Dark Chocolate: The Best and Worst Brands

Dark Chocolate: The Best and Worst Brands

Best and worst dark chocolate brands

Dark chocolate is arguably one of the best feel-good snacks for healthy eaters.

Research points to an increased exercise capacity and improved cardiovascular system..

This is due to the flavanol content – a type of polyphenol in cocoa that helps lower blood pressure and improve vascular function and even provides UV protection for our skin.

What is a high quality dark chocolate?

When choosing a quality healthy dark chocolate, here are the qualities to look for in a bar.

  • High cacao content (> 70%).
  • Low sugar content.
  • Few additives and overall ingredients.
  • No added flavor.
  • No preservatives.
  • Not “dutched” or processed with alkali.

If your chocolate says “processed with alkali” on the nutrition label, then it’s going to have fewer flavanols.

Processing with alkali is called Dutching, and it’s done to reduce acidity, making the chocolate a darker color (and arguably improving the flavor).

There is nothing unsafe about dutching – it may make the flavor more appealing to some, but lead to less health benefits.

Beware of marketing labels

Many chocolates are labeled with all kinds of marketing words like artisan, hand-crafted, fine chocolate.

These are opinions and cannot be tested. Some chocolates are labeled gluten-free – which is odd as chocolate never contained gluten.

The best dark chocolate brands

My top 5 at a glance:

  1. Pascha is the best all round.
  2. Hu is a great choice if you can’t handle more than 70% ?.
  3. The Taza 85% Mexicana Chocolate disk is special: Just cacao beans & sugar ?
  4. Alter Eco 85% Raspberry Blackout – Dark with a tang of flavor.
  5. Lindt 85% is the best combo of value-for-money and healthy benefits.

Here’s the whole list, sort-of in order from best:

71w5wbXi70S. SL500

Pascha

Range of 55% – 100% cacao.

  • Organic, fair trade, non-GMO
  • No soy lecithin
  • Is not dutch processed

paschachocolate.com

Buy at Amazon

Hu Dark Chocolate

Hu Dark Chocolate

A range of 70% cacao products including bars, chocolate-covered nuts, and chocolate-covered berries.

  • Organic, vegan, paleo, non-GMO.
  • No dairy, soy lecithin, gluten, cane sugar, sugar alcohols, or emulsifiers.
  • Is not dutch processed.

HuKitchen.com

Buy at Amazon

61nL9zvwSgL. SL500

Taza

70%, 80%, 87%, and 95% cacao bars.

Taza is among the least-processed chocolate you can find.

  • USDA organic
  • Is not dutch processed.

www.tazachocolate.com

Buy at Amazon

81jge8kM2WS. SL500

Alter Eco

USDA Organic and Fair Trade. No soy lecithin. Is not dutch processed.

The darks range from 70%, 85%, 90%, and the 100% total blackout.

  • USDA Organic and Fair Trade.
  • No soy lecithin.
  • Is not dutch processed.

www.alterecofoods.com

Buy at Amazon

71OOG5TG85S. SL500

Lindt

The Lindt Excellence range includes 70%, 78%, 85%, 90%, 95%, 99%, and 100% Cacao bars.

Ingredients: Check your label as these change:

  • 70% – Chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, soya lecithin (emulsifier), bourbon vanilla beans.
  • 78% – Chocolate, cocoa butter, sugar, cocoa powder processed with alkali, milkfat.
  • 85% – Chocolate, cocoa powder, cocoa butter, demerara sugar, bourbon vanilla beans.
  • 90% – Chocolate, cocoa butter, cocoa powder processed with alkali, sugar, bourbon vanilla beans.
  • 95% – Chocolate, cocoa butter, cocoa powder processed with alkali, sugar
  • 100% – Chocolate, cocoa powder processed with alkali, cocoa butter.

www.lindtusa.com

Buy at Amazon

beyond good

Beyond Good

70%, 73%, 80%, and 92% bars made at source in Madagascar.

  • Completely organic
  • Direct trade
  • Is not dutch processed

beyondgood.com

Buy at Amazon

81ZooQhNDqL. SL500

Pacari

70%, 85%, 100%, 100% + nibs.

  • USDA organic, direct trade, raw bars.
  • Is not dutch processed.

pacari.com

Buy at Amazon

Green & Blacks

USDA organic and fair trade.

70% and 85% dark.

greenandblacks.co.uk

Buy at Amazon

813oGAW2KyL. SL500

Endangered Species

72%, 75%, and 88% bars.

  • Fair trade.
  • Donates 10% of profits to conservation efforts.

www.chocolatebar.com

Buy at Amazon

71tr5e5pG0L. SL500

Theo

85% and many different flavored 70% bars.

  • Fair trade and organic.
  • No emulsifier

www.theochocolate.com

Buy at Amazon

right raw

Righteously Raw

80%, 83%, and 90%.

