The Tree
Real Chocolate Bars

[ingredients], [the chocolate war], [wrapping], [labels], [where to get them!], [my favorites], [mrk.'s entire list!] .

Real Chocolate is very bitter -- so the darker and bitterer a Chocolate bar, the more Cacao it has, and the better it is.

The happy results of the CHOCOLATE WAR

The recent explosion of wonderful real Chocolate bars into the market was caused by the settlement of the Chocolate War in the late 1990s.

In 1994 the European Union was establishing Europe-wide food standards. When they came around to Chocolate, Belgium and France and Germany supported the idea of creating a standard that said only something that was in excess of 50% Cacao could be called Chocolate. England (home of Cadbury which manufactures tons of candy that contains less than 10% Cacao) opposed the idea. At first the pro-Chocolate forces looked likely to win.

After months of arguments and threatened trade wars, Germany switched sides -- they have several large milk-chocolate-candy manufacturers and supposedly there was pressure from Switzerland, which is not in the EU, but manufactures huge quantities of milk-chocolate-candy. So England, and Cadbury won. Anything can be called Chocolate in the EU, as long as it contains at least 1% Chocolate. (In the USA the FDA minimum is 10%.) However -- the EU said that each bar must state on the label the percentage of Cacao that it contains.

That last bit was crucial, and the reaction was predictable. Consumers flocked to the few bars that were rich & pure, 70% or more. So the milk-chocolate-candy prints the percentages in teeny tiny print on the back, and the pure bars print it in huge print on the front. The pure bars were so popular that new brands and varieties are introduced every day! Galler claims to have been the the first to sell a bar with 70% Cacao in Belgium in 1993. Even Cadbury has one (in late 1997 they raised the Cacao content from 64% to 76%), called 1898 -- but they do not put their own name anywhere on it, for fear of hurting sales!!!

In late 1998 and early 1999, before i went to Europe, i started to notice a very few pure bars at specialty stores in Seattle, but they were outrageously expensive. In 29 countries in Europe, i discovered that every country has at least ONE, 70%+ Chocolate bar, and most countries have several. In France and Belgium, even the grocery store brands have a 70%+ pure Chocolate bar! France, Belgium, Germany and Poland were the best countries for good pure Chocolate bars. Switzerland, Hungary and Finland, were the worst. I didn't go to Spain, but i did notice that although it is often hard to find, the Spanish Chocolate i did find was excellent. I suspect Spain is probably a great country for pure, real Chocolate, which is historically understandable.

Even more exciting, i found several brands that market bars with identical recipes but the Cacao is from different plant varieties and/or from different parts of the world. It is amazing to compare! Toward the end of my trip i saw several more of the series -- even Nestle has a series of three bars from three different countries!!! However, it contains the artificial flavor Vanillin, which is a silly thing to add to a bar for trying to compare Chocolate subtleties! The French brand Chocolat Bonnat was certainly the best of these. Their line of seven (now eight) 75% Cacao bars, each from a different part of the world is amazing: No Vanilla, no lecithin, just Chocolate and a little sugar. I cannot read the French on the label very well, but they do not appear to note which varieties each bar consists of. There was also a Spanish brand, Chocovic, of which i had only small tasters, that was from different varieties and was very good.

There are even a couple of US manufacturers! One, Chocolate made in Belgium and packaged in the US under the absolutely horrible brand name ChocoLove has different bars ranging from 25% (the richest milk chocolate you will ever find) to 77% (YUM!) (and also 100% baking Chocolate). Despite the awful name, the Chocolate is pretty good. They recently introduced a couple of Organic bars too, 61% & 73%. Sharfen-Berger appears to actually make their 70% bars in the US.

Between late 2000 and mid 2001 it was fairly difficult to find pure bars here in Seattle, but things are changing very fast. In April of 2003 i did a couple of tastings with about 20 of the best bars in the world. As recently as November of 2001 i could not have purchased ANY of those bars here in Seattle, and yet now i am able to get ALL of them here! Pure bars are becomming almost COMMON -- the important talent is now determining the best pure bars, not just finding any!

I will not buy any bar with less than 70% Cacao, and generally will not eat any Chocolate that is less than 60% -- i just don't like it.

Ingredients in pure Chocolate bars

Pure Chocolate bars contain more than 65% Cacao. The only ingredients in a good Chocolate bar are: CACAO PASTE, sugar, COCOA BUTTER, lecithin, and vanilla.

