Types of Chocolate...Generally Speaking

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Head Chef
Sep 1, 2004
In response to htc's fantastic find of a 10-pound brick of chocolate at an unbelievable price, and the question as to whether semi-sweet is similar to milk chocolate, I offer the following very general description of the types of chocolate available. (These come from the top of my head, so please do offer any corrections if found!)

First, to understand what chocolate is, one needs to understand how chocolate is made. Simplistically, it is made from the cocao bean, that is dried, roasted and ground. The grinding process produces cocoa liquor, and from this liquor two distinct items are extracted:

A fat that is called “cocoa butter” and a solid that is called “cocoa mass” and which is refined to make cocoa powder.

Depending on what is then added to the cocoa mass, the different varieties of chocolate are produced. Each has a different chemical make-up and the differences between them are not solely in the taste. Be sure, therefore, to use the type of chocolate the recipe calls for, as different varieties will react differently to heat and moisture and other ingredients in the recipe.

As a general rule, these definitions will help you understand the differences:

Cocoa is chocolate liquor with much of the cocoa butter removed, creating a fine powder.

Alkalized cocoa powder (also known as Dutch processed cocoa), has been treated with an alkali during processing to produce a more mellow, less harsh-tasting, but darkly colored cocoa. Depending on how it is produced, it may or may not have other ingredients added, such as sugar, etc.

Unsweetened Chocolate is simply the cooled and hardened version of chocolate liquor. It is used primarily as an ingredient in recipes since it is not terribly tasty all by itself.

Bitter / Dark / Plain Chocolate is made from the combination of cocoa mass, cocoa butter and sugar. Normally contains approximately 35% cocoa liquor.

Semi-sweet Chocolate has approximately 15% chocolate liquor, with extra cocoa butter and sugar added. Sweet cooking chocolate is basically the same with more sugar added for taste.

Milk Chocolate is exactly what its name implies. It is made with cocoa mass and cocoa butter, and milk or milk powder and sugar and vanilla are also added. Normally contains approximately 15 % cocoa liquor.

White Chocolate is in reality (and, in many countries, legally) not really chocolate at all, as it contains no cocoa solids, which leaves it the smooth ivory or beige color for which it is named. White chocolate is primarily cocoa butter, sugar, milk and vanilla.

White “chocolate” is the most fragile form of all the chocolates. Pay close attention to it while heating or melting it. It must be warmedslowly or it will burn and seize very easily.

Couverture is a special kind of chocolate used by the pros and some of us who have discovered that its wonders far outweigh its price! A couverture is simply a chocolate with a higher cocoa butter content (a minimum of 32%, often as much as 39%). This high cocoa butter content contributes fluidity, smoothness, strength and ease of handling. In most cases, these chocolates also contain a higher cocoa solid content which heightens the flavor.

The formula on couverture packaging may look like this: 70/30/38. This means that there is 70% cocoa solids, 30% sugar, and 38% total fat content.

70/30/38 describes an extra bitter couverture and indicates 70 percent cocoa solids and only 30 percent sugar.

60/40/38 describes a bitter couverture, which is the most frequently used one (according to E. Guittard).

50/50/38 is “semisweet" coverture.

36/42/38 is milk chocolate couverture.

Chief Longwind Of The North

Aug 26, 2004
Wow! :D I learned more about chocolate from this single post than in a lifetime of reading cookbooks. Thank you Audeo.

As there is no Couverture available where I live, is it possible to increase the fat content of the chocolate using other solid fats and get a respectable end product? I would think that Couverture is the chocolate type used by pastry chefs to create their amazing sculptures. Thanks again.

Seeeeeeya; Goodweed of the North


Moderator Emeritus
May 10, 2002
Edmonton, Alberta
Audeo, you RULE. I have saved this post as well as many of your others. I am so thankful you share your knowledge with us.


Head Chef
Sep 8, 2004
I didn't realize that tempering chocolate means watching its temp. as well! I thought it just meant to melt it in a double boiler. Maybe this is why my ballons blew up! I will try this and hope it works. I dont' have a candy thermometer, but rather a probe one, hope it doesn't make a difference!

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