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What Does Cocoa Percentage Actually Mean?

Dark chocolate bars in particular, have a range of cocoa percentages, but what does that percentage mean? And is higher necessarily better for you?

Chocolate bars and dark chocolate bars in particular, come in an almost implausible number of different cocoa percentages but what is this 'cocoa percentage' and what does it mean for the taste of individual chocolate bars and the associated health benefits of higher cocoa contents?

We'll start by looking at what the cocoa percentage actually means.

In a nutshell (or should that be cocoa pod), the cocoa percentage figure refers to the actual amount of the chocolate made from the cocoa bean.

This includes cocoa mass or cocoa liquor (not to be confused with the alcoholic term), cocoa nib and any extra added cocoa butter. Cocoa butter is the edible fat extracted from the cocoa bean, and has its own cocoa aroma and flavour.

So a plain dark chocolate bar with a cocoa content of 70%, means that 70% of the chocolate has been made from ingredients found purely in the cocoa bean. The remaining 30% will consist of other ingredients such as sugar, predominantly, but may also include for example very small percentages of vanilla flavouring.

So the higher the cocoa content, the healthier the chocolate is for you?

Generally speaking yes. You would need to check the other ingredients however as the direct health claims often refer to the amount of sugar. Whilst generally speaking a high cocoa content means less sugar and this is the main health benefit.

Any other health benefits are related to the nutritional content of the cocoa. It's rich in fibre and iron as well as other minerals like magnesium & copper. Cocoa is considered to be a great source of antioxidants, flavanols and polyphenols. Eating high quality, higher cocoa dark chocolate can improve blood flow and lower blood pressure or so some studies claim.

Dark chocolate bars made with pure cocoa butter and not vegetable oil are a healthier choice too.

The higher the cocoa content, the more bitter the chocolate will taste.

Whilst its true that any dark chocolate bar over 80% cocoa content, is generally considered quite bitter, there is more than just the amount of sugar that can affect the 'sweetness' or 'bitterness' of individual chocolate bars.

For example, consider the natural sweetness of other ingredients - fruits, flavourings such as Bourbon vanilla and certainly the cocoa variety or growing region or even single estate. Some rarer varieties of fine flavour cocoa provide a noticeable fruity flavour profile but bear fewer fruits (cocoa pods) whilst more mass produced cocoa varieties give a higher yield but provide less (sweet) flavour. The difference between a high cocoa dark chocolate bar made with lower grade cocoa compared to the same percentage made with a fine flavour cocoa can be considerable. The same can be said for the difference in origin and the lengthy chocolate making process. Drying, fermenting, roasting, grinding, conching….each play a crucial part in the resulting flavour.

So, 100% cocoa content bars are the ultimate, highest cocoa and at 100% cocoa do not contain any other ingredient. This extent of cocoa content can be an acquired taste however, as with no sugar this will not taste like chocolate as we have become to know it as sugar is the ingredient that gives chocolate the taste we have all come to know and love. With no other ingredients, 100% cocoa chocolate relies solely on the flavour profile of the cocoa bean, the roasting and preparation of the cocoa and where it was grown for their unique flavours. With no-added sugars, these high cocoa content bars are the most healthy to choose - but is it to your taste?

Perhaps not so well known are a number of higher cocoa milk chocolate bars, that benefit in terms of their flavour profile, by having a higher cocoa content than the big brand 'confectionary' type chocolate (typically 30% cocoa content). They are of course less sweet and offer more caramel, fudge and toffee flavour profiles.

Aside from the more complex flavour profiles, these bars contain less sugar & dairy, and so, in their own way, may also be healthier for you. Every little helps as they say.

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Superior Selection, High Cocoa Dark Chocolate Ganache box 18

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