What is semi-sweet chocolate and what is the difference?

8 Jul 2021

Chocolate Knowledge

Looking for the perfect balance of sweetness and cocoa depth? Read on to learn all about semi-sweet chocolate.

We believe the best chocolate strikes a perfect balance between gentle sweetness and deep cocoa notes, whether it’s white, milk, or dark. And, of course, all good-quality chocolate types present varying levels of sweetness. So what exactly do we mean by ‘semi-sweet chocolate’? Let’s dive into what semi-sweet chocolate is and how it differs from other kinds…

What makes chocolate semi-sweet?

What is the difference between semi-sweet and dark chocolate?

This is a bit of a trick question. Technically, semi-sweet chocolate is a form of dark chocolate. Both typically consist of cocoa solids, sugar, an emulsifier and vanilla. There is no precise amount of sugar that categorises chocolate as semi-sweet. However, the name usually refers to chocolate that contains no more than 50% sugar.

The range of ‘sweetness’ in semi-sweet chocolate varies greatly from bar to bar. Alongside sugar percentages, the amount of cocoa solids in a chocolate bar can determine whether it is considered semi-sweet. Ultimately, the higher the cocoa content, the more bitter the flavour.

White chocolate contains no cocoa solids at all. It gets its delicate flavour from cocoa butter instead, making it the sweetest of all chocolate types. At the other end of the scale, dark chocolate tends to have the highest levels of cocoa. To be considered dark, chocolate must have at least 35% cocoa solids.

So, in answer to the question: what is semi-sweet chocolate? Semi-sweet bars are between 35 and 65% cocoa solids, meaning that they are indeed a kind of dark chocolate.

What is the difference between semi-sweet and bitter chocolate?

As you can see, semi-sweet is a subcategory of dark chocolate. But dark chocolate has two other subcategories, too — and it all depends on the cocoa percentage.

  • With a cocoa percentage of 35 to 65%, semi-sweet is actually the sweetest of the dark choc brigade.
  • Next up, we have bittersweet dark chocolate, which has a cocoa solid content ranging between 65 and 80%.
  • And, finally, any chocolate with a cocoa percentage above 80% can be considered bitter.

Bittersweet and bitter chocolate

Now, don’t be put off by the term ‘bitter’! Whilst chocolate with a high cocoa percentage isn’t as sweet as its lower-cocoa cousins, its nuanced flavours balance out that bitterness. Bitter chocolate can be a real delight for the taste buds.

To put all these numbers into context, every item in our dark chocolate collection contains at least 70% cocoa, making our 70% Dark Chocolate Batons ‘bittersweet’. This percentage lets the cocoa bean’s rich and satisfying notes shine through and highlights the flavour subtleties that come with different types of cocoa beans. At 70% cocoa solids, chocolate has a deep and indulgent cocoa flavour profile without being too intense.

We also highly value our ‘bitter’ collection. Our 90% Dark Chocolate Slab puts cocoa centre stage, but the result isn’t harsh at all. The cacao beans chosen for this slab have a mellow flavour, and the high level of cocoa butter means each bite melts decadently on the tongue. If you haven’t tried chocolate with such a high cocoa content before, you may be pleasantly surprised at its well-rounded flavour.

Feeling bold? Why not give our 100% Chocolate Batons a go? Pure cocoa bliss. More cocoa, less sugar is at the heart of our Cacao Manifesto and it applies to all our chocolates, not just the dark stuff. For us, cocoa should be the lead ingredient.

What's the difference between semi-sweet and bitter chocolate?

Could milk chocolate be semi-sweet?

You might be wondering where milk chocolate fits into the sliding scales of sugar and cocoa percentages. Well, to categorise a bar as milk chocolate, most laws state it must have at least 20% cocoa solids.

With its lower cocoa percentage and higher levels of dairy, milk chocolate has a sweeter flavour than dark chocolate and a wonderfully creamy texture. But if milk chocolate and semi-sweet chocolate sometimes both have a cocoa content of around 40% (the minimum for our milk chocolate collection), can milk chocolate also be semi-sweet? Ultimately, no — the addition of milk sets milk chocolate aside from semi-sweet chocolate, which contains no milk.

However, if you like the semi-sweet flavour of chocolate with a higher cocoa content but still want the decadently creamy texture milk chocolate brings, there might just be another type of bar that offers the best of both worlds.

Supermilk Chocolate, also known as dark milk chocolate, is a bit of a game-changer. Our supermilk recipe blends 65% cocoa with a splash of milk and less sugar than a typical dark chocolate bar. The result is semi-sweet chocolate that harnesses the creamy smoothness of milk chocolate for a melt-in-the-mouth bar that retains the cocoa bean’s deep and nuanced flavour profile.

Free-from options

If you’re dairy intolerant, you can still enjoy the creamy richness of ‘milk’ chocolate with our Free-from Batons for Milk Chocolate Lovers. With 45% cocoa solids, you get a real depth of flavour and, because we use rice flour to replace the milk, these batons create a luxuriously smooth finish. Produced in a dedicated allergen-free space, you can be sure there are no traces of dairy, gluten, nuts or wheat. These batons are vegan friendly, too!

How to use semi-sweet chocolate

Semi-sweet chocolate has a good balance of sweetness and bitterness, making it the perfect ingredient for baking. Many people find milk chocolate to be too sweet for cakes and bakes. On the other hand, the richness of darker chocolate can overwhelm other ingredients. As such, semi-sweet chocolate is a kitchen staple for many avid bakers.

One of our favourite baking recipes is the Dizzy Praline Cake. To make it, you can use dark chocolate with a higher cocoa percentage or use semi-sweet chocolate if you find 70% a little too intense.

As well as being a great option for baking chocolatey goods, semi-sweet chocolate also makes an excellent treat on its own. With so many variations, you’re sure to find a bar that appeals to your personal tastes. 

Semi-sweet chocolate is great for baking

How to store it

To keep your chocolate as fresh and delicious as possible, you should always store it in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight. This applies to semi-sweet chocolate, just as much as it does to milk or white chocolate.

Storing your chocolate in the fridge isn’t ideal. The moisture can cause your chocolate to develop fat or sugar bloom — a white, chalky finish often found on its surface. Although fat bloom is harmless and doesn’t mean your chocolate has gone off, it can make it less aesthetically pleasing.

Variety is the spice of life

We believe there’s a type of chocolate to suit each and every person. If you find white and milk chocolate a little on the sweet side but higher-percentage dark chocolate too rich, perhaps semi-sweet chocolate could be the one for you.

And if you’re not quite sure which is your favourite kind of chocolate, why not try a little of each? Our Everything H Box and Everything Sleekster offer some of our best-selling recipes to suit every mood.