Serious Eats: Sweets
Taste Test: Dark Chocolate
Trader Joe's 72%
Dark vs. milk chocolate is a polarizing question. Many of us at SEHQ are milk chocolate fans, and not afraid to admit it. But when you want something more intense, wonderfully nuanced, and not-Halloween-candy-sweet, dark chocolate is what you reach for.
We tried 19 different dark chocolates, nothing with higher than 73% cacao. That percentage refers to the total amount of cocoa in the bar, including the cocoa solids and butter. Of course you can get really dark and enter the 80% and even 90% range, but we didn't want to blast our faces with bitterness.
This tasting was organized in honor of Valentine's Day but clearly we just needed an excuse to eat bounties of chocolate. "Ugh, got to try 19 chocolates today." Yes, all of our friends were a tad jealous. But let's just say that after trying that many, you really don't want to look at the stuff anytime soon.
Brands We Tried
Cadbury Royal Dark
Hershey's Special Dark
Whole Foods 365, 52%
Dagoba , 59%
Newman's Own Organics, 70%
Scharffen Berger, 70%
Green & Black, 70%
Trader Joe's Fair-Trade Swiss Dark Chocolate, 71%
Ritter Sport, 71%
Trader Joe's Belgian, 72%
Trader Joe's Organic Super Dark, 73%
- Flavor: Slightly bitter with a touch of sweetness to round out the balance. It should have character but not make you ask yourself, is this even chocolate?
- Texture: Buttery smooth, not grainy. It should have a good temper, which our chocolate columnist Liz Gutman taught us, is what gives it a smooth glossy surface, a nice "snap" when you bite into it, and better resistance to melting and scuffing.
Why the Losers Lost
Though a mild bitterness is crucial, you don't want it to be pickle-sour. One tasted so distinctly of acetone, we had to spit it into a nearby napkin. Ick. Another one tasted stale, like raisins from the back of a dusty cupboard. Others didn't have enough cocoa butter, so they didn't get all velvety smooth on the tongue.
Though it shouldn't be cloyingly sweet, we did include a few milk-chocolate-esque darks in our top ten slideshow for the closet milk chocolate lovers out there—you know who you are.
How to Taste Like a Pro
Trader Joe's Belgian, 72%
This was the biggest crowdpleaser, not to mention the cheapest. First, to clarify, Trader Joe's has many chocolate offerings: this is the 72% one "imported from Belgium" sold in a 17-ounce slab (pictured) for $4.99, or as a three-pack with smaller 1.67 ounce bars for $1.50. Talk about the best bang for the buck. It's one of those TJ's products that turns shoppers into diehard TJ's-worshiping groupies.
Smooth, nicely balanced, and not intensely bitter, it's better than you think it's going to be. Though a touch too sweet (cough, safe for the milk chocolate fans) it still satisfies as a robustly dark chocolate. Easy to nibble on alone (not abrasive at all), but it also has enough character for fondue, ganache-making, and baking projects.
Alright, dark chocolate snobs, this one's for you. Super complex, bitter, fruity, slightly sour, with just a smidge of sweetness. Liz was all smiley about this one. "I'd definitely snack on it," she said. (She ranked it the highest.) Ed was a fan too. Valrhona started the trend of providing cocoa percentages on the packaging, and most of their chocolates are on the dark side. They have several products ranging from 55% to 85% cocoa content, but the 70% was just the right amount of dark for us. One square—let it melt, don't chomp so fast—lingers in the mouth for several minutes. Like my Kindergarten teacher used to say about using glue, a dab will do ya.
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