You’ve been in the baking aisle for what feels like an hour, staring down a bag of chocolate chips and trying to discern the difference between bittersweet and semisweet. Which one will give you the best results for your brownies, cakes or cookies?! Understanding all the types of chocolate can be totally confusing—which is why we’re breaking it down for you.
What is chocolate, technically?
All chocolate starts with cacao. Cacao beans are fermented, dried and roasted, then the cacao nibs are extracted from the beans, ground and liquefied into a mixture of cocoa solids and cocoa butter called chocolate liquor. When you buy a bar of chocolate with a percentage on the label (for example, 70 percent cacao), that percentage is referring to the proportion of chocolate liquor and added cocoa butter in the product (and not including the added dairy, sugar, emulsifiers and other ingredients). All the main types of chocolate (like white, milk, dark and unsweetened) have minimum percentages set by the FDA.
Chocolate bars vs. chocolate chips: Is there a difference?
7 Types of Chocolate You Should Know About
1. Milk Chocolate
Creamy and sweet, milk chocolate contains a minimum of 10 percent chocolate liquor and 12 percent milk, which gives it its name and its soft, melty texture. It’s typically sweeter and less bitter than dark chocolate because it contains that extra dairy and sugar.
Best for: Because it melts easily, milk chocolate is ideal for eating on its own. You can use it in baking, but it can take already sugary desserts to a cloying level of sweetness, so try mixing it with dark, as with these chocolate-stuffed brownie bites.
2. Dark Chocolate
Per the FDA, dark chocolate must contain a minimum of 35 percent chocolate liquor. But here’s where it gets tricky: In the United States, you’ll often find dark chocolate labeled “semisweet” or “bittersweet,” but there’s actually no technical difference between the two. Sometimes semisweet chocolate has more added sugar—the key being sometimes. It’s better to go by percentages. Dark chocolate in the 65 to 70 percent range will be pleasantly bitter and slightly creamy, while anything reaching into 80 percent and beyond will be too brittle and bitter to enjoy on its own (unless that’s your taste).
3. Unsweetened Chocolate
Maybe you’ve seen unsweetened chocolate (sometimes labeled bakers’ chocolate) at the store. What is it, exactly? Basically, it’s chocolate liquor—cocoa solids and cocoa butter—without any added sugar or dairy. Because of this, it’s very bitter and best left for baking projects that require a deep chocolate flavor.
Best for: This type of chocolate is ideal for baking, particularly recipes that already contain a generous amount of sugar (like brownies or this chocolate dump cake).
4. White Chocolate
Food snobs might tell you white chocolate isn’t chocolate. After all, it doesn’t contain any cocoa solids. But it does contain plenty of cocoa butter—at least 20 percent, according to the FDA—along with at least 14 percent milk, milk solids or cream. What it lacks in chocolatey bitterness, it makes up for in creaminess. Higher quality white chocolates will often contain vanilla, but it’s not a requirement.
Best for: Since it’s so sweet and creamy, we love pairing white chocolate with tart fruit flavors for contrast, like this raspberry white chocolate bûche de noël or key lime pie with coconut and white chocolate.
5. Caramelized White Chocolate
Also known as toasted white chocolate or blond chocolate, caramelized white chocolate is basically white chocolate that’s been roasted until it caramelizes. The result is a caramel-like flavor that’s less saccharine than traditional white chocolate but retains its creamy texture. (Sure, it’s technically not a new “type” of chocolate, but it’s too delicious to omit.) You can buy blond chocolate through gourmet manufacturers like Valrhona, or you can make it at home by baking white chocolate in a low-heat oven and stirring frequently minutes until it’s deeply golden brown.
Best for: TBH, you can use caramelized white chocolate in the same way you would use the regular stuff. The caramelization tempers some of the sweetness and the toasty flavor notes pair nicely with other types of chocolate (like dark).
6. Ruby Chocolate
Ruby chocolate is kind of like white chocolate’s hip younger cousin: It’s only been around since cocoa company Barry Callebaut introduced it 2017 and it’s a very trendy millennial pink. Surprisingly, its hue is natural and comes from the “ruby cocoa beans” used to make it. The flavor is slightly sweet and sour, like berries in chocolate form.
Best for: Ruby chocolate isn’t the easiest type of chocolate to find in stores, so when you happen upon a bar, we suggest enjoying it by itself. (Otherwise, try it as an accent in cookie or candy recipes.)
7. Raw Chocolate
Raw chocolate is made from unroasted cocoa beans, which manufacturers claim leaves the nutrients and antioxidants intact. But research is still in its early stages, and chocolate connoisseurs suggest focusing on the quality of the cacao over whether it’s “raw.”