Chocolate 101


I considered writing my own explanation about chocolate, but I happened upon a really great company called Chocoley.
They have a the best explanation I have seen regarding demystifying chocolate for baking and covering vs. regular chocolate we buy for eating like Hershey’s candy bars or Hershey’s Kisses!

Also my friend Wendy over at Cinnamon Sweet Shoppe shows us the difference in this video here!

Chocolate 101
Chocolate is divided into two distinct categories:
real chocolate and compound chocolate.

Both real chocolate and compound chocolate are chocolate – the difference is the type of lipid (fat) or oil used in the production of the product.

Real chocolate contains cocoa butter, which is extracted from the cocoa or cacao bean. Cocoa butter is an expensive ingredient which has some unusual characteristics or quirks. Because of the nature of cocoa butter, real chocolate requires going through a special procedure during the melting process called tempering, which re-establishes the cocoa butter crystals, giving the cooled and finished chocolate the proper sheen, snap and taste. Additionally, and of vital importance, tempering prevents bloom, where the cocoa butter separates from the cocoa solids and comes to the surface, turning the chocolate whitish or grayish in color. If you are making candy or dipping items that won’t be consumed within a day or so, tempering is absolutely mandatory for all real chocolate.

  • Real chocolate is subdivided into three categories based on the quality of the product (quality of the cocoa beans) and most importantly, the cocoa butter content: regular chocolate, couverture chocolate, and ultra couverture chocolate.
  • Regular Chocolate – typically in chocolate chip form, regular chocolate is sweetened with sugar, is generally made from moderate quality cocoa beans, and has a very low cocoa butter content and a high viscosity (thickness when in a melted state). Generally used in baking (i.e. chocolate chip cookies), regular chocolate holds its shape and is not the best choice when molding, dipping or enrobing.  Another form of regular chocolate is unsweetened blocks or bars of baking chocolate (also called plain chocolate), which generally has a relatively low cocoa butter content and doesn’t require tempering when used in normal baking applications.
  • Couverture Chocolate – the term couverture translates to “covering” and refers to the finest professional quality chocolate. It is produced with a high percentage of cocoa butter and uses premium cacao beans. It melts smoothly, making it ideal for specialty candy making and molding. When tempered and cooled, it forms an elegant glossy finish.
  • Ultra Couverture Chocolate – is equal in quality to couverture chocolate, but with an even higher cocoa butter content. Due to the higher cocoa butter content and very low viscosity, it is the perfect chocolate for dipping and enrobing. Few manufacturers are able to successfully produce this type of chocolate because of the difficulty in balancing the higher cocoa butter content while retaining superb taste and texture. When tempered and cooled, it forms a thin and elegant glossy shell.
  • Compound Chocolate – contains vegetable oil instead of cocoa butter and tempering is not required. Home hobbyists and professionals alike have utilized compound chocolate due to its ease of use and lower price.

You MUST temper the couverture ONLY if you are using it for dipping and enrobing truffles, making chocolate decorations or when you need an attractive, shiny coating for candies that will sit at room temperature, NOT if you are using it in a recipe.

I will add this though, as a sort of Summary:
When you see “% cacao” printed on a label, it refers to the total percentage of ingredients by weight that come from the chocolate liquor and the cocoa butter.
For example Unsweetened Bitter Chocolate has about 50% chocolate liquor and 50% cocoa butter. Nothing else! No sugar added or anything else. (note:the percentages vary from brand to brand)
But for the other chocolates like Semi Sweet Chocolate or when I say things like be sure to use “good baking chocolate” (couverture) the lower the percentage, the lower the amount of chocolate liquor and cocoa butter present.

US standards require that Semi Sweet chocolates be minimum of 35% chocolate liquor.

In general, a higher “% cacao” lends a more intense chocolate flavor.
A higher “% cacao” means less added sugar



  • Unsweetened Baking Chocolate or BITTER BAKING CHOCOLATE
    Unsweetened baking chocolate is 100 percent cacao with no added sugar, and it is very bitter.
  • Bittersweet Chocolate
    Chocolate in this category contains at least 35% chocolate liquor. The higher the percentage, the darker and more bitter the chocolate.
  • Semi-Sweet Chocolate
    This general category usually contains 15% to 35% chocolate liquor. The US requires that all Semi Sweet Labeled chocolates have a minimum of 35%
  • Milk Chocolate
    Milk and/or milk solids replace some of the chocolate liquor, generally less than 15%, making for chocolate that is smooth, creamy, sweet and mild.
  • White Chocolate
    White chocolate contains no chocolate liquor and therefore isn’t really chocolate at all.
    It is simply a blend of cocoa butter, milk solids, sugar and vanilla which resembles chocolate and works like all other chocolates in recipes. I suppose since it utilizes the precious cocoa butter which is derived from the cacao bean, it is considered chocolate, but it just is NOT. Poor white chocolate, tries so hard!!

