Chocolate: The Good, The Bad, The Tasty

This article was written by Iowa State University dietetic intern Cecilia Jinks. Cecilia had a great time performing her own chocolate taste test at home with the eager help of her husband.

Valentine's Day is a day in which you show your love through gifts such as chocolate. Whether your sweetheart likes, dark, milk, or white chocolate, you want to make sure you get them nothing but the best!

Here are four indicators to let you know you have chosen the highest quality piece of chocolate:

  • Sight - You want to see a glossy outer appearance with no blemishes or bubbles. Gray areas, also called bloom, could indicate the chocolate was not stored correctly during manufacturing. Bubbles could mean the chocolate was not tempered correctly.
  • Smell - High-quality chocolate should have a strong chocolate scent. If you smell a frozen or spicy scent, that could indicate improper storage.
  • Sound - Good chocolate should have a clean, crisp, and sharp snap when broken. The sound you hear is the crystals in the chocolate cleanly breaking, which indicates the chocolate was both processed and tempered correctly. Milk and white chocolates tend to bend to due having more sugar and milk than dark chocolate.
  • Taste - High-quality chocolate should have a silky-smooth texture with a distinct chocolate flavor. Indicators of low quality include gritty or waxy texture. Good chocolate is made with real cocoa butter and should melt quickly in your mouth or your hand.

So now you know what you're looking for, let's talk about the percentages you see on the wrapper. A high rate of cocoa does not always mean it is a high-quality piece of chocolate. The cocoa percentage is based on the total amount of cocoa in the chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, and cocoa powder in the recipe. As the cocoa percentage increases, the chocolate flavor and color darkness increase, while the sweetness decreases due to the lower amounts of added sugar.

Price can come into play when picking out a gift for a loved one. Most chocolate is not cheap, especially when you consider the source of the cocoa beans and any certifications, such as Fair Trade, the chocolate may carry. Those factors may be the reason the chocolate is more expensive to offset the costs for the company. So, when you go to the store, remember the four indicators of high-quality chocolate and you will pick the best chocolate every time no matter the price.

A final factor to consider when choosing chocolate is the potential health benefits. Higher percentages of cocoa have more flavonoids which can help protect your heart. These chocolates are also rich in iron, copper, magnesium, and zinc, which helps to maintain your brain, muscle, bone, nerves, skin, blood circulation, and immune system. If that does not say "I want to keep you around for a long time" than I don't know what will.

Now you have the tools to get the best for the best. You can walk into the store confidently, ready to choose the highest quality of chocolate for your loved one. You may even offer your advice to other nervous shoppers as you walk down that long chocolate aisle. If all else fails, it's the thought that counts.

References:
Warrell. The Difference between Good Chocolate and Bad Chocolate. January 2016.
Ecole Chocolate. Lesson - Tasting Chocolate. 2019.
Epicurious. Chocolate Expert Guesses Cheap vs. Expensive Chocolate|Price Points|Epicurious.