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How Do You Know You’ve Got Real Dark Chocolate?

March 02, 2021

How Do You Know You’ve Got Real Dark Chocolate?

What is dark chocolate? We’ve all heard the term, and have seen it on product labels and in advertising. In addition to its irresistibly scrumptious flavor, there are those of us who also look to dark chocolate for its many nutritional benefits. This is especially true for consumers of protein bars containing dark chocolate.

But it turns out that something labeled “dark chocolate” may not actually be real dark chocolate…and in fact may not even be chocolate at all. 

Can We Define It?

Today there are legal definitions for various types of food, which have become more important in this nutrition-conscious age. The FDA defines chocolate in many variations, but, they do not define “dark chocolate.” So if you’re looking for real dark chocolate, you’ll have to go beyond the label and carefully look over the list of ingredients. 

So What Is Chocolate Anyway?

To answer that question, let’s run through the process of how chocolate comes about. 

It begins with cocoa beans. Once harvested, they are roasted and then crushed into bits called nibs, which consist of about half cocoa butter and half cocoa powder. The nibs are then ground into cocoa liquor—which despite the name is not actually an extremely tempting alcoholic beverage, but the technical term for pure cocoa mass. The cocoa liquor is then pressed to separate the cocoa butter from the cocoa powder. 

Real chocolate—also called dark chocolate—has both cocoa butter and cocoa powder, with 50 to 60 percent being cocoa butter. While the U.S. FDA has not defined what dark chocolate is, it does define “chocolate liquor” as having 50 to 60 percent cocoa butter, so “dark” chocolate and “real” chocolate are really the same thing. 

Real Versus Fake Chocolate

So how do you know when you’re buying real chocolate? 

As we mentioned earlier, the only way you can be sure is to look at the ingredients list on the package. Look for “cocoa butter,” “chocolate liquor,” "unsweetened chocolate" or even just “chocolate” toward the top of the list. If one or more of these terms are there, that means that the product you are purchasing contains that precious cocoa butter. If the term “cocoa powder” is there alone, without some of these other ingredients that tell you the cocoa butter is also there, then it’s a clue that it isn’t real, or dark, chocolate.

Look Out for Palm Kernel Oil 

Next look for “palm kernel oil” or just “palm oil.” If you see that term in the ingredients list, palm oil has been used as the stabilizer for the cocoa, replacing the cocoa butter from the original cocoa beans. Replacing cocoa butter robs the product of most of the nutritional benefits of dark chocolate and replaces them with an oil that is waxy and difficult to digest. Plus it winds up requiring more added sugar to stabilize it.

Palm kernel oil is a sticky substance that’s 85% saturated fat and solid at room temperature. Found in everything from shampoo to donuts, palm oil is now the most common vegetable oil in the world, and one of the world's leading drivers of deforestation1.

The FDA definition specifies that, while chocolate must have cocoa butter, it also must not have other vegetable oils. Replacing cocoa butter with palm kernel oil breaks both rules.

Palm kernel oil is used in cocoa products because it is cheaper and easier to work with than cocoa butter. It makes processing easier, because producing real dark chocolate is a demanding process. While using palm kernel reduces costs, it results in a lower quality product. And because there’s little to no cocoa butter in the final product, it’s called a “compound chocolate.” Technically, though, it’s not only not dark chocolate, it’s not even “chocolate.” Consumers may not know that, especially if it says “dark chocolate” on the package. In short, compound chocolate is not chocolate.

Zing Protein Bars

You’ll recall that real dark chocolate must contain 50 to 60 percent cocoa butter. The dark chocolate in Zing Protein Bars is in the high end of that range at 58 percent. So if you’re looking at Zing Bars as a source of fantastically flavorful and incredibly nutritious real dark chocolate, you’ve come to the right place! 

Check out Zing Bars dark chocolate bars

Dark Chocolate Coconut was ranked as one of the best chocolate bars on Ode Magazine. 

[1] Union of Concerned Scientists  https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/palm-oil

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