What is unsweetened chocolate?

8 Jul 2021

Chocolate Knowledge

Unsweetened chocolate is chocolate in its purest form. Take a bite and experience the depth of its rich cocoa notes.

To some, unsweetened chocolate will seem nonsensical! You might even be thinking… Isn’t it the same as cocoa powder? Well, the answer is — no. Unsweetened chocolate is a solid chocolate made from two ingredients — cocoa mass and cocoa butter. Of course, being unsweetened, you won’t find any sugar in this stuff.

In this article, we’ll be exploring the wonders of this unsweetened confectionery and how you can use it in your cooking and baking.

Is unsweetened chocolate the same as cocoa powder?

How to spot unsweetened chocolate

Any chocolate labelled as unsweetened shouldn’t contain any sugar whatsoever. But always check the ingredients list if you’re set on getting a completely sugar-free bar. You’ll also see that the chocolate only contains cocoa solids and cocoa butter. It doesn’t contain any of the milk solids, vanilla and extra ingredients commonly found in white, milk and dark chocolates.

Smoother chocolates will contain more cocoa butter, but unsweetened varieties generally have a cocoa butter content of 51-55%. So look out for this percentage, too.

You might find it difficult to get unsweetened chocolate in your local supermarket, as it’s not the most popular choice for eating. The less sugar chocolate contains, the more bitter it will be. So, it’s no surprise that a nation of sweet tooths tend to choose the cravings-satisfying sugary stuff.

You will be able to buy unsweetened treats from chocolatiers, but the cocoa origin and flavour will vary from brand to brand. For instance, our 100% Dark Hot Chocolate uses Saint Lucian beans with a sublime oaky aroma.

How to spot unsweetened chocolate

Is it the same as baking chocolate?

As unsweetened chocolate is just cocoa solids, you might see it labelled as 100% dark baking chocolate or 100% dark chocolate, like our 100% Dark Chocolate Batons. In essence, they are all the same product. They’ve just been created with different purposes in mind (and different beans according to the brand or chocolatier). We actually encourage people to use our 100% Dark Hot Chocolate for a wide variety of purposes. We love the flavour it brings to both sweet and savoury dishes. Whether you’re making desserts, dressings or even chilli, the deep cocoa and malty notes add a mellow yet powerful taste.

Be aware that not all baking chocolate is 100% unsweetened chocolate. In fact, most of the stuff you’ll find in the supermarket won’t be. You can get milk and dark cooking chocolate in a range of cocoa percentages, so don’t assume you’re getting the pure stuff! If the cocoa percentage isn’t clear on the front of the wrapper, you’ll be able to find it in the ingredients list on the back.

Some people use the terms ‘baking chocolate’ and ‘unsweetened chocolate’ interchangeably, but they can be very different. We’ve grouped some of our favourite chocolates for cooking together, just to make things a little easier.

How to use unsweetened chocolate

Unsweetened chocolate is often used in baking because you only need a small amount of it to achieve a rich cocoa taste. Plus, it can come in handy for cakes and bakes that already require lots of sugar as an ingredient. Opting for unsweetened is a handy way to ensure you’re not adding more sugar than necessary.

Many brownie and cookie recipes already call for dark chocolate. However, an unsweetened bar can add extra depth that’s often lacking in sweet treats.

Ultimately, using unsweetened chocolate gives you control over the taste of desserts or baked goods. It gives you the opportunity to balance the bitter edge by slowly adding sugar to taste. If your recipe calls for dark chocolate but you fancy having this control, you can simply substitute it for unsweetened and add sugar as described above.

This being said, you should be aware that using unsweetened chocolate chips might not give you the taste you expect! The bitter flavour will remain in larger chunks rather than diffusing throughout the cake. Of course, if you absolutely love the rich, bitter notes of pure chocolate, go for it! Why not try using our 100% Dark Chocolate Buttons?

Melted unsweetened chocolate

Are there any substitutes?

If you can’t find any unsweetened chocolate, your next best bet will be chocolate with a high cocoa content. Look out for high-quality dark chocolate labelled between 80% and 100%. The higher the percentage, the closer the taste to unsweetened chocolate.

Our single-origin Dark 85% Hot Chocolate can be used in cooking and is made from a gentle Ghanian cacao. You might even prefer its creamy finish to that of pure unsweetened cocoa. If your recipe requires melted chocolate, our 90% Dark Chocolate Slab is ideal for chopping and melting. Likewise, our 85% Dark Chocolate Batons are great for melting down and stirring through brownie mixes.

If you don’t have any unsweetened chocolate, people might suggest that you simply use cocoa powder instead. Be wary of doing this — cocoa powder doesn’t contain cocoa butter. It’s low in fat, so won’t behave in the same way as high-fat unsweetened chocolate will in your cooking.

At Hotel Chocolat, our motto is ‘less sugar, more cocoa’, so we have loads of low sugar options you can use as baking chocolate substitutes.

For more inspiration on cooking with chocolate, see our A New Way of Cooking with Chocolate recipe book — it’s packed full of our most coveted recipes! You can also find lots more on our website, like our Chocolate Hazelnut Spread and our Hazelnut and Pecan Brownies recipes.