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The term "cocoa content" refers to the combined total percentage, by weight, of all the ingredients in a particular chocolate that come from the cocoa bean. In most cases it is the combination of the quantity of cocoa mass (or cocoa liquor or chocolate liquor, etc.) plus any added cocoa butter.

Cocoa beans naturally vary between 45-55% cocoa butter content depending on the type of bean and where the bean is grown.

Technically, cocoa butter is referred to as cocoa solids and cocoa powder is referred to as non-fat cocoa solids. Most people find it easier to think in terms of cocoa butter and cocoa powder, but when you come across a reference to non-fat cocoa solids it's referring to the brown stuff that gives chocolate its color.

Cocoa butter is added to the base quantity of cocoa mass to influence mouth feel and make the chocolate less viscous. Lecithin - which is an emulsifier - is also used to reduce the viscosity of chocolate and so reduces the amount of extra cocoa butter that must be added (lecithin is a lot cheaper than cocoa butter).

The exact ratio of cocoa mass to added cocoa butter to total fat content is usually not included in the information you'll find on the package. However if you get a chance to look at the technical spec sheet for a chocolate it will usually list out the percentage of cocoa mass, percentage of added cocoa butter, and total cocoa butter content.

For Guittard's Orinoco (a 41% milk) the ingredients list is:
Pure cane sugar, cocoa butter, full cream milk, cocoa beans, soy lecithin, vanilla beans

The technical spec is:
Total cocoa content: 41% minimum
Cocoa mass: 18%
Added cocoa butter: 25%
Total fat content (including milk fat): 39% =/- 1%
Sugar: 38%

Lecithin and vanilla together typically total about 1%. The rest is non-fat milk solids.

It is important to keep in mind that there is no correlation between cocoa content and chocolate quality. Cocoa content is a quantitative measure, not a qualitative measure.

In this respect it's more like the proof (percentage) of a spirit such as gin or vodka. Knowing that a gin is 40 proof tells you nothing about the quality of the ingredients used to make the gin or the care and attention that went into its manufacture. Similarly, about the only thing you can confidently infer from the cocoa content of a dark chocolate (i.e., a chocolate with no dairy ingredients) is the percentage of sugar in the chocolate. There is no magic percentage amount that separates semi-sweet from bittersweet chocolate.

Cocoa content tells you nothing about the beans used, how the beans were fermented and dried, nor does it say anything about any of the steps in the manufacturing process (all of them) that affect flavor.

There is no consistent correlation across the board between cocoa content and any sensory aspect of chocolate: not texture (mouth feel), aroma, or taste. Even the perception of sweetness between two bars of chocolate with exactly the same sugar content will be different (this is one of the first things I noticed back in 1994 tasting six different Bonnat bars all with the same cocoa content; the difference in sweetness was startling) depending on the beans, the roast, and the presence (or absence) of vanilla and the kind and form of vanilla used.

70% is a marketing hook - or gimmick, if you prefer. A 70% chocolate is not necessarily better than a 68% chocolate or a 65% or a 64% just because it has a couple of more percent cocoa.

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Sam is making a good point here.

If you go into a store and buy cocoa powder you will never find a totally fat-free powder. Typical ranges for cocoa butter content in cocoa powders used by professionals are 10-12% (low-fat) and 22-24% (high-fat). In some chocolate products that say "Fat Free" FDA regs allow there to be some fat - up to, I think, 1 gm per serving - and still allow manufacturers to claim that it is fat free on the label.

However, when we're talking in the abstract, technically, about the composition of cocoa content, it is possible to be quite precise about how much of the cocoa content is fat and how much is not fat. This is why the not-fat component of a chocolate can technically referred to as non-fat cocoa solids.

It makes sense in the lab and factory but is confusing on the supermarket shelf.
This is what I do know, however, where it gets confusing is the on the tech spec sheet:
1. cocoa content- this is what we call cocoa powder and cocoa butter - right?
2. cocoa mass - can you define this for me? (18%) I think itis the cocoa powder?
3. added cocoa butter - 25% of the cocoa content, right? So this means it is above 50% of total cocoa content?
4. equation -41% = ? 25 +16?? but it should be 18?

I am so sorry I don't get it right away!! I understand all about the benefits of different percentages and the gimmicks and all but the specs confuse my awful math abilities.

I completely appreciate your devotion to chocolate and this site as well as you immediate help-you have no idea! Thank you so very very much.
Ilana:

Yes, it is confusing.

