Chocolate snobs don’t eat milk chocolate (and other myths, debunked)

Chocolate snobs don’t eat milk chocolate (and other myths, debunked)

by Megan Giller

I have a confession: I love milk chocolate. It was my first love, and it’s often my treat of choice—but as a writer specializing in chocolate, it’s a fact I only whisper to close friends after making sure the room isn’t bugged.

That’s because for years milk chocolate has gotten the shaft. In fact, for years you weren’t considered a serious chocoholic if you ate anything with milk in it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard snobby chocolate lovers tell me:

“I only eat dark chocolate.”

“It’s 85 percent dark for me!”

“I’m a 100 percent type of gal.”

“Anything below 70 percent is simply not chocolate.”

“Milk chocolate? Please. That stuff barely has 30 percent cocoa.”

This type of misguided snobbery has gone on too long. It’s time to set the record straight about milk chocolate, cocoa percentage, and more.

Myth: High cocoa percentage indicates quality

Many people view cocoa percentage as a mark of quality, as in, the higher the percentage, the higher quality the chocolate. This is just NOT TRUE.

Cocoa percentage simply measures the amount of the bar that comes from cocoa beans, whether that’s cocoa solids or cocoa butter. So a 70 percent chocolate means that 70 percent of the bar came from cocoa beans and 30 percent came from added ingredients like sugar, vanilla, soy lecithin, or inclusions. It is not related to quality in any way.

So why doesn’t every 70 percent bar taste the same? Well, makers have unique (often secret) recipes for their bars. One 70 percent bar could include 50 percent cocoa solids and 20 percent cocoa butter; another could include 30 percent cocoa solids and 40 percent cocoa butter (that would create a very smooth, buttery bar!). To make it even more complicated, different types of beans naturally contain different amounts of cocoa butter. Some are more lean, others more fatty. A bean’s natural “butteriness” will change the consistency of the resulting chocolate.

Myth: Milk chocolate is lesser chocolate

As I said earlier, milk chocolate can be delicious. So why does it have such a bad reputation? As Fruition Chocolate’s Bryan Graham put it, “Most milk chocolates are sickly sweet, with very little actual chocolate in them.” Culinary historian and chocolate educator Alexandra Leaf agreed: “Most milk chocolate that the average person would be exposed to is low-quality, commercial, bad milk chocolate.”

But if it’s made well, milk chocolate can taste great. If you start with quality cocoa beans, treat them with care, and add quality sugar and milk powder, you can create a fantastic bar — one with as much or more depth of flavor than any dark chocolate. “Milk chocolate,” expert Clay Gordon writes in Discover Chocolate, “is the white Zinfandel of the chocolate world: it doesn’t get the respect it deserves.”

But now all of that is changing, because milk chocolate is cool again. American bean-to-bar makers have started creating “dark milk chocolate” bars, and they are seriously delicious.

But wait, let’s back up a minute. Did I just blow your mind? How can a chocolate be both dark and milk?

Good question. Dark chocolate doesn’t technically mean anything. It doesn’t have a formal definition, according to the USDA. Instead, it actually falls under the umbrella term sweet chocolate, which can include up to 12 percent milk solids. Yes, dairy in dark chocolate!

These new “dark milk” bars generally contain a higher percentage of cocoa than traditional milk bars — usually around 60 percent, compared with 30 percent. They generally taste milder and creamier than a pure dark chocolate bar, but they retain all the complexity.

Myth: White chocolate isn’t chocolate

Some people will tell you that white chocolate is not actually chocolate because it doesn’t contain cocoa solids (i.e., the brown stuff). White chocolate primarily consists of sugar, milk or cream powder, and cocoa butter that has been separated from those cocoa solids. Yet in the United States, it is legally considered chocolate: in the early 2000s the Hershey Corporation and the Chocolate Manufacturers Association of the United States of America lobbied the FDA successfully. Since 2004 “white chocolate” has been considered chocolate, as long as it contains at least 20 percent cocoa butter, a minimum of 14 percent total milk solids and 3.5 percent milk fat, and a maximum of 55 percent sugar or other sweeteners. The European Union follows the same standards, except that there isn’t a maximum on sugars and sweeteners.

Myth: Vegan chocolate is unusual

Lately I’ve seen a lot of lists proclaiming that they’ve found the best vegan dark chocolate in the world. But here’s something that shouldn’t be a secret: if a plain dark chocolate bar (read: one without inclusions or milk) is made with high-quality ingredients, it should by default be vegan. As soon as you start to see dairy like butter oil or milk substitutes on the ingredients list, you know you’re in trouble

Now, there are a few craft chocolate companies that exclusively make vegan chocolate products, and those are kind of a different category. Charm School, Madre, and Raaka are good examples. They make some pretty cool coconut milk chocolate and don’t use any animal products in their factories; for die-hard vegans, those distinctions can be important.

