Today we are going to talk about purchasing chocolate. There are so many ways to buy chocolate, so many forms it can take, so many treats, desserts and things it can be in.
To keep it simple for now, we are going to start by talking about chocolate bars today.
A chocolate bar looks so pretty and sweet inside its wrapper.
Maybe the wrapper tells you a few things about the chocolate within it. This can be confusing.
We will start with a bar of craft chocolate, and I will get into other chocolate bars after discussing some of the things to look for on craft chocolate packaging.
First you should see the brand somewhere, and then what the bar is named/called. Below is bean to bar chocolate package from my local chocolate maker, Hummingbird Chocolate, with some details about what they are showing and telling the consumer.
It may be named by the cacao origin where the cacao beans were grown before it was made into a chocolate bar by the chocolate maker. This could be broad like Peru, or small like Ucayali River, which is an area within Peru. Often this is referred to as a single origin chocolate.
Next you want to look at the ingredients. A simple bean to bar chocolate bar may only have two or three ingredients. They often include cacao beans, sugar (cane, maple, coconut palm, etc.), and cocoa butter.
So, a plain chocolate single origin craft chocolate bar will have just cacao, sugar, and cocoa butter in it.
Right, so that’s cacao and sweetener. That’s it. Cacao butter, the fat from cacao beans, is often added to make it smoother, easier to work with, and to help with that melt on your tongue feeling we all know and love about chocolate. Yes, chocolate melts at body temperature which is part of what makes it such a wonderful treat when eaten straight.
A craft chocolate bar may have inclusions added to it. This means there is something in it, pieces of something. Like chopped peanuts, freeze dried fruit sprinkled on the flat back of the bar, or pieces of cookie maybe.
These items will be added to the ingredient list. Often small batch, artisan and craft chocolate makers add other local ingredients to their bars.
Now inclusions can also be added during the process of making the chocolate bar and be ground right into it. This is most common with white chocolate bars where cacao butter and freeze-dried fruit are ground/milled/rolled/refined together, and mixed together while in the machine. We also see this often with nut bars, like peanut butter chocolate. It just looks like a plain chocolate bar but has peanut mixed right in, so is still a smooth, melt in your mouth, no chunks here bar.
In a flavoured chocolate bar produced by a large mass production bar this would likely be with added flavour instead of the actual ingredient.
This is also similar to how oat or nut-based bars of chocolate are made, oats added to the cacao butter and refined together to create a smooth bar.
There are also infusion bars. This is when nibs are soaked in something, commonly we see this being used with many alcohol-based bars on the market. Nibs are soaked in liquor before being made into chocolate, bringing an extra flavour of that spirit with them. Sometimes the nibs are aged in a barrel that has been used previously for wine, whiskey, etc. The nibs absorb the flavours present in the barrel and bring those flavours to a finished chocolate bar. The packing of such a bar usually tells you how this flavour came about.
Chocolate makers like to add things to enhance the flavours they have brought out in the roasting and making process. Sometime a sprinkle of sea salt is just the thing. Often then, on the packaging it will state what salt, and sometimes even why they chose this one.
Reading the packaging on a chocolate bar package is amazing and the chocolate makers try to share the story of the bar with you, so it is worth taking a few minutes to read.
Now, the chocolate bar wrapper may also have tasting notes on it. It could be smells like, tastes like, or finish. So, a bar may say it has rose and fig notes, but actually has no rose or fig added to it anywhere. Therefore, it is important to read the packaging so you are not disappointed when you arrive home, open the bar and don’t find it covered with roses and figs.
If you are new to craft, artisan, and bean to bar chocolate I suggest checking out a store that sells many brands of chocolate as they will have knowable staff. Ask lots of questions. If you are unsure, ask again.
Let me know what other questions you have about shopping for , artisan, bean to bar, or craft chocolate.
We will talk more about tasting chocolate and tasting notes soon.
Other articles in this series
Chocolate Basics (terms)
Chocolate Basics ~ Chocolate Maker
Chocolate Basics ~ Chocolatier