All kinds of chocolate gets its wonderful flavor from the cocoa bean, but most chocolates are also mixed with other ingredients. As much as 90 percent of chocolate comes from ingredients that aren’t cocoa liquor! The difference between milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and semi-sweet chocolate comes from how much cocoa bean goes into the chocolate when you compare it to other ingredients.
Cocoa beans are naturally bitter, so mixing it with other ingredients usually makes it milder and sweeter than straight cocoa beans. That’s why milk chocolate’s so popular in chocolate bars.
Milk chocolate’s got the most ingredients of any real kind of chocolate. Milk gives it its name, in the form of milk powder, condensed milk, or even regular liquid milk! At least 12 percent of milk chocolate has to be made from milk.
Other common ingredients in milk chocolate are sugar and cocoa butter.
By law, milk chocolate has to have at least 10 percent cocoa liquor. If you’re in Europe, that jumps to 25 percent, unless you’re in Britain, when it’s only 20 percent. So as long as it’s between 10 and 25 percent and contains milk, it’s called milk chocolate somewhere.
The Hershey method of making milk chocolate’s really popular in Canada and the States, but how they do it is a trade secret. Hershey chocolate isn’t nearly as sweet as other kinds of milk chocolate. There’s even a distinct sour aftertaste!
Dark chocolate and semi-sweet chocolate
There’s a lot of overlap between dark chocolate and semi-sweet chocolate. It doesn’t help at all that there’s not a really precise definition for what is dark chocolate and what is semi-sweet chocolate. The amount of cocoa in these chocolates goes all the way from 18% to 99%! So you’ve really got to look at the package label closely before you buy.
The law doesn’t really distinguish between semi-sweet and dark chocolate at all. You’ve got to have at least 18 percent cocoa liquor to use either name in Canada. In Europe and the United States, it’s more like 35 percent minimum cocoa liquor to be called chocolate and not some kind of chocolate mix.
You’ll sometimes see bittersweet chocolate, or extra dark chocolate. They’re pretty much the same thing. In general, they’ll usually have more cocoa liquor than regular dark chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate.
Your basic taste rule of thumb is that higher percentages of cocoa beans taste more bitter. That’s why semi-sweet chocolates are used most often for cooking. They usually have higher amounts of cocoa liquor than what’s called dark chocolate, which is mostly used for eating straight.
But you can really use either one when you’re cooking. Just be careful with the amounts you use. You’ll need less chocolate when it’s got a higher percentage of cocoa liquor, and you’ll probably want to add more sugar.