The Rise of 100% Dark Chocolate: What it is & why you should give it a try

Together with the popularity of sugar-free diets and health-conscious choices came the success of 100% dark chocolate. The lack of sugar and the count of one single ingredient (cacao) brought this once intimidating choice from the dark corners of the shelves to the shining front seats.

The boom of 100% dark chocolate happened probably around 2016, when diets like keto and paleo were reaching the peak of their success. At the same time, documentaries on the health risks correlated to an excessive consumption of sugar started to circulate, as well as alarming statistics on the rise of diabetes, heart-diseases, and obesity cases around the world.

processed sugar

Health Benefits

Despite its praised health benefits, 100% dark chocolate didn’t exactly start its successful career as a food pleasant to eat. With its intense taste of cacao (sometimes too bitter to handle without the sugar), its consumption was considered more like a self-imposed punishment than a treat for the palate. The dreadful experience of eating the highest possible cacao percentage was endured solely to avoid sugar. No delight was ever involved.

But what started out as a tool to keep sugar at bay, quickly turned into something that could be savoured and enjoyed by more than just masochists, health freaks or pure chocolate snobs. Chocolate makers soon realized that many consumers did not enjoy the dry texture and the bold flavours of a 100% dark chocolate, yet they wanted to keep chocolate in their sugar-free lifestyle. Throughout the years, professionals have found ways to work with textures and flavours to satisfy this demand, lower the frustration and make 100% dark chocolate more enjoyable.

chef choclate maker Spain

No Added Sugar

100% dark chocolate does not contain any added sugar. Every ingredient comes from the cacao beans. The percentage is divided between cacao solids (the “brown” part that contains health properties and the recognizable chocolatey flavour) and cacao butter (the “white” part which is the fatty component of the chocolate). The ratio in a bar is approximately 50/50 but will vary depending on the cacao variety.

By tweaking the ratio between cacao solids and cacao butter, chocolate makers manage to give a smoother texture even to a 100% dark chocolate. When they add extra cocoa butter, the chocolate becomes smooth and creamy, melting fast in the mouth, and immediately coating the palate. This way, the experience is already far from a punishment. But there is also another strategy used by chocolate professionals to make 100% dark chocolate even more fun!

melted dark chocolate

Giving 100% Chocolate a Twist

When you bite into a 100% dark chocolate, you probably do not anticipate much excitement. To give it a “twist”, chocolate makers are adding cocoa nibs in their bars for un unexpected crunchy texture. Cocoa nibs are simply pieces of roasted cacao beans (without any added sugar). They respect the 100% cacao definition and add a fun texture while bringing even more flavour to the mix. The nibs are usually sprinkled on top of the bar, and when you bite into them, they release their own intense flavour of cacao. 

Speaking of flavour, chocolate makers can work on the best possible texture for their 100% dark chocolate creations, but the aromatic component is probably the most important part.

A 100% dark chocolate can have a lovely and entertaining texture, but if it releases unpleasant flavours that are bitter, acidic, or too harsh overall, it will be rejected by most chocolate lovers. The secret is to choose fine cacao that brings to the table enchanting tasting notes, from fruity to nutty, but also spicy, earthy, or floral. With such lovely flavours, even the most sceptical consumer is entertained and can almost forget that the chocolate does not contain any sugar. 

Especially craft chocolate makers carefully select the finest cacao on the market and work hard on the bean-to-bar process to bring out the best flavours in a chocolate bar. If on one side sugar can enhance and highlight the flavours in a chocolate bar, it is also true that, without the intrusion of sugar, one can have a more “pure” and “authentic” experience of what that specific cacao truly tastes like.

cacao pods harvested

The secret to enjoying a 100% dark chocolate is finding the right one that fits your taste and preference. Here are some tips:

  • Give many brands a try. Don’t stop at one chocolate bar that you didn’t like. Read reviews online, ask your chocoholic friends for suggestions and do your own research. The more products and brands you try, the sooner you will find your perfect match.
  • Use price as an indicator. If bad cacao can be maliciously marked up as expensive, good cacao can never be too cheap. When choosing a 100% dark chocolate, keep in mind that the cheapest options won’t probably give you much satisfaction. Try to raise your budget and see what you can find.
  • Discover different cacao origins. Cacao grown in different countries, regions and areas delivers different flavours. You might enjoy the exotic fruity notes of a Piura from Peru, or go crazy for the spicy flavour from the Anamalai area in India, or even find yourself appreciating the intense smokiness of cacao from Papua New Guinea. To find out what flavours you like best, gift yourself a tour of the world through chocolate.

It is also worth noticing that 100% dark chocolate is the healthiest option among all the sugar-free chocolates on the market. To make their products palatable without sugar, many big chocolate manufacturers use alternatives with lower calories but higher sweetening power. Sorbitol, maltitol, inulin and xylitol are just a few of the ingredients found in mass-produced sugar-free chocolate. They are cheap, produced in laboratories and easy to source in big quantities. Unfortunately, these substances come with contraindications for the human body, like abdominal pain and nausea.

If you’re curious and want to try some 100% chocolate, here’s some of the most popular 100% dark chocolate bars I see staying popular and have appreciated throughout the years:

These bars have both pleasant textures and lots of flavours that just make you forget you are eating sugar-free chocolate, and you might even want more than two bites!

No need to be afraid or intimidate by 100% dark chocolate then. A rich plethora of enchanting flavours and fun textures are waiting for you!

Sharon is a Chocolate Blogger that reports the latest news and trends in the chocolate industry from around the world. Read more of her work on: thechocolatejournalist.com.

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