How Chocolatey Should Chocolate Be?

Does everything taste better with chocolate? Perhaps, but which chocolate?

Chocolate is a mixture of Cocoa Butter (the white bit), Cocoa Solid (the dark bit), Milk (the milky bit), and Sugar (sugar). It’s very difficult to understand the flavour within those four dimensions, but luckily these ingredients play out to create a single scale of chocolatey range. It goes — Dark to White.

Actually, it’s a little further than that. Dark is typically understood to be around 75% to 85% cacao solids. That gives us a more range at the strong end, creating black chocolate and eventually 100% cacao.

It’s more complicated around what we call Plain Chocolate. Most of the chocolate we buy and consume is between 35% and 55% cacao solids, but at that point in our scale the remaining ingredients work together in a complicated way to affect the flavour. There’s also often a lot of stuff in there — such as vegetable oils, stabilisers, emulsifiers, and acidity regulators — that aren't strictly needed. The vegetable oils are only really used in the terrible stuff, and the rest only exist in minute quantities, so let’s ignore these!

Milk, cacao butter, and sugar each do largely the same thing — they balance the bitter cacao solids. The result being that the cacao solids remain the all-important figure for grading our chocolate. That continues to be true all the way to white chocolate, which contains little or no cacao solids at all.

I've said “cacao” quite a lot. I don't think I've said “cocoa” at all. These words do not mean the same thing, and I've not conflated them! Cocoa is the bean, which you process to make a dark powder and a light butter. These each carry the prefix ‘cacao’. Take cacao solids (that’s the powder) and roast it, and now you've got cocoa again — cocoa powder. You might use it to make a hot drink. Clear? As chocolate!

Which Chocolate Tastes good with Which Ingredient?

This post isn't about opinion. I will happily share my research though.

There may very well be millions of recipes in existence that tell you to add chocolate to your food, or food to your chocolate. With such a large range of flavours, where would you begin selecting a chocolate for you recipe? I’d begin with the 1,167 recipes I've sampled from multiple websites — websites which each have a reputation for documenting good quality, tested recipes, from some of the best chefs in the world. Every single ingredient was researched until a mean chocolate was derived.

By applying the recommended chocolates to a scale — one end bitter (black), the other sweet and fatty (white) — I've been able to develop chocolate scores for every common ingredient cooked with chocolate, and some unusual ones! The results create an average and a standard deviation which — skip ahead if you don’t care about the maths — give all cooks reading from here downwards, a range of chocolates to use with each ingredient.

How to Read The Results —

Below around 75% cacao solids content, the ratios of other ingredients have a significant effect on flavour of the chocolate. The cacao percentage can no longer be trusted as a measure of flavour. In fact, even with white chocolate there is some range of flavour. We must also deal with the issue of cacao content not being declared clearly, or at all by many chefs, except in the very strongest of chocolates.

We need a number with which to compare our different chocolates. To obtain that number, we must apply a figure to the commonly used descriptions of chocolate — dark, good quality, milk, sweet, white, etc.

We can then do the reverse with the results, to turn our numbers into descriptions we can take to the supermarket. Most simply, you can just read the grade marked in brackets. For something more precise, use the augmented cacao percentage and the error to understand the range of chocolates available for an ingredient. Compare to the following grades:

  • 100% — Pure Cacao
  • 90%-95% — Black Chocolate
  • 80%-85% — Extra Dark Chocolate
  • 70%-75% — Dark Chocolate
  • 60%-65% — Decent Chocolate
  • 35%-55% — Plain Chocolate
  • 25%-35% — Milk Chocolate
  • <=20% — White Chocolate

These percentages were derived from sampled recipes which used these descriptive terms plus additional information to help identify the chocolate referred to. The 5% gaps between grades is representative of the granularity which can be inferred by these results. “Decent” chocolate can refer to quite a large range, but generally means the lower end of chocolates which declare their cacao content, and can be recognised by being described as “good quality”, “expensive”, or by a premium brand name.

