Cocoa Percentage

Many dark chocolate products display a cocoa percentage on their labels.  What does this mean?  Can you compare two different products with the same percentage?  What about products with no percentage listed?

What Does the Percentage Mean?

Dagoba 59% Cocoa

The percentage shown on many dark chocolate products refers to the percentage by weight of all ingredients derived from the cocoa bean.  This is the total of chocolate liquor or cocoa powder (the cocoa solids) and cocoa butter.  The cocoa solids contribute flavor, and the cocoa butter contributes the smooth texture.

So the percentage is really the percent of actual chocolate.  A higher percentage means more chocolate, and less of the remaining ingredients, primarily sugar.  A higher percentage also means a more intense, bitter, chocolate flavor.

Comparing Equal Percentages

Hershey's Cacao Reserve 65% Cocoa

Two products with the same percentage can have very different propterties and taste for two reasons.

First, different combinations of cocoa solids and cocoa butter can still total the same percentage.  For example, if one product had 25% cocoa solids and 45% cocoa butter, this would be listed as 70% cocoa.  However, a different product with 35% cocoa and 35% cocoa butter would also be listed as 70% cocoa.

Second, even if the percentages of cocoa solids and cocoa butter were identical, there are still many other factors, such as quality of cocoa beans, roasting processes, and other ingredients, that contribute to taste.

How Much is Cocoa Butter, How Much is Cocoa Solids?

Green & Black's 70% Cocoa

You can determine exactly how much of the given percentage represents the cocoa solids, and how much represents the cocoa butter, by doing the following:

  • Divide total fat per serving by serving size, and multiply by 100.  This is the percent fat (which should be almost totally cocoa butter).
  • Subtract the percent fat from the percentage to get the percent cocoa solids.

What If No Percentage Is Listed?

Cafe-Tasse Extra Dark 77% Cocoa

More and more dark chocolate products list a percentage now.  Manufacturers are realizing that consumers want to know this percentage and are looking for it.  However, if you run across dark chocolate without a cocoa percentage listed, these terms and facts can help.

In the US there are some terms defined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which give you ranges of cocoa percentages:

  • "Unsweetened", "Brute", or "Bitter" chocolate will be 85% to 99% cocoa
  • "Bittersweet" chocolate can be 35% to 84%.  This is quite a large range.
  • "Semisweet" or "Sweet" chocolate can be 15% to 34%.

In Europe, chocolate must contain at least 43% cocoa to be considered "dark".


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