Cacao pods are harvested by hand from the trees when they are about six months old. The beans (or seeds) and pulp are fermented, this enhances the deep natural flavors of the cacao bean and it will also soften the naturally occurring bitterness. The beans are then dried and roasted.

Cacao nibs are separated and finely ground to make chocolate liquor, which contrary to its name is actually a thick, non-alcoholic liquid of cocoa butter and cocoa solids.
Sugar, vanilla and additional cocoa butter are added to the liquor during a process called conching.

See a Conche Machine HERE and from there all the wonderful types of chocolate are produced.
To make cocoa powder, the cocoa solids are removed from chocolate liquor, pressed into a cake, then pulverized into a powder.
Dutch-process cocoa is treated with alkali to neutralize the acidity.

Courtesy of Whole Foods Market Website~ A lovely guide for

How to Melt Chocolate

Ever wonder why chocolate “melts in your mouth?” The melting point of cocoa butter is just below 98.6°F, the body’s average temperature.

In order to melt chocolate properly, outside of your mouth that is, use gentle heat (115°F or less) to avoid scorching it. Here are two simples way to get the job done:

  • Double Boiler Method: Put chopped chocolate into a double boiler or heatproof mixing bowl set over a pot of gently simmering water and stir gently until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. (Make sure the bowl doesn’t touch the boiling water or the chocolate may burn.)
  • Microwave Method: Heat chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl at half power, stopping to stir it gently every 30 seconds, until completely melted and smooth.

Chocolate tip: As you melt chocolate, watch for signs that it may be “seizing” or turning grainy. This happens when moisture — say a splash of water or a bit of steam — gets into the chocolate after it’s already begun to melt. (Note that some recipes call for melting chocolate along with liquid. This is OK, as long as the liquid is added at the beginning.)

Sometimes you have one, but not the other and your recipe may call for the one you DON’T HAVE! Never fear, click this link—–> CLICK HERE to see how to make the proper conversions!

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  1. Gretchen can we use semisweet chocolate chips in place of baking chocolate for making your chocolate ganache ?

  2. Hi,
    I was browsing a site that sells Callebaut chocolate in both Block form(10lbs) and by Wafer form(5lb bags). Why is it that the block form is so much more expensive pound for pound? I think I may have read somewhere they use less cocoa butter in the wafers? Is this true?

  3. I want to start my chocolate business can you help me percentage should be 25% 75% please call 9769213995

  4. Gretchen, I appreciate the information, but I am confused about one thing. Is chocolate liquor separate from cocoa butter? Or does it include both chocolate solids and cocoa butter in the chocolate liquor.

    At one point in your article you say: “Cacao nibs are separated and finely ground to make chocolate liquor, which contrary to its name is actually a thick, non-alcoholic liquid of cocoa butter and cocoa solids.” This suggests that chocolate liquor contains both cocoa butter and cocoa solids.

    Then in another point in your article you say: “Unsweetened Bitter Chocolate has about 50% chocolate liquor and 50% cocoa butter. Nothing else!” This suggests that chocolate liquor is separate from and different from cocoa butter.

    Can you see what I mean? I’m confused. If you can possibly help me sort this out I would appreciate it very much.

  5. Can you use white chocolate in place of bitter sweet or semi sweet chocolate? So instead of a chocolate cake it would be white chocolate cake?

  6. Hi gretchen, thank you for the amazing information

    I recently baked brownie cookies from a recipe handed to me by my frnd, her cookies were fab with great cakey texture and mine turned out flat and crispy n a horrible horrible spread. The only difference between ours was she used real chocolate and i used compound.i usualy swap compound for real chocolate with ease , without giving much thought. But this time, i dont kno, Is that the reason my cookies turned out this way ? I tried chilling the dough, freezing, diff temps. Double checked my leaving etc etc. I am soo disappointed n dejected. Spreading , crispy, flat cookies only coz of a different kind of chocolate, is dat possible ??? Looking forward for ur reply. Thank u

    1. Thank you so much for replying gretchen. 🙂 i shall def try with thr real stuff next time. ur recipes are fab. I shall try the brownie cookie as well soon. Thank u 🙂

  7. Hi Gretchen,

    May I ask what brand of chocolate are you using?
    Thank you for the wonderful recipes you are sharing to us.