Of course, vegan doesn’t necessarily mean healthy. But that’s a different issue, and one that I won’t get on my high horse about here.

Excerpted from Bean-to-Bar Chocolate © by Megan Giller, used with permission from Storey Publishing.

White Chocolate–Hazelnut Mousse in Pineapple Cups

Recipe from Kristofer Kalas, pastry chef and chocolatier
Serves 12
LEVEL: Advanced

Every chocolate book has a recipe for hazelnut-chocolate spread (homemade Nutella, if you will, called gianduja by professionals). I know why: it’s a delicious combination! But at this point, it’s also kind of tired. That’s why I’m including this recipe from chocolatier and pastry chef Kristofer Kalas, which turns your expectations upside down by pairing hazelnut paste with white chocolate and pineapple. The bright tropical fruit creates a gorgeous bowl for the mousse,

The bright tropical fruit creates a gorgeous bowl for the mousse, cutting its richness so you feel light and happy when you’re finished (and, if you’re like me, ready for a second cup). I love that this recipe calls for real vanilla bean. Buy dried beans at your regular grocery store and slice one open lengthwise with a sharp knife, then use the point of the knife to scrape the tiny seeds off the bean. If you have trouble finding hazelnut paste, you can substitute hazelnut butter (they’re really the same thing) or make your own by toasting hazelnuts and blending them in a food processor. And if pineapple isn’t your jam, you can serve the mousse in elegant glasses or cups, each filled with about 4 to 5 ounces of the mousse. It’s perfectly delightful plain, but Kristofer recommends dressing it up with cookie crumbles or other fresh fruit.

1 ripe (but not overripe)
3 3/4 cups heavy cream
1 3/4 cups chopped white
2 1/2 teaspoons glucose
1/2 cup hazelnut paste
or butter
9 grams gelatin sheets
(about 4 sheets)
Seeds from 1/2 vanilla
bean, or 1 teaspoon
vanilla extract
3/4 cup water
3 1/3 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
Pastry bag, hand mixer or
stand mixer

1. Using a serrated knife, trim and quarter the pineapple, removing and discarding the innermost core. Slice into thin pieces about an inch square. Place one slice in the bottom of a muffin cup and arrange a few more around the sides, overlapping. You want to create solid cups for the mousse that you’ll put in them later. Repeat to fill the muffin pan. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for a few hours.

2. With a hand mixer or in a stand mixer, whip the heavy cream to soft peaks. Transfer to a bowl and set in the refrigerator to keep cold.

3. Combine the white chocolate and glucose syrup in a double boiler and heat, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is melted. (Or melt in the microwave, in short intervals.) Add the hazelnut paste and stir until smooth. Set aside.

4. Fill a large bowl with water and ice. One by one, add the gelatin sheets and submerge until they’ve softened, about 5 to 10 minutes.

5. Scrape the vanilla bean seeds into a saucepan. Add the water, butter, and sugar, and heat just to a boil. Remove the gelatin sheets from the ice water and add to the saucepan. Stir until dissolved. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

6. Pour the melted chocolate mixture into the large bowl. Cool to between 86 and 95°F (30 to 35°C). Then gently fold in the whipped cream. Transfer the mousse to a pastry bag.

7. Take the pineapple cups out of the freezer. Working quickly, fill the pineapple cups with the mousse. If the mousse cools too much, the gelatin will begin to set and the mousse will look broken (think oily).

8. Freeze thoroughly for 8 to 10 hours.

9. To unmold, warm the muffin pan by setting it in a tray of hot water, being careful not to splash the mousse. Remove the cups, transfer to a dry tray, cover in plastic wrap, and put them back in the freezer. Move them to the refrigerator 30 minutes to 1 hour before serving, so that the mousse begins to soften. If you prefer a harder mousse, you can also serve them frozen. They should’keep for 2 weeks in the freezer.

Excerpted from Bean-to-Bar Chocolate © by Megan Giller, used with permission from Storey Publishing.

Megan Giller is the author of Bean-to-Bar Chocolate. She is a food writer and journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Slate, Zagat, Food & Wine, and Modern Farmer. Giller has written extensively about the food scenes in both New York City and Austin, Texas, and her blog Chocolate Noise was a 2016 Saveur Food Blog Awards finalist. She offers private chocolate-tasting classes, hosts “Underground Chocolate Salons,” teaches classes at shops across the country, and judges at chocolate competitions. She lives in Brooklyn. Visit and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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