How Sweet It Is: A Chocolate Primer

How Sweet It Is: A Chocolate Primer
-Maggie Cramer

"There are four basic food groups: milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate, and chocolate truffles." - Anonymous

Whoever said it, well, they’re one smart (chocolate) cookie. But reading the sweet-toothed sage’s wise words made me realize I wasn’t knowledgeable about the differences between three of the “groups.” So I studied up, and here’s what I learned:

The composition and nomenclature of chocolate is serious stuff. Federally set requirements, called the Standards of Identity, dictate what each type must contain to bear its name.

Milk chocolate must contain at least 10% cocoa liquor. (Cocoa liquor, or chocolate liquor, is made from roasted and ground cocoa beans—specifically nibs, roasted beans that have been separated from their husks.) It must also contain a minimum of 3.39% milk fat and 12% milk solids.

White chocolate, not surprisingly, also contains milk—regulations state at least 3.5% milk fat and 14% milk solids. It’s also required to contain at least 20% cocoa butter. (Cocoa butter is a fat extracted from the cocoa bean that contributes to chocolate’s flavor and pleasant mouthfeel.) Interestingly, there haven’t always been legal standards around white chocolate; the FDA established a standard in 2002, which became effective in 2004.

As you might be able to discern, dark chocolate contains little or no milk. As a term, it’s also not regulated by the US Standards of Identity. That’s because it’s used to refer to two separate categories, which are standardized: bittersweet and sweet chocolate. Bittersweet must contain at least 35% cocoa liquor, but may contain up to 99% (100% chocolate liquor is classified as unsweetened chocolate). Sweet chocolate must contain a minimum of 15% cocoa liquor.

Don’t worry, Asheville’s best bakers, chocolatiers, and pâtissiers won’t quiz you as you’re enjoying their creations at SWEET—a decadent night of desserts and drinks just before the Grand Tasting, August 22 from 8 to 10 pm. Although, you might want to remember a few of these facts for the evening so you can impress during confection conversation!

Tickets for SWEET are $45 and are on sale now. The event will be held at the Grove Arcade in downtown Asheville. Along with chocolates, cakes, tarts, and pastries, alcohol will be served; there will also be live music, and the shops of the Grove Arcade will be open for browsing and buying.

-Maggie Cramer is an Asheville-based writer, editor, and communications specialist. She can be reached at