The Difference Between Unsweetened, Bittersweet and Semi-Sweet Dark Chocolate

Like most of us, chocolate has an oh-so-sweet side and also a bitter side. These drastic swings in taste have to do with the cacao bean from which all chocolate is made.

Chocolate is a concoction of liquor (pure ground cacao beans), cocoa butter, and sugar. The vast differences in the taste of chocolate can be attributed to the proportion of each of these ingredients in the recipe.

In the chocolate world, (not nearly as delicious as you’d imagine, by the way), various categories exist to help distinguish different varieties of chocolate. This is so important to certain chocolate special interest groups that governments around the world have had to step in and legally define these different categories of chocolate.

Unsweetened Chocolate
Unsweetened chocolate is a far cry from the Snickers Bar or Milky Way that you’re used to. In fact, if you were to bite into a piece of unsweetened chocolate, the first thing you’d do was spit it right back out. The second thing you’d do is wonder how something so distasteful could be called chocolate at all. Unsweetened chocolate is pure liquor. It contains virtually no sugar, which means its taste is incredibly dark and bitter.

Unsweetened chocolate is also known as “baking chocolate” and can usually be found in thick, dark bars in the baking section of any grocery store. As its name implies, unsweetened chocolate is used primarily in baking recipes, adding a rich, smooth foundation to tasty confections like brownies and cake. Sugar is added separately to neutralize the bitterness.

Bittersweet Chocolate
The US Government mandates that chocolate labeled “Bittersweet” contain at least 35% cocoa solids, though most bittersweet chocolate is mad of at least 50% cocoa. Bittersweet chocolate is dark and rich in flavor and appeals to dark chocolate lovers. Dark chocolate has been gaining an increasingly positive reputation recently due to its heavy concentration of flavonoids and weight loss properties.

There is no regulation on the amount of sugar allowed in bittersweet chocolate, so its flavor and sweetness can vary between brands.

Semi-Sweet Chocolate
Semi-sweet chocolate is a term found primarily in the states and is somewhat interchangeable with bittersweet chocolate. Like its bittersweet cousin, semi-sweet chocolate usually contains at least 35% cocoa solids. It is generally assumed that semi-sweet chocolate is sweeter than bittersweet chocolate, though there are no specific regulations on how much sugar semi-sweet chocolate is required to contain, so the distinction is somewhat arbitrary.

Semi-sweet chocolate is also considered dark chocolate (it does not contain added milk products) and can boast the same flavonoid and weight loss benefits as bittersweet chocolate.

Other categories of chocolate include: sweet dark chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate.

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