What Is Dark Chocolate?

A Guide to Buying and Using Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate bars

The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

Dark chocolate is chocolate without no added milk solids. The basic ingredients are cacao beans, sugar, an emulsifier like soy lecithin to preserve texture, and flavorings such as vanilla. The more cocoa and less sugar dark chocolate has, the more bitter it will taste and a small amount is considered a healthful snack. The flavor also makes it a preferred type of chocolate for baking and melting for a variety of desserts.

Fast Facts

  • Highest Quality: Over 70 percent cocoa
  • Common Uses: Ganache, glazes, mousse, pudding, baked goods
  • Varieties: Bittersweet, semi-sweet, sweet
  • Storage: 1 year or more, well-sealed, unrefrigerated

Dark Chocolate vs. Milk Chocolate

Dark chocolate has a more pronounced real chocolate taste than milk chocolate. It does not contain milk solids or the excess sugar that creates the sweeter chocolate flavor found in most candy bars. However, the lack of milk additives also means that dark chocolate is more prone to a dry, chalky texture and a bitter aftertaste.


Different types of dark chocolate are distinguished by the percentage of cocoa solids in the bar. They are classified as bittersweet, semi-sweet, and sweet dark chocolate. The cocoa content of commercial dark chocolate bars can range from 30 percent for sweet dark chocolate to 80 percent (or higher) for extremely dark, bitter bars. The names semi-sweet and bittersweet are sometimes interchanged in recipes. They range from 50 percent to 60 percent cocoa; the higher amount indicates more bitterness.

Dark Chocolate Uses

chocolate mouse in cups with whipped cream and chocolate curls

The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

You can eat dark chocolate straight out of the package without preparation or use it in recipes. It can be chopped, ground, shaved, or melted and is preferred for ganache, glazes, mousse, and pudding. It can also be found in nearly any chocolate dessert you can imagine. Semi-sweet chocolate chips are the preferred form in chocolate chip cookies. Since dark chocolate doesn't contain milk, it's useful in vegan recipes as well.

How to Cook With Dark Chocolate

A plate of dark chocolate truffles

The Spruce Eats / Kristina Vanni

When you need to melt dark chocolate, do so slowly. It can be done in a double boiler on the stovetop or in increments using the microwave. Chocolate chips are designed to resist melting, so they are not the best choice for melting, though it is possible.

Many recipes use weight as a measurement for chocolate and using a kitchen scale will ensure accuracy. Weigh it before cutting up the chocolate. Baking squares make it easy to prepare the chocolate according to your recipe. Typically, one square of chocolate equals 1 ounce and six squares equal 1 cup.

What Does It Taste Like?

Flourless Chocolate Cake

The Spruce / Cara Cormack

In general, dark chocolate is bitter and less sweet than milk chocolate with a chalky texture. The more cocoa, the more pronounced these characteristics are, though even sweet dark chocolate is not as sweet or smooth as milk chocolate.

Dark Chocolate Substitutes

When substituting different types of chocolate, you'll likely have to make adjustments to balance out the recipe's sweetness. Remember that recipes may use bittersweet and semi-sweet interchangeably.

Best Brownies

The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

  • Use the same measurement when switching between semi-sweet and bittersweet chocolate or when you want to make a recipe sweeter with milk chocolate.
  • One ounce of semi-sweet baking chocolate equals 3 tablespoons of chocolate chips.
  • Add 1 tablespoon granulated sugar to 1 ounce of unsweetened chocolate to replace 1 ounce of semi-sweet chocolate. Conversely, when substituting dark chocolate for unsweetened, remove 1 tablespoon of sugar from the recipe.
  • Mix 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder, 2 teaspoons sugar, and 2 teaspoons of melted butter or shortening for 1 ounce of semi-sweet baking chocolate.

Dark Chocolate Recipes

The term "dark chocolate" is used in a few recipes, though you'll find bittersweet or semi-sweet used more often. The dessert and sweet options possible with dark chocolate are endless.

Where to Buy Dark Chocolate

All varieties of dark chocolate can be found in grocery stores and supermarkets. For really good, high-quality dark chocolate, you may have to look at specialty markets that cater to natural foods. It's sold as bars, wafers, and chips and is found in the baking aisle. Dark chocolate is generally more expensive than unsweetened and milk chocolates (except for semi-sweet chocolate chips) and the price increases with the quality and amount of cocoa.

When selecting dark chocolate, pay attention to the percentage of cocoa as an indication of its bitterness—especially when distinguishing bittersweet and semi-sweet. There are no strict definitions of bitter, semi-sweet, and sweet and it can vary from one chocolate maker to the next.


Store dark chocolate in a cool, dark place—a cupboard that's not near the stove, refrigerator, or other heat sources is ideal. Wrap excess chocolate in the opened packaging, then add a layer of plastic wrap or place it in an airtight container to seal out moisture. Properly stored, dark chocolate can keep for one or two years. Refrigeration isn't necessary unless it's really hot in your kitchen, in which case it will keep for three to six months. Make sure it's very well sealed because chocolate can pick up odors from other food.

Moisture can also cause chocolate to "bloom," creating a white, powdery or streaky surface because the sugar has risen to the surface. The quality, taste, and texture may be different though it's still edible and often best reserved for melting.