Differences in chocolate

Burning questions


What's the difference between unsweetened chocolate and bittersweet chocolate?

To understand chocolate nomenclature, you need to understand a little bit about chocolate production. The cacao tree, native to Central America, bears large, football-like pods. These pods contain beans that are fermented, roasted and ground.

When finely ground, the beans turn into a paste called chocolate liquor, from which all other chocolate products derive. The fat in this paste is cocoa butter. When it is extracted, the powder that's left is cocoa. (This is the unsweetened cocoa powder you bake with.)

Unsweetened chocolate is simply unadulterated chocolate liquor, formed into a bar. Without sugar, chocolate is fairly unpalatable and so unsweetened chocolate is used principally as a baking ingredient.

To make eating chocolate out of unsweetened chocolate, additional cocoa butter and sugar are added. Dark chocolate is a broad term connoting eating chocolate that has no dairy mixed into it. Within this category are various types of chocolate defined by the amount, by weight, of chocolate liquor (i.e., unsweetened chocolate) they contain. The lower the percentage of chocolate liquor, the higher the percentage of sugar, and the sweeter the taste.

Sweet chocolate contains at least 15 percent chocolate liquor. According to the federal government, semisweet and bittersweet both contain at least 35 percent chocolate liquor, but in the marketplace, semisweet chocolates tend to be sweeter than bittersweet.

Erica Marcus writes for Newsday. E-mail your queries to burningquestions@newsday.com, or send them to Erica Marcus, Food/Part 2, Newsday, 235 Pinelawn Road, Melville, NY 11747-4250.

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