  • Organic, fair trade, raw.

As far as we’re aware only chocolate is processed on their machinery, so is allergen-free.

righteouslyrawchocolate.com

81eBBUmUBXS. SL500

Vivani

Vivani is a German organic chocolatier with 70%, 75%, 85%, 89%, 92% and 100% bars.Use coconut sugar.

  • Organic,
  • Is not dutch processed
  • No Soy Lecithin.

vivani.de

(Limited range at Amazon).

giddy yoyo

Giddy Yoyo

Huge range: 70% up to 100% (and almost everything in between). Based in Canada with simple ingredients (cacao paste + sugar + cacao butter).

  • Certified organic
  • Is not dutch processed

giddyyoyo.com

Bixby & Co.

70% and 100% single origin darks. Ingredients just cocoa beans and cane sugar.

  • Certified organic

bixbyco.com

valrhona 85

Valrhona

70%, 75%, 85%, and 100% cacao bars. French chocolatier with a large range of ‘taster’ bars.

Ingredients: Cocoa Beans, Sugar, Cocoa Butter, sunflower lecithin, Natural Vanilla Extract

www.valrhona-chocolate.com

Some product at Amazon.

amano 70

Amano

70% bars, single origin.

Sweetened with sugar and vanilla beans (no soy lecithin).

amanochocolate.com

Moser Roth

70% and 85% bars. A German-made chocolate supplying Aldi stores.

Uses Soy Lecithin emulsifier.
85% is dutch processed.

Note that ingredients differ between countries.

aldi.co.uk

Buy at Amazon.

71I4lTMC7dL. SL500

Scharffen Berger

70% and 82% bars. (Scharffen is owned by a subsidiary of Hershey).

Ingredients: Chocolate, Sugar, Whole Vanilla Beans.

www.scharffenberger.com

Buy at Amazon

616fsyP7yJL. SL500

Lily’s

70%, 85%, and 92% – sweetened with Stevia (and Erythritol).

  • Fair trade
  • Is not dutch processed

lilyssweets.com

Buy at Amazon

71UyhadUmiL. SL500

Chocolove

Small producer with 70% and 88% bars. Does contain soy lecithin.

www.chocolove.com

Buy at Amazon

514b9154TBL. SL500

Ghirardelli

70%, 72%, 86%, 92% and a 100% “baking” bar.

Uses soy lecithin as an emulsifier, and also has milk fat and “natural flavor” in their dark bars.

www.ghirardelli.com

Buy at Amazon

choczero 1

ChocZero

Chocolate squares for keto diet market. Monk Fruit extract is used as a sweetener, and fiber has been added (soluble corn fiber).

The 85% or 92% are best.

www.choczero.com

Bean to Bar: Soleil Chocolate

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I recently traveled to Costa Rica and participated in a chocolate tour at Soleil.

The tour involved a learning about cacao, trying whole raw cacao beans. We learned how to make bean to bar chocolate by removing the outer shell, and then grinding the cacao nibs to release the oils.

We then tempered the processed cacao and sugar and put the chocolate into molds.

The taste was amazing and some of the best dark chocolate I’ve ever had.

If you ever go to Costa Rica I recommend paying them a visit at their facility just outside San Jose in Atenas, Costa Rica.

soleil

Strongest dark chocolate bars

The more cacao the bar has, the stronger the bar is.

10 years ago it was hard to find many bars above 70%, but now there is great choice. If you have a sweet tooth, it will take some practice to go beyond 70%.

Is there such thing as 100% dark chocolate?

Yes. It means there is no form of sweetener at all, giving the chocolate a bitter savory flavor.

Generally dark chocolates above 90% have very little sweetness, and are an acquired taste.

The following brands make very dark chocolates (including 100%).

  • Pascha 100%
  • Alter Eco 90% and 100%
  • Taza 95% Wicked Dark
  • Lindt 95%, 99%, and 100%
  • Pacari 100% and 100% + nibs
  • Vivani 92% and 100%
  • Giddy Yoyo Raw 100% Cacao

Dark chocolates that aren’t very healthy ?

dove promises

There is no legal definition of dark chocolate. Most people consider anything above 55% cacao content to be dark.

That doesn’t stop candy manufacturers calling their product dark, when the cacao content is very low.