1) Cocoa content (in percent) is the total amount of cocoa butter and cocoa powder by weight in a chocolate.
2) Cocoa mass = chocolate liquor = ground cocoa beans with nothing added. 100% cocoa content. What is not known (to most consumers) is the ratio of fat (cocoa butter) to non-fat cocoa solids (see my response to Sam's comment for more on this).
3) Added cocoa butter is 25% of the weight of the finished chocolate.
4) The math here is more difficult because we're dealing with a milk chocolate, not a dark chocolate.

Total cocoa content is 41% - minimum. It can be more. Total fat content is +/- 1% so with rounding errors and fudging you should see these numbers as averages, not absolutes. FDA regs say that manufacturers have to be within a certain percentage +/- of the published numbers, recognizing that because manufacturers are dealing with agricultural products, the exact composition of the ingredients used is subject to change.

In practice, because there's no legal definition of how to calculate % cocoa, different companies do it different ways.  Some do it the way Clay mentions above (anything coming from a cocoa bean); other very large companies use only the liquor % as the figure they use for the % cocoa calculation.


The government does not get involved with this, doesn't define it, and hasn't shown an interest in it.  The net/net take away is - you can determine almost nothing from a % cocoa number alone; you'll have to speak to the manufacturer to gain insight as to how they calculated it.

The other thing to consider - most folks assume a higher number is 'better' for you as the belief is it contains more flavanols.  While this *may* be true in some instances, i can identify more instances where it's not.  HOW you produce your liquor is far more important than how MUCH of it you have when it comes to flavanols.

Thanks, Sebastian. You touch on something I had suspected, and that is how the process affects the flavanols. Do you have any guidelines to share for the lay person that might help a consumer in determining a product with higher flavanol content?

Generally speaking, the more you do to it, the less you have.  The higher and longer you roast, the longer you process, if you alkalize, all of these things will degrade flavanols.

Yes.... but....a layperson wouldn't really have access to that info... are there any manufacturers known to minimally process their products? Thanks :-)

All of the major manufacturers have patented processes for product in this area. Mars calls their CocoaVia, for example.

There are a bunch of MLMs that tout their products as being minimally–processed (e.g., "cold-pressed") and that tout high ORAC ratings.

As I stated in another comment on this thread, the "raw" chocolate community - whatever raw really means in this context - is all about minimal processing. However, with only one exception that I am aware of, none of the raw chocolate companies have done any testing to actually support their claims of superior nutritional content (which does not relate to efficacy), and that one company has only done one ORAC panel, not a detailed analysis of what actually happens to cacao—from a nutrition perspective—during its transformation into chocolate.

The big guys - Mars, Barry Callebaut, etc., have all spent beaucoup $$ on gaining a very fine understanding of the processes, but most of it is proprietary and much of it is patented or patent pending. (And a lot more is probably trade secret and we will never learn about it.)

Ilana
1. Cocoa content is what we generally see as percentages on labels. The content is calculated based on the total percentage of cocoa products (cocoa mass or sometimes called cocoa liquor + cocoa butter -if added.
2. Cocoa Mass- Liquor-ground beans anywhere from 45-65% cocoa butter and the remainder
3. The cocoa butter is 25% of the total mass not just of the cocoa content- which means
18% Cocoa Mass (think beans) + 25% cocoa butter + 38% Sugar + ...the tech specs don't say the % of milk fat so-

Total fat is 39% - (25% cocoa butter + fat from liquor, about 9%, half of liquor) which equals
39-34=4% milk fat

So again 18% Cocoa Mass + 25% Cocoa Butter+ 38% Sugar + 4% Milk fat + 1% Vanilla and Lecithin which equals
86%.

So what is missing? The nonfat milk solids- which need to be calculated.

4. In clay's example the cocoa content is minimally 41% which I guess means it could also be 43%
Thanks- got it!

Forgive the question of a newbie here, but I am finding conflicting and unclear information elsewhere.... when a bar says 70%.. is that referring to only the cocoa content of the cocoa mass, or of the total volume of that particular bar?... In other words, would a 70% bar without nuts be, say, a 60% bar with nuts? Thanks.

Cocoa content refers to the chocolate component, not the inclusions. A bar made with 70% cocoa content chocolate is always 70% cocoa content.

The use of a hypothetical 100gr bar is confusing in some contexts, as you point out. In a chocolate bar with nothing else added, if the cocoa content is 70% then 70 grams will be derived from the cocoa bean.

In a 100gr bar of chocolate made with 70% cocoa content, if 40% of the weight of the bars is, say hazelnuts, then the remaining 60gr will consist of 42gr of cocoa (60gr x 70%). The remaining 18gr will be sugar, vanilla, lecithin (if used), and any other added ingredients.

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