What does cocoa percentage actually mean?

27 Aug 2020

Chocolate Knowledge

We unpack the differences between cocoa percentages so that you can pick the right bar that suits your tastes

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

Don’t worry – you don’t have to be a cocoa connoisseur to work out how each individual percentage will affect the taste of your chosen bar. We’ve put together a simple guide to help you pick out the right cocoa percentage for you, so you’ll know exactly what type of chocolate to look for when you next have a cocoa craving.

block of milk chocolate and dark chocolate

What does cocoa percentage refer to?

When it comes to cocoa percentage, there isn’t one set bracket of cocoa percentages that can exist – one shop may sell an 85% dark chocolate percentage, whilst other stores might advertise only 70%. Don’t be confused by all the different numbers: the cocoa percentage listed is simply the amount of cocoa the chocolate producer has chosen to put into their bar.

A basic, dark bar of chocolate contains very few ingredients – cocoa solids, cocoa butter, sugar and a binding agent are the main components. The cocoa percentage is therefore important as it tells the consumer how many cocoa solids have been used to flavour the bar – the higher the percentage, the stronger the cocoa flavour. If you’d like to find out more about the method behind making chocolate, check out our blog on how chocolate is made.

As white chocolate doesn’t contain any cocoa solids, the cocoa percentage refers to the amount of cocoa butter used to make the bar. Generally, the more cocoa butter used, the more creamy and aromatic the bar will be – bars which contain a lower white chocolate cocoa percentage will sometimes use cheap ingredients such as vegetable oil to bulk out the bar.

chopped up white chocolate

Although cocoa percentage is an indicator of taste and texture, it can also be an indicator of quality. In some cases, a low cocoa percentage indicates that the chocolate you’re eating uses more sugar than necessary to mask the fact that your chocolate bar doesn’t taste all that chocolatey.

In the UK, milk chocolate must contain at least 25% cocoa solids for it to be sold, whilst white chocolate has to contain a minimum of 20% cocoa butter. However, the US requires its milk chocolate cocoa percentage to contain only 10% cocoa solids. So, if you’re in the States and you’re looking for a rich and chocolatey bar of cocoa, make sure you check the cocoa percentage to make sure you’re not munching on an overly sweet bar.

What percentage of cocoa is best?

At Hotel Chocolat, we live by the mantra of more cocoa, less sugar. That’s why we always strive to make sure our chocolate is rich in cocoa solids – we think all the nuanced notes of the humble cocoa bean should be allowed to shine through. As cocoa percentages vary depending on whether you’re eating white, milk or dark chocolate, you might find yourself wondering; what percentage of cocoa is best?

What is the best percentage of dark chocolate?

Dark chocolate should be rich in cocoa, but the dark chocolate percentage you want will depend on your individual tastes. We recommend choosing a bar with a minimum of 70% cocoa solids so that you can taste the multi-layered flavours of the cocoa bean – we’d never opt for anything lower in our dark chocolate range.

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 punchy, earthy notes of cocoa, keep an eye out for a dark chocolate percentage over 85%.

bar of chocolate on plate with almonds

You might be confused about the existence of 100% cocoa chocolate bars – is it going to be dry and impossible to melt? The answer is no – the cocoa butter naturally present in the cocoa solids allows the chocolate to melt smoothly, giving off a rich cocoa flavour. As it is 100% cocoa we haven’t added any sugar, so expect a strong, almost savoury chocolate flavour.

What percentage of cocoa is in milk chocolate?

Although the minimum might be 20% cocoa solids, we don’t think that’s enough. Milk chocolate may be the lighter, sweeter cousin to dark, but this doesn’t mean the milk chocolate cocoa percentage should be compromised. At Hotel Chocolat, we keep our classic milk chocolates to a minimum of 40% cocoa solids so that you can still taste the delicate notes of cocoa, without the bitter-sweet edge of a dark.

hotel chocolat milk chocolate batons
Our milk chocolate batons are made from 40% cocoa solids

For those looking for a little more cocoa depth, we also created a 50% cocoa milk chocolate, retaining the indulgence of a milk chocolate with a little more flavour and a little less sugar.

But we didn’t want to stop there when it came to searching for the best milk chocolate cocoa percentage. Out of the desire to find the perfect compromise between the lightness of milk, and the richness of dark, our revolutionary Supermilk chocolate was born. Decadently high 65% cocoa, lightened with a dash of milk and with less sugar than our dark, this chocolate is the ideal choice for those who can never quite decide between milk or dark.

Is there cocoa in white chocolate?

The short answer is – yes! Due to its light appearance and delicate taste, white chocolate doesn’t contain any cocoa solids. However, it does contain cocoa butter – the fatty substance which is derived from the cocoa bean. The cocoa 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% cocoa butter, our white chocolate cocoa percentage uses 36% cocoa butter. By nearly doubling the minimum requirement, our white chocolate has an incredibly velvety texture, which can only be found in bars with a high white chocolate cocoa percentage.

white chocolate fruit and nut hotel chocolat
Our White Fruit & Nut Slab is high in cocoa butter

How does cocoa percentage affect the taste?

Dark

As a general rule of thumb, the higher the dark chocolate cocoa percentage, the more savoury and rich your bar will be. As cocoa solids are naturally bitter, a higher dark chocolate cocoa percentage means chocolate becomes less of a sweet treat, and more of a multilayered tasting experience.

To really experience the cocoa bean in all its glory, we recommend you sample our 100% dark chocolate – this lets you taste all the intricate notes of the cocoa bean, with no distractions.

Milk

Again, the higher the milk chocolate cocoa percentage, the richer and deeper the tasting experience. Unlike dark chocolate, milk chocolate contains milk – this lightens it up, and brings a subtle sweetness, tempering the depth of the cocoa beans somewhat.

As milk chocolate typically contains a lower amount of cocoa solids than dark, it tends to be sweeter. However, we make sure our milk chocolate is never sickly by sticking to a milk chocolate cocoa percentage of 40%, ensuring the cocoa can hold its own against the creaminess of milk.

Hotel Chocolat raspberry smoothie made with milk chocolate
An award-winning creation: tangy Raspberry Smoothie, cast in 40% milk

White

White chocolate is perhaps the most difficult flavour to define – because it lacks the deep and bold flavours of cocoa, its flavour profile is more delicate. This means that many companies can get away with using a lower cocoa butter percentage, using artificial flavours, cheap vegetable fats or large quantities of sugar to substitute the lack of cocoa butter.

However, at Hotel Chocolat we think the subtle, yet fragrant, notes of cocoa butter should still be experienced, which is why our white chocolate cocoa butter percentage never drops below 36%.

Ultimately, the cocoa percentage decision is yours. Whether you enjoy munching on moreish milk chocolate, or devouring a deep dark bar, always look for bars with a higher cocoa percentage to get the most out of your chocolate.