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Best Dark Chocolate: The Ultimate Buyer’s Guide

Four Pieces of Chocolate Stacked on Top of Each Other

Dark chocolate is incredibly healthy and nutritious.

However, there are many brands available and not all of them
are created equal.

Some are better than others, based on the ingredients and
processing methods.

So which one should you choose?

Follow this guide to find out everything you need to know about
selecting the best dark chocolate.

What Is Dark Chocolate?


Dark chocolate
is produced by adding fat and sugar to
cocoa. It differs from milk chocolate in that it contains
little to no milk solids.

It also goes by other common names, including bittersweet and
semisweet chocolate. These differ slightly in sugar content,
but can be used interchangeably in cooking and baking.

Usually the simplest way to know if your chocolate is “dark” or
not is to select one with a 70% or higher total cocoa content.

Dark chocolate is well known for its powerful antioxidant
activity. In fact, it has been shown to have a greater
antioxidant effect than many high-antioxidant fruits like
blueberries and acai berries (1, 2).

Observational studies have also linked eating dark chocolate
with a reduced risk of heart disease and improved brain
function (3, 4, 5, 6, 7).

Bottom Line: Dark chocolate is a mixture of
cocoa, fat and sugar. It is rich in antioxidants and may
provide health benefits for the heart and brain.

Ingredients to Look For

It is best to choose dark chocolate made with as few
ingredients as possible.

The best dark chocolate always has chocolate liquor or cocoa
listed as the first ingredient. There may be several forms of
cocoa listed, such as cocoa powder, cocoa nibs and cocoa
butter. All of these are acceptable additions to dark
chocolate.

Sometimes other ingredients are added to dark chocolate to
improve its appearance, flavor and shelf life. Some of these
ingredients are harmless, while others can have a negative
impact on the overall quality of the chocolate.

Sugar

Teaspoon Of Sugar

Sugar is often added to dark chocolate to balance its bitter
taste.

While sugar is an important component of dark chocolate, some
brands go overboard.

It is rare to find dark chocolate that doesn’t have
added sugar
. A rule of thumb is to choose a brand that does
not have sugar listed first on the ingredients list.

Better yet, choose one that lists sugar last.

Note that the higher the cocoa percentage, the lower the sugar
content will be.

Lecithin

Lecithin is an optional ingredient in dark chocolate. It’s
added to many store-bought chocolates as an emulsifier. It
keeps the cocoa and cocoa butter from separating and helps
blend flavors.

It is commonly derived from soybeans, so you may see it listed
as soy lecithin on the label. Soy lecithin is used in such
small amounts in chocolate that it shouldn’t pose any concerns
about health effects or quality.

When you’re selecting a brand, keep in mind that lecithin isn’t
absolutely necessary to make chocolate.

Milk

A Glass of Milk

High-quality dark chocolate shouldn’t have any milk added to
it.

The only exception would be milk fat. This is essentially
butter that has had its moisture and non-fat solids removed.

Chocolate makers sometimes add milk fat to dark chocolate to
soften it and add flavor.

Just like lecithin, milk fat is not required to make dark
chocolate.

Flavorings

Dark chocolate is often flavored with spices, extracts and oils
to improve its taste.

The most common flavoring you will see in dark chocolate is
vanilla.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to differentiate on a food label
which flavors are natural and which are artificial.

If you want flavored dark chocolate, choose one that is
organic. That way you can be sure the flavors are not
artificial.

Trans Fat

If you come across dark chocolate that contains trans
fat
, avoid it. Trans fat consumption is a significant risk
factor for heart disease (8, 9, 10).

Although it’s becoming less common to add trans fat to
chocolate, manufacturers sometimes add it to improve shelf life
and consistency.

To make sure your chocolate doesn’t include trans fat, check
the ingredients list. If hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated
oil is present, that means the bar contains trans fat.

Bottom Line: Only a few ingredients are
required to make dark chocolate. Avoid brands made with trans
fats or large amounts of sugar.

The Optimal Cocoa Percentage

Block of Dark Chocolate with a Red Ribbon

Dark chocolate brands have a wide range of cocoa percentages,
which can be confusing. When you’re choosing dark chocolate,
look for bars that have a cocoa content of 70% or higher.

