Why your chocolate’s cacao content matters

23 Mar 2023

Chocolate Knowledge

Become more knowledgeable about how cacao content affects the taste of your chocolate

Have you ever wondered what makes sumptuous dark chocolate different from mellow milk chocolate? While lots of elements can impact how chocolate tastes, one major factor at play is its cacao content. Often when you buy a bar of chocolate the cacao percentage will be listed on the front, with dark chocolate often having a higher percentage of cacao solids. However, cacao can also come in the form of cacao butter which is a key ingredient in white chocolate.

But what does this mean for taste, texture, and aroma? Read on to discover why your chocolate’s cacao content matters.

Cacao beans and a chocolate bar

What do we mean by cacao content?

Cacao content often refers to the percentage of cacao solids in a bar of chocolate. Generally the higher the percentage, the darker the chocolate. A higher percentage of cacao solids also often means that the chocolate is of higher quality as there is less sugar, which can mask the rich and nuanced flavours. In the UK, regulations state that milk chocolate should contain at least 25% cacao solids in order to be sold to consumers. In the US, that number is only 10%.

To count as dark chocolate, a product needs to contain a much higher percentage of cacao solids. Most high-quality dark chocolate contains between 70% and 85% cacao. However, at Hotel Chocolat, we also adore blissful 90% Dark Chocolate and the deep, savoury profile of 100% Dark Chocolate.

What about white chocolate? Although white chocolate doesn’t contain cacao solids, it does contain cacao butter. This is the ingredient that gives it a creamy, aromatic flavour. The higher the percentage of cacao butter content in white chocolate, the smoother the texture. In the UK, white chocolate has to include a minimum of 25% cacao butter. At Hotel Chocolat, we work to the mantra of “More Cacao, Less Sugar,” so our white chocolate contains a minimum of 36% cacao butter.  Take a look at our article on what cacao percentages actually mean and read on to discover why our mantra is such a central part of the Hotel Chocolat ethos.

Cacao butter from the cacao pod

Cacao content: why pay attention to the percentage of your chocolate

The cacao content listed on your favourite chocolate bar or truffle pack can tell you more than you first think. Paying attention to that little number can help you choose the best chocolate for your taste. It can give you key information on the experience you’ll have as you bite into the chocolate. How?

It indicates the flavour notes

Many factors can affect the flavour of any chocolate product. The location the cacao beans are grown in can lead to varied notes — from bright and zesty to hints of juicy red fruits. However, cacao percentage will also give a good indication of the general depth of flavour and sweetness levels. A 70% Dark Chocolate Slab, for example, will have a richer, more bitter flavour than a 40% Milk Chocolate Slab which will be creamier and more mellow. It will also have a slightly sweeter profile — though, by including 40% cacao, it won’t be too sweet.

Our Supermilk chocolate provides a great midway point between dark and milk chocolate. With 65% cacao solids, it presents the rich flavour profile of dark chocolate coupled with the creaminess of milk chocolate.

White chocolate usually has a much sweeter flavour than milk or dark chocolate. You can usually expect hints of vanilla and notes of caramel. If your white chocolate lists a high percentage of cacao butter, you can usually expect a lower sugar content — and therefore, more nuanced flavours. Lower-quality white chocolate tends to substitute cacao butter with vegetable fats and more sugar, leading to a less satisfying texture and sickly sweetness.

It lets you know how much sugar is in your chocolate

Chocolate’s cacao percentage can also give you an idea of how much sugar is in the product. As most dark chocolate consists of four key ingredients — cacao solids, cacao butter, sugar, and a binding agent — it stands to reason that the higher the cacao content, the lower the sugar content. Milk chocolate follows the same rule, with the addition of milk.

While sugar plays an important role in balancing flavours and ensuring chocolate isn’t too bitter, it also masks the complexities that cacao brings. Sugar is cheap to buy, however, so many big chocolate producers use it to bulk out their chocolate in place of more cacao.

Higher-quality chocolate, on the other hand, usually tips the balance the other way and includes more cacao and less sugar. 

If you’re looking for a decadent treat with a low sugar content, you might like to consider our 100% Dark Chocolate range. This unsweetened chocolate variety really puts cacao in the spotlight. It has a deep, almost savoury flavour with elements of fruit. Because it includes a large quantity of cacao butter as well as cacao solids, it still offers a velvety-smooth melt-in-the-mouth texture. 100% chocolate is ideal for adding richness to savoury dishes as well as enjoying as a nibble on its own. We’re particularly fond of our 100% Dark Hot Chocolate. When prepared with dairy or plant-based milk using our revolutionary Velvetiser, it makes for a comforting and satisfying hot drink.

Chopped milk, dark and white chocolate

Find your perfect cacao percentage with Hotel Chocolat

No matter what your favourite kind of chocolate is — creamy white, mellow milk or nuanced dark — the Hotel Chocolat range has something for everyone. Our chocolate truffles, Slabs, Selectors, and Batons are available in an array of cacao percentages. From our sublime 36% Simple White Chocolate Truffles and signature 40% Milk Chocolate Batons to our 65% Supermilk Slab, our collection spans the creamy, mellow spectrum.

And then, of course, there’s our dark chocolate. With a classic 70% Dark Chocolate Slab for those dipping their toe in the dark side, 85% Hot Chocolate with a surprising creamy edge, and a decadent 90% Dark Chocolate Slab, you’re sure to find something to hit the cacao spot.

Browse our full collection of chocolate treats and gifts today.