  • Dove Dark Chocolate
    Low cacao content. All processed with alkali.
  • Godiva 72% dark mini bars
    Lots of packaging, uses Soy lecithin, and butter oil.
  • CocoaVia Supplement Packs
    These are similar to Crystal Light, except they have flavanols added in. You will get some health benefits from this, but it is more important to eat the whole food that contains the fiber.
  • Hershey’s Special Dark
    Processed with alkali. High in sugar.
  • Hershey’s Dark Chocolate Kisses
    Despite claims on the package about flavanols, this is a milk chocolate.
  • Dark Chocolate M&M’s
    The ingredients list is ambiguous (they list “chocolate” as an ingredient). However, these are high in sugar (more like candy than dark chocolate).
  • Milky Way Midnight
    Like all the candy brands, this is not really a dark chocolate. It has more sugar than cacao and is processed with alkali.
  • Kit Kat Dark
    Not sure how they can call this dark. Lots of sugar and palm kernel oil.
  • Nestle Dark Hot Chocolate
    Ouch! This beverage mix is the worst of the lot. Sugar, trans-fat, and processed with alkali.
  • Cadbury Bournville
    60g of sugar per small bar.
  • Cadbury Old Gold
    It says dark chocolate on the label, but it is a dairy milk – with a high sugar content.
  • Cadbury Royal Dark
    Ingredients: Semi-Sweet Chocolate (Sugar; Cocoa Butter; Chocolate; Milk Fat; Natural and Artificial Flavor, Soy Lecithin; Milk). Again – a milk chocolate.
  • Brookside Dark Chocolate. This Hershey’s brand is a milk chocolate. Originally marketed as ‘containing fruit’, they have now changed their wording to fruit ‘flavors’.
  • Choceur
    This brand is exclusive to Aldi stores. However the ‘dark’ is only 45% cocoa and is really a milk chocolate. Aldi was also forced to recall the chocolates in 2017 due to almond pieces ended up in some bars.

What is a high quality dark chocolate?

Dark chocolate can be a tasty treat when tracking macros but not all could be considered healthy.

A true dark chocolate will never have sugar listed first in the ingredients. It should always be below the cocoa ingredients.

It should also tick as many of the following points:

  • 100% Organic
    Note that “organic” does not equal 100% organic (confusing!).
  • Fair Trade
  • > 80% cocoa
  • Not processed with alkali

What’s the deal with Soy Lecithin?

Also, note that some manufacturers use GMO (genetically modified) ingredients (this is usually the soy lecithin).

Soy lecithin is a byproduct of processed soybeans and is used as an emulsifier (prevents water and fat from separating).

It is considered safe, although some people object to the solvent that’s used to extract the lecithin.

Many chocolate manufacturers have moved on to other emulsifiers (such as sunflower lecithin).

Does Dark Chocolate have undeclared allergens?
Most dark chocolates are produced on the same processing line as chocolate products containing milk. Which is why most of them have advisory labels. A

Most dark chocolates are produced on the same processing line as chocolate products. Which is why most of them have advisory labels. A 2017 testing of 88 bars concluded that “a high proportion of dark chocolate products contain milk at concentrations associated with allergic reactions in sensitive individuals”.

What about peanuts?
The good news is that all bars labeled as peanut-free were peanut-free. However, 17% of chocolates that had no labeling about nuts DID contain traces of peanuts.

What about heavy metals like cadmium and lead?
Dark chocolate, like many foods including meat, grains, fish, and vegetables has traces of heavy metals. This has nothing to do with manufacturing, but the presence of these metals in soils where cacao is grown. The EU

Dark chocolate, like many foods including meat, grains, fish, and vegetables has traces of heavy metals. This has nothing to do with manufacturing, but the presence of these metals in soils where cacao is grown. The EU has limits on the amounts of cadmium – 0.8 mg/kg for dark chocolate. California is stricter: 0.45 mg/kg for 65%-95% chocolate. In CA if the chocolate has more than this – it must be labelled with a health risk warning. Given the small volumes of dark chocolate that we eat, cadmium in chocolate should not be viewed as a major concern.

More of the best and worst:

References

References

  • Vlachopoulos, C., Aznaouridis, K., Alexopoulos, N., Economou, E., Andreadou, I., & Stefanadis, C. (2005). Effect of dark chocolate on arterial function in healthy individuals. American journal of hypertension, 18(6), 785-791.
  • Grassi, D., Desideri, G., Necozione, S., Lippi, C., Casale, R., Properzi, G., … & Ferri, C. (2008). Blood pressure is reduced and insulin sensitivity increased in glucose-intolerant, hypertensive subjects after 15 days of consuming high-polyphenol dark chocolate. The Journal of nutrition, 138(9), 1671-1676.
  • Sansone, R., Rodriguez-Mateos, A., Heuel, J., Falk, D., Schuler, D., Wagstaff, R., … & Flaviola Consortium. (2015). Cocoa flavanol intake improves endothelial function and Framingham Risk Score in healthy men and women: a randomised, controlled, double-masked trial: the Flaviola Health Study. British Journal of Nutrition, 114(8), 1246-1255.
  • Williams, S., Tamburic, S., & Lally, C. (2009). Eating chocolate can significantly protect the skin from UV light. Journal of cosmetic dermatology, 8(3), 169-173.