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Higher-percentage dark chocolate contains a higher
concentration of antioxidants and nutrients compared to
chocolate with a lower cocoa percentage (1).

Consuming chocolate with a higher cocoa content is associated
with several health benefits, such as improved heart health and
brain function (1, 11).

Chocolate with a higher cocoa percentage also tends to be lower
in sugar.

Bottom Line: The healthiest dark chocolate
contains a cocoa percentage of 70% or higher, which provides
more antioxidants and health benefits.

Avoid Alkalized or Dutched Dark Chocolate

Dutching is a chocolate processing method
that involves treatment with alkali, otherwise known as
alkalization.

This method is used to change the color of the chocolate and
reduce the bitter flavor.

However, several studies have demonstrated that Dutching
significantly reduces the amount of antioxidants in chocolate
(12, 13).

For this reason, chocolate that has been Dutched should be
avoided.

To check whether chocolate has been Dutched, check the
ingredients list for something along the lines of “cocoa
processed with alkali.”

Bottom Line: A process called alkalization,
also known as Dutching, has negative effects on the
antioxidants in dark chocolate.

Choose Fair-Trade and Organic Chocolate

Brown Fair Trade Tag

Choose chocolate made from fair-trade and organic
cacao beans whenever possible.

Growing and harvesting cacao beans is a difficult process for
the producers.

According to Fair Trade
USA
, you can ensure the cacao bean farmer earns a fair
price for the product by buying fair-trade chocolate.

Choosing organic chocolate may also reduce your exposure to any
artificial chemicals, or pesticides sprayed on the coffee
beans.

Bottom Line: Fair-trade and organic
chocolate supports cacao farmers and reduces your exposure to
pesticides and artificial chemicals.

A Few Brands to Try

Four Pieces of Dark Chocolate

Here are a few high-quality dark chocolate brands for you to
check out.

Alter Eco

Alter Eco chocolate is fair-trade and
organic. They have many types of dark chocolate bars to choose
from.

The richest chocolate you can get from them is their Dark
Blackout bar, which is 85% cocoa. It only contains 6 grams of
sugar and four ingredients: cacao beans, cocoa butter, raw cane
sugar and vanilla beans.

Pascha Chocolate

Pascha Chocolate makes chocolate in an
allergen-free facility, so their products are free from common
food allergens such as soy, dairy and wheat.

They have a variety of dark chocolate bars that contain up to
85% cocoa.

Their commitment to making high-quality chocolate is
impressive. They take pride in using only essential ingredients
to make their products, such as cocoa, sugar, vanilla and some
fruit.

Antidote Chocolate

Antidote Chocolate makes potent organic
chocolate with ethically sourced cacao beans. Their bars are
low in sugar and high in nutrients.

All of their dark chocolate bars have a cocoa content of 70% or
greater. They even have a bar that contains 100% raw cacao.

Equal Exchange

Equal Exchange chocolate is fair-trade and
organic, made with high-quality ingredients.

They carry an Extreme Dark chocolate bar that is made from four
ingredients, contains only 4 grams of sugar and has a cocoa
percentage of 88%.

Others

Keep in mind that these are just a few suggestions. There are
many other manufacturers that produce excellent dark chocolate,
including Lindt, Green & Black’s and others.

Bottom Line: There are many brands of
high-quality dark chocolate to choose from. A few examples
include Alter Eco, Pascha, Antidote and Equal Exchange.

Buyer’s Checklist

Dark Chocolate and Raspberries

The best dark chocolate has distinct characteristics, including
the following:

  • High in cocoa: 70% or higher cocoa
    percentage.
  • Cocoa comes first: Cocoa or a form of cocoa
    is the first ingredient.
  • No unnecessary ingredients: Avoid dark
    chocolate that contains trans fat, milk, artificial
    flavorings, high amounts of sugar and other unnecessary
    ingredients.
  • No alkali processing: Alkali processing is
    also known as Dutching. Avoid chocolate processed this way.
  • Fair-trade and organic: This type of dark
    chocolate is more likely to be high-quality, ethically
    sourced and pesticide-free.

Follow these tips to make sure your dark chocolate is
high-quality, rich in antioxidants and of course, delicious.

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