By Average Cacao content of Chocolate —

  • Goji — 95% (Black) ± 5%
  • Juniper — 95% (Black) ± 5%
  • Pine Nut — 95% (Black) ± 5%
  • Avocado — 92.5% (Black) ± 7.5%
  • Allspice — 92.5% (Black) ± 7.5%
  • Lamb / Mutton — 85.% (Dark) ± 5%
  • Peppermint — 82.5% (Dark) ± 7.5%
  • Dragon Fruit — 82.5% (Dark) ± 7.5%
  • Hare — 82.5% (Dark) ± 2.5%
  • Drambuie — 82.5% (Dark) ± 2.5%
  • Beetroot — 80% (Dark) ± 5%
  • Cloves — 80% (Dark) ± 5%
  • Lapsang Souchong — 80% (Dark) ± 5%
  • Red Wine — 77.5% (Decent) ± 7.5%
  • Stout — 75% (Decent) ± 15.%
  • Carrot — 75% (Decent) ± 15.%
  • Cola — 75% (Decent) ± 10.%
  • Plum — 75% (Decent) ± 0%
  • Grapefruit — 75% (Decent) ± 10.%
  • Lime — 72.5% (Decent) ± 2.5%
  • Cranberry — 72.5% (Decent) ± 12.5%
  • Passion Fruit — 70% (Decent) ± 10.%
  • Mandarin — 70% (Decent) ± 0%
  • Red Grape — 70% (Decent) ± 10.%
  • Venison — 70% (Decent) ± 0%
  • Beef — 70% (Decent) ± 0%
  • Prune — 70% (Decent) ± 0%
  • Coffee — 67.5% (Plain) ± 22.5%
  • Kiwi — 67.5% (Plain) ± 2.5%
  • Fennel — 67.5% (Plain) ± 17.5%
  • Star Anise — 67.5% (Plain) ± 12.5%
  • Blue Cheese — 67.5% (Plain) ± 2.5%
  • Rum — 65% (Plain) ± 10.%
  • Caramel — 65% (Plain) ± 20%
  • Pear — 65% (Plain) ± 10.%
  • Rosemary — 65% (Plain) ± 10.%
  • Honey — 65.% (Plain) ± 5%
  • Chestnut — 65.% (Plain) ± 5%
  • Hazelnut — 62.5% (Plain) ± 27.5%
  • Pecan — 62.5% (Plain) ± 17.5%
  • Peanut — 62.5% (Plain) ± 17.5%
  • Maple Syrup — 62.5% (Plain) ± 12.5%
  • Mincemeat — 62.5% (Plain) ± 2.5%
  • Clementine — 62.5% (Plain) ± 2.5%
  • Sesame — 62.5% (Plain) ± 2.5%
  • Bitter — 62.5% (Plain) ± 2.5%
  • Mixed Peal — 62.5% (Plain) ± 2.5%
  • Vanilla — 60% (Plain) ± 15%
  • Chilli — 60% (Plain) ± 10.%
  • Toffee — 60% (Plain) ± 10.%
  • Pomegranate — 60% (Plain) ± 0%
  • Goat’S Cheese — 57.5% (Plain) ± 7.5%
  • Cinnamon — 57.5% (Plain) ± 2.5%
  • Brandy — 57.5% (Plain) ± 7.5%
  • Sultana — 57.5% (Plain) ± 2.5%
  • Parsnip — 57.5% (Plain) ± 7.5%
  • Ginger — 55.% (Plain) ± 15.%
  • Cherry — 55.% (Plain) ± 25%
  • Ricotta — 55.% (Plain) ± 0%
  • Butterscotch — 55.% (Plain) ± 0%
  • Turkish Delight — 55.% (Plain) ± 10%
  • Blackberries — 52.5% (Plain) ± 12.5%
  • Banana — 52.5% (Plain) ± 22.5%
  • Pistachio — 52.5% (Plain) ± 7.5%
  • Olive — 52.5% (Plain) ± 7.5%
  • Malt Extract — 52.5% (Plain) ± 7.5%
  • Almond — 52.5% (Plain) ± 17.5%
  • Mint — 50% (Plain) ± 15.%
  • Raspberry — 50% (Plain) ± 30.%
  • Melon — 50% (Plain) ± 15.%
  • Guava — 50% (Plain) ± 5.%
  • Pumpkin — 50% (Plain) ± 5.%
  • Walnut — 47.5% (Plain) ± 7.5%
  • Lemon — 47.5% (Plain) ± 7.5%
  • Blueberry — 47.5% (Plain) ± 7.5%
  • Mango — 47.5% (Plain) ± 7.5%
  • Cardamom — 47.5% (Plain) ± 7.5%
  • Gooseberry — 47.5% (Plain) ± 7.5%
  • Bacon — 47.5% (Plain) ± 7.5%
  • Raisin — 47.5% (Plain) ± 7.5%
  • Orange — 47.5% (Plain) ± 22.5%
  • Strawberry — 47.5% (Plain) ± 22.5%
  • Coconut — 45% (Plain) ± 5%
  • Apricot — 45% (Plain) ± 5%
  • Pineapple — 45% (Plain) ± 5%
  • Satsuma — 45% (Plain) ± 5%
  • Cream Cheese — 42.5% (Plain) ± 2.5%
  • Dates — 42.5% (Plain) ± 2.5%
  • Brazil Nut — 42.5% (Plain) ± 7.5%
  • Saffron — 40% (Plain) ± 10%
  • Macadamia — 40% (Plain) ± 10%
  • Fig — 40% (Plain) ± 5.%
  • Green Grape — 40% (Plain) ± 5.%
  • Apple — 40% (Plain) ± 5.%
  • Peach — 40% (Plain) ± 5.%
  • Lavender — 37.5% (Plain) ± 7.5%
  • Whiskey — 35% (Plain) ± 10%
  • Rhubarb — 32.5% (Milk) ± 7.5%

