What does cacao percentage actually mean?

29 Jul 2022

Chocolate Knowledge

Discover what cacao percentage means for the flavour of your favourite chocolate

As you browse the shelf, looking for your favourite bar of chocolate, you may notice that some bars have the cacao percentage listed. You may be aware that a high cacao percentage means the chocolate will be dark, and a lower percentage indicates the chocolate you’re looking at is milk. However, you might not know what each cacao percentage actually means.

Don’t worry! You don’t have to be a cacao connoisseur to work out what the cacao percentage means for the flavour of your chocolate. This guide will help you choose the perfect cacao percentage to suit your tastes.

White, dark, and milk chocolate bars

What does cacao percentage refer to?

Have all the different numbers on your chocolate bars ever left you feeling confused? A basic, dark bar of chocolate contains very few ingredients. Usually, it consists of cacao solids, cacao butter, sugar and a binding agent. Put simply, cacao percentage is the amount of cacao in a chocolate bar.

The cacao percentage is therefore important as it tells you how much cacao has been included to flavour the bar. The higher the percentage, the stronger the cacao flavour.

How much cacao should chocolate contain?

Generally, the more cacao a chocolate bar contains, the higher the quality. This is because low-cacao chocolate often contains a greater amount of sugar. Sugar can mask the nuanced flavours cacao naturally offers.

In the UK, milk chocolate must contain at least 25% cacao solids to go to market. However, the US requires its milk chocolate to contain only 10% cacao solids. So, if you’re in the States and you want a rich bar of chocolate, make sure you check the cacao percentage so you don’t end up with something full of sugar.

What about white chocolate?

White chocolate doesn’t contain any cacao solids. As such, the cacao percentage refers to the amount of cacao butter. The more it contains, the more creamy and aromatic it will be. White chocolate with a low cacao percentage will sometimes contain vegetable oil to bulk it out.

In the UK, white chocolate has to contain a minimum of 20% cacao butter.

Closeup of white chocolate squares

What percentage of cacao is best?

At Hotel Chocolat, we live by the mantra of more cacao, less sugar. We want cacao’s nuanced notes to shine through and offer a range of chocolate varieties that include different levels of cacao.

What is the best percentage for dark chocolate?

Dark chocolate should be rich in cacao. But the dark chocolate percentage you want will depend on your individual tastes. We recommend choosing a bar with a minimum of 70% cacao. This allows you to enjoy the multi-layered flavours of the cacao bean.

Of course, if you’re a dark chocolate devotee then you may want to look for something a little stronger. For those who search for the deep earthy notes of cacao, keep an eye out for a dark chocolate percentage over 85%.

Have you ever wondered about 100% cacao chocolate? Is it going to be dry and impossible to melt? Fortunately, the answer is no. Cacao butter brings a smooth creaminess that melts in the mouth. As for flavour, you can expect 100% chocolate to have a strong, almost savoury flavour.

What percentage of cacao is in milk chocolate?

Although the minimum might be 20% cacao solids, we don’t think that’s enough. Milk chocolate may be lighter than dark, but this doesn’t mean it should compromise on flavour or cacao depth.

At Hotel Chocolat, our classic milk chocolates contain a minimum of 40% cacao. That way, you can still taste the delicate notes of cacao, without the bitter-sweet edge of a dark.

For those looking for a little more cacao depth, we also created a 50% milk chocolate. This irresistible chocolate retains the indulgence creaminess of milk chocolate but is brimming with richness. It also contains a lower level of sugar.

We didn’t want to stop there when it came to searching for the best milk chocolate cacao percentage. Our revolutionary Supermilk chocolate, packed with 65% cacao, was born out of the desire to find the perfect compromise between the lightness of milk, and the richness of dark. It’s decadent and satisfying. A dash of milk, and less sugar than our dark chocolate, makes it the ideal choice for those who can never quite decide between milk or dark.

How much cacao is best for white chocolate?

Cacao butter is the substance which gives white chocolate its sumptuously smooth texture and delicate taste.

Whilst UK law stipulates that white chocolate needs to only contain 20% cacao butter, our white chocolate contains 36%. By nearly doubling the minimum requirement, our white chocolate has a velvety texture and beautiful flavour.

How does cacao percentage affect the taste?

Dark chocolate

As a general rule of thumb, the higher the dark chocolate cacao percentage, the more savoury and rich your bar will be. Cacao solids have a natural bitterness. As such, bars rich in cacao become less of a sweet treat and more of a multilayered tasting experience.

To really experience the cacao bean in all its glory, we recommend you sample our 100% dark chocolate. It lets you taste all the intricate notes cacao has to offer, with no distractions.

Dark chocolate squares and cookies with melted chocolate

Milk chocolate

Again, the higher the milk chocolate percentage, the richer and deeper the tasting experience. The addition of milk lightens this type of chocolate up. It brings a subtle sweetness, tempering the depth of the cacao beans somewhat.

As milk chocolate typically contains a lower amount of cacao than dark, it tends to be sweeter. However, we make sure our milk chocolate is never sickly by ensuring it always contains at least 45% cacao.

White chocolate

White chocolate is perhaps the most difficult flavour to define. Because it lacks the depth and boldness of cacao solids, its flavour profile is more delicate.

This means that many companies can get away with using a lower amount of cacao butter. They add artificial flavours, cheap vegetable fats or large quantities of sugar to substitute.

At Hotel Chocolat, we think the subtle, yet fragrant, notes of cacao butter should still be experienced. We make sure our white chocolate cacao butter percentage never drops below 36%.

High-cacao chocolate from Hotel Chocolat

No matter what your favourite kind of chocolate is – creamy white, mellow milk or nuanced dark – look for bars with a high cacao percentage.

We pride ourselves on creating chocolate that’s high in cacao and low in sugar. Browse our full collection of products today.