While Americans love their chocolate (this editor included), consumers have gotten serious about dark chocolate. Rich, complex, and even bitter, its flavor transcends the mild, sugar-laden milk chocolate that many of us grew up with.
Dark chocolate is chocolate that is made primarily with sugar, cocoa and cocoa butter, and does not contain milk or milk solids. The amount of sugar, cocoa and cocoa butter can vary dramatically from brand to brand, but it is the lack of milk that really distinguishes dark chocolate from milk chocolate. Dark chocolates sometimes contains vanilla and an emulsifier, to keep the chocolate as smooth as possible. In the United States, there is not a specific minimum cacao percentage for dark chocolate. Cacao percentage refers to the amount of cocoa solids in a product. Cocoa solids are all of the ingredients from a cocoa bean, including cocoa powder, cocoa butter, chocolate liquor. In Europe, the definition of dark chocolate is containing 35-percent cocoa solids. Premium dark chocolates have a higher cacao percentage and a higher price tag than less expensive dark chocolates.
According to a new flavor trends report from FONA International, dark chocolate’s ever-climbing cacao percentages are now posted prominently on packaging, and chocophiles have come to describe bars with the same level of detail that they’d use for a fine Cabernet.
“Bean to bar" is hot, as artisanal chocolatiers take control of every aspect of chocolate making, from sourcing to production. Single-origin bars are trendy, too, showcasing distinct regional characteristics such as the intensely floral flavor of beans from the mountains of Peru or the dried mint overtones of bars made from the beans from Trinidad. But almost all these pricey chocolates are meant to be eaten plain, savored by the sliver, rather than used for cooking. It seems wasteful to cook with them, as many of their more delicate notes won’t survive a hot oven.
Need more proof dark chocolate is hot? A search for “dark chocolate" on Pinterest returns results for not only pins but boards dedicated to dark chocolate. Most of the pins relate to baked goods, but people have found recipes beyond cakes. Creative recipes pop out like Jell-O-filled dark chocolate, dark chocolate vegan granola bars, peanut butter and banana bites frozen in dark chocolate, and lavender-honey dark chocolate tart.
Searching dark chocolate on Twitter yields results of recipes and pictures of dark chocolate desserts. Recipes for homemade salted caramel dark chocolate brown butter shortbread bars and a salted dark chocolate truffle pretzel cake are the top results. Some of the results are pictures from bakeries using dark chocolate, like English bakery Tarte and Berry’s dark chocolate and butterscotch flapjacks. On Food.com more than 3,500 recipes appear if you search for dark chocolate. Recipes primarily include desserts and candy, but other recipes include beverages, snacks, frozen desserts, and even a salad with dark chocolate-balsamic dressing. Desserts account for 84 percent of the total dark chocolate recipes available on Food.com.
According to FONA International, there were 4,891 global new product introductions featuring dark chocolate; in North America there were 1,060 new dark chocolate product launches (most notably Nestlé Toll House Delightfulls Dark Chocolate Morsels with Mint Filling, Trader Joe’s More Than a Mouthful Trek Mix, Archer Farms Holiday Edition Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel Corn, and Clusters, Chapman’s Slice Cream layers of dark, white, and milk chocolate ice cream with brownie pieces).