By Alphabetical order of Ingredient —

  • Allspice — 92.5% (Black) ± 7.5%
  • Almond — 52.5% (Plain) ± 17.5%
  • Apple — 40% (Plain) ± 5.%
  • Apricot — 45% (Plain) ± 5%
  • Avocado — 92.5% (Black) ± 7.5%
  • Bacon — 47.5% (Plain) ± 7.5%
  • Banana — 52.5% (Plain) ± 22.5%
  • Beef — 70% (Decent) ± 0%
  • Beetroot — 80% (Dark) ± 5%
  • Bitter — 62.5% (Plain) ± 2.5%
  • Blackberries — 52.5% (Plain) ± 12.5%
  • Blue Cheese — 67.5% (Plain) ± 2.5%
  • Blueberry — 47.5% (Plain) ± 7.5%
  • Brandy — 57.5% (Plain) ± 7.5%
  • Brazil Nut — 42.5% (Plain) ± 7.5%
  • Butterscotch — 55.% (Plain) ± 0%
  • Caramel — 65% (Plain) ± 20%
  • Cardamom — 47.5% (Plain) ± 7.5%
  • Carrot — 75% (Decent) ± 15.%
  • Cherry — 55.% (Plain) ± 25%
  • Chestnut — 65.% (Plain) ± 5%
  • Chilli — 60% (Plain) ± 10.%
  • Cinnamon — 57.5% (Plain) ± 2.5%
  • Clementine — 62.5% (Plain) ± 2.5%
  • Cloves — 80% (Dark) ± 5%
  • Coconut — 45% (Plain) ± 5%
  • Coffee — 67.5% (Plain) ± 22.5%
  • Cola — 75% (Decent) ± 10.%
  • Cranberry — 72.5% (Decent) ± 12.5%
  • Cream Cheese — 42.5% (Plain) ± 2.5%
  • Dates — 42.5% (Plain) ± 2.5%
  • Dragon Fruit — 82.5% (Dark) ± 7.5%
  • Drambuie — 82.5% (Dark) ± 2.5%
  • Fennel — 67.5% (Plain) ± 17.5%
  • Fig — 40% (Plain) ± 5.%
  • Ginger — 55.% (Plain) ± 15.%
  • Goat’S Cheese — 57.5% (Plain) ± 7.5%
  • Goji — 95% (Black) ± 5%
  • Gooseberry — 47.5% (Plain) ± 7.5%
  • Grapefruit — 75% (Decent) ± 10.%
  • Green Grape — 40% (Plain) ± 5.%
  • Guava — 50% (Plain) ± 5.%
  • Hare — 82.5% (Dark) ± 2.5%
  • Hazelnut — 62.5% (Plain) ± 27.5%
  • Honey — 65.% (Plain) ± 5%
  • Juniper — 95% (Black) ± 5%
  • Kiwi — 67.5% (Plain) ± 2.5%
  • Lamb / Mutton — 85.% (Dark) ± 5%
  • Lapsang Souchong — 80% (Dark) ± 5%
