Peruse the chocolate bars in your favorite shop and you’re likely to see two predominant options — dark chocolate and milk chocolate. Chances are, you’ve tried both varieties, but do you know what makes them different from one another? Surprisingly, it’s about more than just the way they taste. The two chocolates are made with distinctive ingredients, so they present distinctive flavor profiles, textures and even health benefits.
Dark vs. Milk Chocolate at a Glance
To put it simply, the ingredients are what makes dark chocolate dark chocolate and milk chocolate milk chocolate. Dark chocolate contains a higher concentration of cacao (that’s the term for all of the ingredients derived from the cocoa bean). Typically, dark chocolate is between 55 and 90 percent cacao, whereas milk chocolate is between 10 and 50 percent cacao, but this all depends on the chocolate-maker.
Another big difference? Milk chocolate, as its name suggests, contains some form of milk. Dark chocolate typically does not contain milk, but that doesn’t mean it’s fat-free. Dark chocolate contains cocoa butter, a fat derived from the cocoa bean, which helps make it smooth and rich. Milk chocolate has more sugar than dark chocolate, which gives the chocolate a creamier, sweeter profile. Dark chocolate is slightly more bitter but deep and complex.
Ultimately, the difference between chocolate types comes down to ingredients and production. How is chocolate made? Visit our blog on the production process to learn more!
Dark Chocolate Properties and Ingredients
Thanks to its higher concentration of cacao, dark chocolates vary quite a bit more than milk chocolates when it comes to flavor. Just as the variety of grape has a massive impact on the flavor profile of wine, the variety of the cocoa bean has a massive impact on the taste of the chocolate. This means that tasting dark chocolate is a bit like tasting fine wines — nuances galore! Here’s some more information about dark chocolate to help you see (and taste) the differences.
Simply put, there’s a lot more cacao in dark chocolate than there is in milk chocolate. Although there’s no legal minimum for labeling chocolate as “dark,” chocolatiers usually classify it as such if it has at least 55 percent cacao. With that said, if you prefer a darker flavor profile and want more cocoa in your chocolate, we’d recommend aiming for 70 percent or above cacao. Because of its higher concentration of cacao and its more complex flavoring, dark chocolate is more expensive than milk chocolate, making it the choice among many gourmet chocolatiers and enthusiasts.
As previously mentioned, the flavor of dark chocolate varies widely and depends on the bean, its origins and how it’s made. Dark chocolate tends to have a purer chocolate flavor that more closely represents the flavor of the cacao bean, making it a tasty treat for those who love to nibble and taste different varieties from different regions. Compared with milk chocolate, dark chocolate is more bitter and complex in flavor. You may detect nutty, fruity, floral, earthy, citrusy or even tannin notes when you’re tasting different kinds of dark chocolate.
Added ingredients, such as milk or oil, are the biggest contributor to a chocolate bar’s texture. Milk chocolate contains milk in some form, which gives it its rich, smooth texture. Dark chocolate is typically less creamy and melty than milk chocolate, but that doesn’t mean it’s dry or rough. In fact, many chocolatiers add coconut oil and additional cocoa butter to give their dark chocolate a velvety smooth consistency which melts quicker in your mouth. See: Holy Fudge, which has an outer shell of 75 percent dark chocolate with an inside that is slightly softer and contains coconut oil for an overall dense and fudgy consistency!
Because it’s slightly more bitter and complex, dark chocolate is often paired with sweeter add-ins and accompaniments to create a more balanced flavor profile. For example, you often see dark chocolate mixed with fruit or nibbled alongside a glass of sweet wine. Salty additions such as sea salt and nuts can help draw out the nuances of the cocoa bean’s flavors, making them a popular addition to many mouthwatering dark chocolate bar recipes.
Health benefits? Chocolate? Yep, you read that right! The cacao plant is packed with compounds that may be good for our health. Naturally, because there’s more of the cacao plant in dark chocolate, you’ll get more of them with this variety when compared with milk chocolate. Cacao contains a naturally occurring compound called theobromine as well as antioxidants, which may support heart health, reduce inflammation and even boost cognitive function! Plus, many dark chocolates, including TCHO, are entirely plant-based, so they suit your vegan diet.
Milk Chocolate Properties and Ingredients
By now you know that milk chocolates contain less cacao than dark chocolates, but what does this mean in practice? In short, it means that there’s more room for other ingredients, including milk, which can drastically alter the chocolate’s flavor and texture. You also know that standard milk chocolate contains milk, which means that it’s often not vegan. That’s not the case with TCHO’s oat milk chocolate, however, since we use oat milk to achieve that creamy, dreamy texture you love, minus the dairy. Here are a few more ways milk chocolate differs from dark.
