According to an article in Everyday Health, “Some studies, such as one published in the Journal of the American Society of Hypertension, have shown that people who eat many flavonoids or antioxidant-rich chocolate develop fewer cancers than those who don’t consume them. Of the many flavonoids in chocolate, two in particular, epicatechin and quercetin, are believed to be responsible for the cancer-fighting properties.”
So go ahead and eat up, and reap the health benefits of this beloved treat.
Artisan Chocolate vs. Commercial Chocolate
Most of the chocolate that you grew up with was probably commercial chocolate. That’s what is generally found in the baking and candy aisles at the market – mass-produced chocolate chips, milk chocolate bars, chocolate candies…you name it. It’s safe to say that your first experience tasting chocolate was probably commercial chocolate, not artisan.
While there’s nothing wrong with commercially-made chocolate, artisan chocolate takes the chocolate tasting experience to a whole new level. Chocolatiers train their palates for years to create nuanced, rich chocolate. Making chocolate by hand is a craft, and chocolatiers oversee the entire process from beginning to end. Each batch is unique and carefully manipulated to ensure outstanding quality.
Another upside of artisan chocolate is that it’s often made by hand in smaller batches, which gives the chocolatier more room for creative input. This makes for unique and clever flavour combinations that you can’t find with commercial chocolates. Large commercial batches tend to stick to the same, more traditional flavour combinations, while there are typically more textures and tastes with artisan chocolate.
Artisan chocolate is also better for you than commercial chocolate. When you buy gourmet chocolate, you’re buying chocolate in its purest form. Artisan chocolatiers only use the best ingredients and stay away from additives. It’s all about featuring the cocoa. Chocolate making is an art form, and only the best will do.
Commercial chocolate has more additives like extra flavours, vegetable fat, and milk solids, plus they usually add quite a bit of extra sugar. This makes commercial chocolate more difficult to use in baking because it tends to be so sweet.
If you want a truly memorable chocolate tasting experience, artisan chocolates are the way to go. The time and care put into each batch make them great gifts for family, friends, and colleagues. Plus they’re better for your health. Artisan chocolatiers also tend to be individually owned, so you’ll be supporting independent businesses.