What Does the Chocolate Percentage Really Mean?
This straight forward question may seem like a no-brainer, but the answer isn’t quite as simple as one might think. It isn’t all that complicated either. However, this could save you a little confusion at the store and ensuring you find exactly what you’re looking for when it comes to chocolate.
A few years ago, McKayla and I attended the Fancy Food Show in New York City to help kick start our fledgling fudge company. We were guests of the Guittard Chocolate company out of San Francisco whose family have been in the business since the 1860’s. At their booth I was presented with samples of Guittard’s white chocolate, one 32% and another at 35%. Ok, both tasted great, but I was confused and I was feeling more than a little out of my league. So, what does the percentage actually mean? I needed to educate myself.
If you guessed, as many do, the percent is how much cocoa is inside the chocolate, you would be correct…in part.
When many think of cocoa, they automatically think of cocoa in its powder form. The dark, bitter stuff that gives chocolate its chocolatey flavor. Not to mention cakes, muffins, cookies, as well as moles, my amazing C4 Chili, and other cuisines.
So, where are we going wrong? Here’s where some get confused. Chocolate is derived from the cacao bean. During the chocolate making process the cacao bean is separated into its two key components, cocoa powder and cocoa butter. The bean is about 50% of each and both are necessary to make chocolate.
When a manufacturer gives you a percentage, they are referring to how much cacao is in their product. This percentage is a combination of both cocoa powder and cocoa butter. To break this down just a little further, if you have a chocolate bar that says it is 65% cacao, this means that 65% of the bar comes straight from the tree, cocoa powder and butter. The rest is most likely sugar with possibly a few other additives such as soy lecithin.
Most chocolate makers rarely break it down any more than that. To find out how much powder vs butter is in your chocolate, you can find this out by doing a little math from the nutrition facts on the back. Just divide total fat from the overall weight and convert to a percentage. If, God forbid, your chocolate has some vegetable or other oils listed in the ingredients, just subtract that from total fats before dividing.
What does it mean if you have white chocolate that says it is 35% cacao? You guessed it! 100% of that 35% is cocoa butter.
That’s it. Very simple but often overlooked. One awesome tool in savvy chocolate shopping!
P.S. When I asked Clark Guittard what he thought of our mint chocolate fudge, he very tactfully responded, “Mint is a very strong flavor. A little goes a long way.”
“So, what you’re saying is that we need to stop putting so many Altoids into our recipe?” 😉
We corrected and hopefully perfected the Mint Alps recipe as soon as we returned home.