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by Clay Gordon - author of Discover Chocolate and founder of The Chocolate Life
Is cocoa content really important? For years, the chocolate industry has been marketing the idea that 70% is a measure of chocolate quality. Chocolate isn't “good” unless it's 70% or more. Chocolate isn't “healthy” unless it's at least 70%.
The reality is a tad more complicated because the answer is very simple:
Cocoa content is a quantity measure, not a quality measure. The amount of cocoa in a bar of chocolate is not a reliable indicator of anything other than the amount of cocoa and sugar in the chocolate. Cocoa content refers to the total percentage, by weight, of all of the ingredients in the chocolate that come from the cocoa bean. That's all.
- Cocoa content is not a reliable indicator of the taste or texture of a chocolate
- Cocoa content is not a good indicator of the quality of a chocolate
- Cocoa content is not a useful indicator of the nutritional value of a chocolate
If the cocoa content of a chocolate is not an indicator of anything, then why use it? The answer, we suspect, is that the chocolate industry needed something easy to understand and promote in order to differentiate high-end chocolate from mass-market chocolate. There are lots of rating systems that use numbers as quality indicators (wine is a good example), so it was easy (though wrong) to take the cocoa content of a chocolate and base promotional campaigns around a simple number: and 70% was the number that was chosen, in part because, coincidentally, there were a lot of 70% chocolate bars on the market.
Reading the ingredients label - making sure it does not contain anything but highly nutritious ingredients and NO dairy, refined sugar, soy, etc - is more important than cocoa percentage when it comes to determining the flavor and quality of a chocolate.
Absolute percentage of cocoa content is also not an indicator of the “healthiness” of a chocolate. Almost everything that is done to improve the taste and texture of a "cooked" chocolate is done at the expense of the compounds in the chocolate that make it healthier for you. Healthier chocolates are ones that have been minimally processed - like raw chocolate.
One of the most challenging aspects of creating a healthier chocolate is not in getting the cocoa percentage above 70%. The challenge is deciding on the ingredients and sweetener to use and to understand how the taste and physical properties of the sweetener affects the nutritional value and texture of the chocolate. Agave is about 40% sweeter than refined white sugar and yet has fructose, not glucose, so is a much better sweetener that is low glycemic and is non GMO. Because agave is sweeter than the cane sugar used in most chocolates, a 70% cacao content chocolate made with agave would be about as sweet as a 50% cacao content made with the same cacao and refined white sugar.
Last updated on January 7, 2014 by Vanessa Barg