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What is Unsweetened Chocolate?

By Mandi R. Hall
Updated May 16, 2024
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Unsweetened chocolate goes by many names, including baking chocolate, cooking chocolate and bitter chocolate. It's made from a pure mixture of only two ingredients: cacao beans and cocoa butter, referred to as the fat. This type of chocolate has a deeply intense taste. Most people wouldn’t eat unsweetened chocolate in its basic form, as it is essentially hardened chocolate liquor yet to be enhanced with sugar. It is the base for many confectionery recipes, and even non-dessert foodstuffs, due to its bitter flavor.

The Federal and Drug Administration (FDA) has strict standards regarding how chocolate producers name and list ingredients on chocolate packages. According to the FDA, products deemed to be unsweetened chocolate must contain at least 50 percent cocoa butter with the remaining ingredients made up of only cocoa solids from the finely ground cocoa nibs — the dry-roasted pieces of the bean. Although the FDA allows different fat-to-cacao ratios, it is usually sold with approximately 55 percent fat and 45 percent solids. Because sugar is not added, any form of such sweetener should not be found on the ingredient label.

Though unsweetened chocolate is fundamentally chocolate in its purest form, its taste varies widely. The location of each company's cacao bean distributor is what truly influences the flavor, though. While beans come from a variety of distributors in a plethora of regions — including the Ivory Coast, Malaysia, West Africa, Brazil and Indonesia, for example — each geographic area’s cacao trees produce a bean that tastes different from the rest. One bean might have hints of coffee while another has hints of citrus.

Unsweetened chocolate is often mistaken for bittersweet or dark chocolate. Bittersweet chocolate, however, is formed when sugar — and occasionally vanilla and extra fat — is added to an unsweetened selection. Chefs and amateur cooks may purchase the unsweetened forms for restaurants or home in order to make a dish as sweet as they like it.

Unsweetened sorts of chocolate may be made sweeter with the addition of white or brown sugar, honey, or artificial sweeteners. Usually sold in rectangular or square bar form, this chocolate liquor may also be found in chip, chunk, powder, or liquid varieties. The majority of big-name confectionery manufacturers carry at least one form of unsweetened chocolate.

Residents of European countries such as France and Germany are known to consume unadulterated unsweetened chocolate, despite its bitter tastes. With the 21st century boom of foodies in North America, however, Americans have also begun to eat and enjoy more natural foods as opposed to foods with sugary additives. New York City is one of the many hotspots where more and more people are starting to consume unsweetened chocolate on its own, particularly if it’s one of the more velvety varieties.

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Discussion Comments

By luayin — On Feb 07, 2014

Unsweetened chocolate is also called cocoa paste, cocoa liquor, or cocoa mass (also cacao paste, cacao liquor, cacao mass). It is the main ingredient for chocolate.

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