  • Lavender — 37.5% (Plain) ± 7.5%
  • Lemon — 47.5% (Plain) ± 7.5%
  • Lime — 72.5% (Decent) ± 2.5%
  • Macadamia — 40% (Plain) ± 10%
  • Malt Extract — 52.5% (Plain) ± 7.5%
  • Mandarin — 70% (Decent) ± 0%
  • Mango — 47.5% (Plain) ± 7.5%
  • Maple Syrup — 62.5% (Plain) ± 12.5%
  • Melon — 50% (Plain) ± 15.%
  • Mincemeat — 62.5% (Plain) ± 2.5%
  • Mint — 50% (Plain) ± 15.%
  • Mixed Peal — 62.5% (Plain) ± 2.5%
  • Olive — 52.5% (Plain) ± 7.5%
  • Orange — 47.5% (Plain) ± 22.5%
  • Parsnip — 57.5% (Plain) ± 7.5%
  • Passion Fruit — 70% (Decent) ± 10.%
  • Peach — 40% (Plain) ± 5.%
  • Peanut — 62.5% (Plain) ± 17.5%
  • Pear — 65% (Plain) ± 10.%
  • Pecan — 62.5% (Plain) ± 17.5%
  • Peppermint — 82.5% (Dark) ± 7.5%
  • Pine Nut — 95% (Black) ± 5%
  • Pineapple — 45% (Plain) ± 5%
  • Pistachio — 52.5% (Plain) ± 7.5%
  • Plum — 75% (Decent) ± 0%
  • Pomegranate — 60% (Plain) ± 0%
  • Prune — 70% (Decent) ± 0%
  • Pumpkin — 50% (Plain) ± 5.%
  • Raisin — 47.5% (Plain) ± 7.5%
  • Raspberry — 50% (Plain) ± 30.%
  • Red Grape — 70% (Decent) ± 10.%
  • Red Wine — 77.5% (Decent) ± 7.5%
  • Rhubarb — 32.5% (Milk) ± 7.5%
  • Ricotta — 55.% (Plain) ± 0%
  • Rosemary — 65% (Plain) ± 10.%
  • Rum — 65% (Plain) ± 10.%
  • Saffron — 40% (Plain) ± 10%
  • Satsuma — 45% (Plain) ± 5%
  • Sesame — 62.5% (Plain) ± 2.5%
  • Star Anise — 67.5% (Plain) ± 12.5%
  • Stout — 75% (Decent) ± 15.%
  • Strawberry — 47.5% (Plain) ± 22.5%
  • Sultana — 57.5% (Plain) ± 2.5%
  • Toffee — 60% (Plain) ± 10.%
  • Turkish Delight — 55.% (Plain) ± 10%
  • Vanilla — 60% (Plain) ± 15%
  • Venison — 70% (Decent) ± 0%
  • Walnut — 47.5% (Plain) ± 7.5%
  • Whiskey — 35% (Plain) ± 10%
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