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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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Thanks so much, Clay. Another question... has there been any research into varying polyphenol content between varieties of beans, or processing methods? Are there more polyphenols available from some beans than others? And do some processes preserve more polyphenols than others? Not sure if that kind of study has been (or ever will be) performed, but it would be nice to know for those who want to maximize the health benefits.

Mars, and others, have spent tens of millions in researching polyphenols/flavonoids/antioxidants in cacao and methods to increase (or at least minimize loss of) said substances during post-harvest processing.

And patenting them.

A look at the patents will shed light on what they are doing and how they are doing it - though some stuff is being protected as trade secret so it's not being published.

In the long run, chocolate is not supposed to be virtuous. I want to feel good eating chocolate, not feel good about eating chocolate. The fact that there are health benefits should be secondary, IMO, not primary, when it comes to making decisions about consuming.

In general, everything that is done to improve flavor does so to the detriment of many health-giving properties of cacao, while those same processes also give rise to beneficial nutrients not found in the undermented and unroasted cacao. If you really want to maximize the health benefits of cacao, drink it. Preferably beverages made with natural (unalkalized), low-fat cocoa powder. The body digests what you drink differently from what you eat, and cacao beverages tend to make it through the stomach into the intestine faster and more nutrients can be extracted. At least, that's the theory based on looking at metabolite markers in the bloodstream - which is more to the point that looking at ORAC numbers. What makes it into the bloodstream is what counts, not what goes into your mouth.

Great info, Clay. Many thanks. For me it's having my health benefits and enjoying them, too :-) And I have found plenty of bars that I enjoy. And truth be told, there are other things that hold far greater health benefits... they just don't taste quite like chocolate :-) So this is a nice two-fer.

Thanks again for sharing your insight.  

There has been a lot of research in this area ... but as Sebastian replied in the discussion about "How Chocolate Gets Its Taste" most of this research is proprietary and not available to the general public.

Yes, some varieties have more polyphenols than others, but much of that may be due to soil conditions as much as varietal.

Post-harvest processing does affect polyphenol content. Basically, everything that's done to improve flavor reduces some health-giving properties. However, it's important to note that processing creates compounds that are also beneficial.

I think it's also important to focus on the fact that residual levels of some compounds are so high after processing, and there is no dietary intake guidance about antioxidants, that to fixate on maximizing levels doesn't make a whole lot of sense. There's some evidence that suggests that as little as 1/4 ounce of a quality dark chocolate, consumed daily, has clinical effects. Replace the chocolate with 1 Tbsp of a good natural (not alkalized) cocoa powder and you're already getting many times the benefits of that 1/4 ounce of dark chocolate - especially when drunk, not eaten.

There is a rampant debate over "raw" in the chocolate community (and elsewhere), but if you go with the idea of minimally processed (and don't fixate on 118F) then that's an alternative. The numbers are so off the charts good for you, that worrying about 10% here or there makes little difference.

My personal opinion is that there's not supposed to be anything virtuous about chocolate. I want to feel good eating, not feel good about eating it. My advice? Enjoy the chocolate you like, and then marvel in the fact that it also delivers some health benefits - one of the most important (and overlooked) is that it makes you feel happy.

still a bit confused.. say making 1 kg of chocolate and i use (for example) 300 gms nibs, 200 gms cocoa butter and 500 gms  sugar, does this mean that my chocolate has 50% cocoa content?

According to what I believe is the most widely accepted interpretation of the standards, yes. Your recipe contains 500gr of ingredients that are sourced from the cocoa bean, so it would be 50% cocoa content.

Thank You Clay.. that helps .. though i didnt use these proportions (they were just an example fo my understanding). it just seems wrong that the added cocoa butter shold be counted towards the %.. 

its kinda misleading, isn't it?

Chirag:

I have to disagree with you that it's misleading. Cocoa content is general, not specific. It means the percentage, by weight, of the product that comes from cocoa beans. It does not specify how much is non-fat cocoa solids (i.e., the powder part minus all fat) and the "fat" cocoa solids. Just total content.

Some manufacturers add cocoa butter, some do not. Often the decision is technical (fluidity) at times its aesthetic (nothing added). In any event, all you have to do is to look at the ingredients label. If "cocoa butter" is not listed as an ingredient you know that 100% of the stated cocoa content comes from the cocoa mass.

Not that that is an indicator of anything truly meaningful in a consistent way. But it can be a clue when trying to figure out why a particular chocolate has a particular mouth feel or a "diluted" flavor profile.

sorry for any misunderstanding Clay, what i meant by misleading is that when someone without alot of knowledge on the subject purchases say a 70% chocolate bar, they are looking for a certain depth/intensity of flavour, which they may not get if half of that % comes from added cocoa butter.

Chirag -

They shouldn't, actually. That they do is as a result of irresponsible marketing or incomplete understanding, or both. But the expectation is not founded in the reality of chocolate.

There is no direct correlation between cocoa content and flavor intensity. None. That's precisely because there are many variables that cocoa content does not cover.

Think about two 80 proof bourbons. One can be nice and smooth, the other harsh and biting. But they are both 80 proof. Should a consumer have any expectation that all bourbons at 80 proof should display any of the same sensory characteristics?

No. So why should someone expect a QUANTITATIVE measure (of cocoa content) to say anything meaningful about a QUALITATIVE assessment of the chocolate.

Try the range of chocolates from Bonnat (who uses a lot of added cocoa butter) or Pralus (who tends to like high roast profiles). All the same percentages within the line - each very different from the others. It's a kinda zen place to put your mind - not to expect a particular anything from a particular percentage.

I use the percentage as as a range of sweetness I may expect.  After trying a number of chocolates, I can't agree more with Clay.  Some 75% are less intense then the 70% of some brands.  The more expensive chocolates of similar percentages are less intense in general.  The amount of butter from my limited time making small batches, is more about a creamy, buttery texture.  I would guess that the range of butter percentages range from 5-12%.  Some like Mast Brothers, do not add additional butter to the paste. 

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