  8. I want to clarify as I spoke with a representative from Chocoley… Compound is in fact not chocolate. It has to have cocoa butter in the ingredients for it to be called chocolate according to the FDA. Take Sherries Berries for example— you never hear them or see them print chocolate covered strawberries.. they use alternative phrases like chocolatey goodness. Thats why real chocolate is more expensive. People need to know the difference and be aware of it as real chocolate is much healthier.

  9. Hi I’d like toake the mirror glaze what chocolate would you suggest using please and can I get it at Walmart and other stores ? Thank you

    1. yes you can use Baker’s Brand it is in Walmart/ target most supermarkets carry that brand in the baking aisle

  10. Hi, I have a question about using unsweetened chocolate and adding honey to it along with heavy cream to make an no sugar ganache.My granddaughter is unable to have anything except honey or maple syrup for sweetness .Has anybody tried to make this???

  11. hi Gretchen, for the chocolate icing recipe, can I used stabilizer mixture like you used in your stabilized whipped cream? its very hot here in the Philippines. my chocolate icing after taken out in the fridge ends up just like a spreading consistency or do i just need to adjust the ratio of cream and chocolate. Please advised. Pleeaase. thank you.

  12. Hi Gretchen,

    I am making your recipe of peanut butter and chocolate cheesecake with reese, and I realize that I bought bittersweet chocolate instead of semi-sweet. How much sugar should I add… and should I add anything else? Thank you very much!

    1. You could add another ¼cup or not at all, I love bittersweet chocolate and with the sweet from the caramel you may not feel it needs it, BUT I ewould hate for you to think the opposite after its baked when its too late, so ¼ ought to do it

  13. I need to make a square chocolate cake for 50 guests. I have tried the vanilla sponge cake and its turned out amazing. I want to try the chocolate version today. Please let me know how to calculate to get a correct consistency for the cake.

    1. Im not sure what size pan you have, but I would use a 12″ x 18″ pan for 1 layer of what we (in the bakery) call a Half Sheet cake. 2 layers of a half sheet cake, then iced and filled with your favorite filling will give you 50portions
      1 recipe that yields 2-8″ cake layers will give you 1 layer of a 12″ x18″ cake

  14. I am still looking for your 1/2 recipe of both Swiss Merignue and 1/2 recipe of cream cheese frosting… so that I can mix together to get a stabilized CreamCheese Frosting.. I don’t want to break down each recipe myself for fear of getting amounts wrong.. can’t find where this is already broken down???? Sorry

  15. Hello, if I melt chocolate chips in the microwave using the method you mentioned above, am I tempering the chocolate? I have read several articles that say you cannot temper chocolate chips. what is your opinion? your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

  16. I have 2 questions:-
    1) Do I use compound or couverture chcoclate for ganache and frosting?

    2) I need the cake (put it in a cooler bag with ice packs) to be kept in a room which has no air conditioning and the temp is 90F. If I refrigerate a frosted cake 1 day ahead of the party, will it hold up or melt/sweat all over the cake? Thanks

    1. Couverture for all recipes, compound for coating (like dipping candies and truffles)
      Wow 90F room is very hot. The cake will most likely sweat, especially after it comes out of the refrigerator and into that hot room, it will condensate- I dealt with that nightmare all the time in my bakery in the summer! Not fun!

      1. Oh no, I really needed the cake on sat 23/2. What should I do to keep the cake/frosting cool? Ok I got it slightly wrong with the temp, it’s about 84F where I live, daily, sometimes it goes up to 95F with no wind. ;(

        1. Hi, I did not mean to scare you! I think you are doing the best you can with what you have to work with. The cooler is not going to get the cake SUPER cold as a refrigerator would, so rather than worrying about condensation from a super cold refridge to very hot temps and that fluctuation causing condensation, I would worry more that the cake will not get cold enough in just a cooler?? But you are doing the best you can with what you have to work with and I think you will be fine! (In the future it is always best to do a test run with a small cake just to simulate those conditions to make sure you have all your bases covered for the event day!)

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