What Cocoa Percentage Tells You (and Doesn't Tell You) About Chocolate

Cocoa Percentage offers you some interesting information about a chocolate, but not the full story….

What Cocoa Percentage Tells You

The percentage that shows up on many chocolate labels is the total percentage (by weight) of cocoa beans (or ingredients derived from cocoa beans) in a chocolate. This cacao percentage can refer to both cocoa solids (the flavorful brown stuff) as well as cocoa butter, without indicating the proportion of either. For example, two 70% chocolate bars could have dramatically different proportions of cocoa solids to cocoa butter, and thus taste completely different.   

The cocoa percentage is still good information to know!  The higher the cocoa percentage, the less amount of other ingredients (such as sugar, milk or inclusions) are in your chocolate bar.  Cocoa percentage is one of the many pieces of information (along with viscosity, fat %, particle size, and more) chefs consider when crafting recipes with chocolate.  

Now let’s explore what cocoa percentage does not tell us about a chocolate bar. It can’t tell us about the quality of said chocolate. To understand this, consider the world of bourbon:  Is a 101 proof bourbon inherently “better” than an 80 proof one? Certainly not. It just contains more alcohol. In the same way, a higher cocoa percentage means that a chocolate bar contains more cocoa—but not all cocoa beans are created equal.  A higher percentage does not ensure a higher-quality eating experience.

The Biggest  Limitations of Percentage as a Chocolate Evaluator

While cocoa percentage can give you some hints as to the chocolate’s flavor, it’s hardly the end of the story.  In fact, two chocolates with the exact same cocoa percentage might have wildly different flavors. This is due to a number of factors:

  • Cocoa percentage tells you nothing about the ratio of cocoa butter to cocoa solids. The higher the cocoa solid content, the stronger the chocolate flavor—but you won’t know that from the percentage.
  • Cocoa percentage tells you nothing about the quality of the beans used to produce the chocolate or the methods by which the beans were grown, harvested, and manufactured into chocolate. All of these factors play a role in chocolate’s overall quality.
  • Cocoa percentage tells you nothing about the origins of the chocolate. Different regions are known for distinct flavors of cacao featuring varying levels of sweetness and acidity. Cocoa percentage doesn’t take these divergent flavor profiles into account.
  • Cocoa percentage doesn’t tell you anything about the other ingredients in the chocolate. While much of the quality of a given chocolate bar hinges on the quality of the cocoa beans, the other ingredients added to the mix (such as vanilla extract, sugar, or milk) will also play a role in the overall quality and flavor of the chocolate.

Any chance of learning what your Chocolate tastes like before taking a bite?

At TCHO we are big fans of the TCHO Flavor Wheel. TCHO’s flavor wheel is all about celebrating the diversity of flavors found in cocoa beans. For example, our “Nutty” chocolate, made from beans from coastal Ecuador, has predominant flavor notes of toasty nuts. By contrast, our “Fruity” chocolate, made from cocoa grown in Amazonian Peru, naturally tends to have big fruit notes. We don’t add nuts to our “Nutty” or fruit in our “Fruity” but rather we fine tune their inherent flavors in various parts of the chocolate making process – varietal selection, fermentation, drying, roasting, conching, etc. – so that our chocolates specifically express the flavors in our Flavor Wheel. For our chocolates with ingredients - we put a tasty description on the packaging doing our best to describe the flavor journey in each bar.