What’s in a number? The science and reason behind chocolate percentages

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 22nd July 2015
60%. 70%. 80%. Up to and over 90%, if you’re a purist. Maybe even 100% if you’re a particularly brave soul. But it may not be the percentage of your chocolate that’s the most important thing after all. What about the beans themselves? Where did they come from, how were they grown? The Staff Canteen spoke to two Callebaut chocolate ambassadors to find out more. Julie Sharp low res“Cocoa percentage tells you how much cocoa mass a particular bar of chocolate has in it,” says Julie Sharp, development chef at world-renowned chocolatiers Barry Callebaut. “Cocoa mass comes when you’ve roasted your beans, and then you’ve processed them, the raw chocolate mass that comes out of that is your cocoa mass. So a 70% chocolate bar is 70% cocoa mass and 30% sugar.”

>>> Read our interview with Julie Sharp and watch the video here

That’s only part of the story though. Cacao percentage refers to not only the cocoa content of a bar of chocolate but also the cocoa butter percentage. Both of these are present in chocolate liquor- the substance that comes from finely ground cacao nibs and, if left unsweetened by sugar, forms the entirety of a 100% ‘unsweetened’ chocolate bar. Cocoa butter contains much less of the flavonols (chemicals that act as antioxidants and provide the flavor of the chocolate) that cocoa powder has, and doesn’t give chocolate the same rich taste. But it’s just as highly-present, if not more so, than cocoa, depending on the bar. If companies choose not to add any extra cocoa butter to the bar, it means that the split between cocoa and cocoa butter would be roughly equal (for example, 35% of each in a 70% bar of dark chocolate, with the other 30% comprising of sugar).

>>> Read: Callebaut reveals people want more chocolate included in afternoon tea

Chocolate , raspberry and lychee parfait low res Different chefs favour using different percentages in their works. Julie Sharp recommends using around 50-60% chocolate for making things like ice-cream, for example. But it very much depends on what’s being made. “On our (Callebaut’s) Origins range, we go anywhere from 60, 65 right up to 76 percent, so it really does just depend on what people are doing and what the optimum will be for that particular chocolate.” And it can be a divisive subject, as Ruth Hinks of Cocoa Black tells us. “A chef said to me once that 70% chocolate is the best and I totally disagreed with him because every chocolate’s got its own purpose. My favourite chocolate’s only a 65%, I don’t think you can go around saying that only 70% is the best because there are so many other chocolates with richer flavours.” Regardless of what percentage your chocolate is, though, it’s nothing if it isn’t prepared correctly. As Ruth Hinks notes: “Higher-percentage chocolate is harder to work with in that it will over-temper quicker, and it’ll also be a lot thicker in your mousses. You really have to understand the tempering process to look out for the signs it’s over-tempered, because otherwise it doesn’t look very nice, it blooms and goes funny.” Ruth Hinks - Chocolate Globe - World Chocolate Masters low resAnd basing your love for chocolate purely on the percentage of a bar might mean you miss out on some of the other important qualities it possesses. “If I were to blindfold someone and give them some of Callebaut’s chocolates, we have a 65% bar that some would say was a 70% or an 80% because of its intensity but when you eat it it’s got less cocoa butter in there so it coats your mouth more and it feels more intense,” says Julie Sharp. “We prefer to talk more about the flavours you’d like to get rather than its percentage. It’s much more than that, it’s the fluidity as well and it also depends what you’re using it for, as some applications require less cocoa butter and a strong flavour. People who only judge a bar by its percentage are missing out on a lot.” In the end, it’s all a matter of taste.
The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 22nd July 2015

What’s in a number? The science and reason behind chocolate percentages