Typically, milk chocolate contains between 10 and 50 percent cacao, although you’ll find some outliers that work in higher concentrations to create a more premium milk chocolate experience. Lower cacao chocolate is a bit less dynamic in flavor than higher cacao chocolate and embodies less of the true chocolate flavor. Because it contains less of the ingredients sourced from the cacao plant, it’s often cheaper than dark chocolate.
One of the biggest differentiators between milk and dark chocolate, of course, is the fact that one contains milk and one does not. In order to be labeled “milk chocolate,” a product must contain no less than 12 percent milk solids. This milk is incorporated in the form of liquid, powder or fat, depending on the chocolate recipe. Even though TCHO crafts bars that honor the flavor and texture of classic milk chocolate — see: Choco Latte and Toffee Time — they are not technically “milk chocolate” since they contain oat milk rather than dairy milk. They’re an awesome vegan milk chocolate alternative for those looking for that comforting milk chocolate flavor in a plant-based package.
In addition to milk and a lower percentage of cacao, milk chocolate differs from dark chocolate in that it typically contains more sugar. This means it brings a sweeter, smoother and less complex flavor profile to the table. It also means that milk chocolate is a bit more uniform in taste — you likely know exactly what to expect when you bite into a bar of milk chocolate. But that doesn’t mean that flavors don’t vary with milk chocolate. After all, milk chocolate still contains cacao, so its full flavor profile will differ depending on the variety of the bean and where it was grown.
Typically, milk chocolate has a creamier, softer texture than dark chocolate. That’s all thanks to the fact that it contains condensed or powdered milk, which acts as an emulsifier and helps smooth out the chocolate and reduce clumps. Milk chocolate may also contain additional fats, which makes it richer, creamier and more calorie-dense than dark chocolate.
Since milk chocolate tends to err on the smooth and sweet side, it complements many unique flavors. That’s why you see it alongside classic mix-ins like fruit, nuts, sea salt, caramel, coffee and toffee as well as more unusual accompaniments like bacon and pickles. Its smoothness also makes it a great base for crunchy and creamy additions, such as salted almonds, crisped rice, caramel, hazelnut butter, toffee and more.
Although it’s undeniably delicious, milk chocolate does not contain the same high concentration of healthy compounds as dark chocolate. That’s because those compounds are derived from cacao, which is found in lesser quantities in milk chocolate. On top of that, milk chocolate contains more sugar and fat, two ingredients that are linked to health problems like diabetes and obesity. That doesn’t mean milk chocolate contains zero healthy compounds, however. It still has antioxidants and micronutrients that can contribute to good health. Everything in moderation, of course!
What About White Chocolate?
Now that we know the inside scoop on dark and milk chocolate, you may be wondering: what about white chocolate? We’ve heard of people claiming white chocolate isn’t “real” chocolate. While there may be a kernel of truth to that claim, we accept all chocolate varieties here at TCHO! With that said, white chocolate is absent of some of the things that make chocolate, well, chocolate. Think of it as the least chocolatey chocolate out there!
In reality, white chocolate doesn’t contain any solids from the cacao plant, which means it has much less of a pure chocolate flavor and makeup. But that doesn’t mean it’s entirely cocoa-free. White chocolate is made with cocoa butter — the fat of the cacao plant — as well as sugar, milk and sometimes another flavoring such as vanilla. If you’re in it for the complex cocoa flavoring, antioxidants and healthy compounds, white chocolate probably isn’t the best choice. If you’re in it for a velvety sweet and indulgent treat, go for it!
Which Chocolate Is Best?
With all of this in mind, which chocolate is objectively superior? There’s no simple answer to this question. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, flavor is on the tongue of the taster. In other words, like any food, it all comes down to your personal preferences and what kinds of flavors you like and don’t like.
If your goal is to taste the complexities and nuances of the cocoa bean and its many varieties, you’ll probably appreciate a darker chocolate with a higher cacao content. If you’re on the hunt for ultra-sweet with a velvety mouthfeel, dial down the cacao content and opt for a milk chocolate. There’s no one chocolate type that’s universally superior!
A Taste Test Is in Order
In our opinion, the best way to determine which chocolate is best for you is to host a true-blue taste test and try out varieties all along the cocoa content spectrum. Grab a chocolate variety pack from our store to sample varieties ranging from our lightest to our darkest. The best part about TCHO is that every single bar is entirely plant-based, even our oat milk chocolate, so there’s no reason not to give every bar a try. Figuring out your personal preferences is the best way to ensure that you find your perfect bar.