The necessary ingredients:

  1. Cacao Paste. The gooey mass made from crushing, heating and conching the roasted beans. This makes up 45-70%, (usually just above 50%) of the bar and it is called many different things: Cacao Liquor, Cacao Mass, Cacao Paste etc. This paste is 54% Cocoa Butter. On my list of bars, it is always in all caps in the ingredients column, as it was printed on the wrapper.
  2. Cocoa Butter. The flavorless fat squeezed out during "Dutch processing" which creates powdered Cocoa. Extra is added to create the texture of the bars. The flavor and texture can be adjusted this way. More Cocoa Butter means a smoother, creamier, less bitter bar. Less Cocoa Butter means a sharper, dryer, more powdery, more flavorful bar. (Notice that this means that Cocoa Powder is a by-product of making Chocolate bars -- or Visa Versa!) On my list of bars, this is always in all caps in the ingredients column as BUTTER, this means COCOA BUTTER, not dairy butter!!!!
The percentage of Cacao of a bar is determined by the amounts of these two products of the Cacao Bean, the fat & the flavor, combined under the official heading Chocolate Solids, or Cacao Solids. One of the main differences in taste and texture between brands of bars is how much of each they use. I have seen a brand that actually prints the amounts of each -- i wish more did.

I saw one brand, a 70% bar, that suggested that it contained the Cocoa Mass directly from fermentation, with no extra Cocoa Butter added. I don't completely understand that, but if that is not manipulated, it makes me wonder if that is why 70% is most common.

  1. Sugar. The less the better. This makes up almost all of the non-Cacao portion of the bar (the 30% of a 70% bar.) Some of the organic and fair trade bars use raw, unrefined, sugar, which is very nice in concept, but tends to add a foreign, fruity flavor to the bar, interfering with the Cacao. Sadly, i avoid these.

Optional ingredients.

  1. Vanilla. Almost all bars add this spice, i really don't know why -- tradition perhaps, or because of the strong identification with that flavor that many milk-chocolate-candy eaters have, but there ARE some bars that don't have it, and i prefer it that way. A Chocolate bar is best without it. (It tends to be about ½% to 2% of the bar.) The good bars add it in such meager quantities (if at all) that you can't really taste it, but some bars clearly use too much vanilla and it gets in the way.
    • Vanillin is a nasty artificial flavoring that destroys the bar, makes it taste very chemically. It should never be used.
    • Some bars list Bourbon Vanilla. This is a Vanilla which the flavor was extracted using spirits. Usually it is very alcohol tasting, awful. In most cases it overwhelms the Cacao; It is to be avoided! (I have, however, had a couple of bars where it is not very noticeable.)

  2. Lecithin. Most bars have a small percentage (i think this tends to be about 1%) of Lecithin as an emulsifier. This is a soy product (although i have seen it derived from sunflower as well!) that is added to Cacao to control texture & consistency and to improve solubility in cold liquids, such as milk. It is added to many, but not all, pure Chocolate bars because it reduces the viscosity, or thickness of Chocolate which slightly reduces the amount of Cocoa Butter required to produce a certain texture. It makes it a little smoother and creamier. I prefer it without.


Many bars are wrapped in foil, which i don't like; i find it can leave a metallic taste to the Chocolate. However plain paper allows the Chocolate to go bad quickly. Some use waxed paper, which is much better -- others have started to use paper-lined, or wax-lined foil. I much prefer this method.

I have noticed that the same Chocolate can taste different at different times. As the bar gets older, especially if it is not wrapped well, it can lose flavor. It can also start to go rancid and taste slightly dirty.

There is a nasty flavor in some bars; it is sometimes described as dirty, or rancid, or overly fruity. It could be several diferent causes.

I suspect the main culprat is age. The fine Chocolate that is imported in small quantities to the USA is often very old, 6 to 18 months. Pretty much anything after 3 months loses its flavor and sublty. Also as it gets older the Cacao Butter gets rancid. We often find this in organic bars, and especially in bars with an organic unrefinded sugar. This could be because the sugar has a strong flavor itself, or because it is making the Cacao Butter go bad more quickly.

It is a frustrating problem and i would say that close to half of the 30 or so bars i have had in the last 4 months have had this problem, including some brands and types that i have had previously without this problem. It is clearly something that has to be addressed as good Chocolate becomes more popular in this country.

Where to find them

In Europe

They are everywhere, especially in small food shops, department stores, and most all grocery stores. You will find some Specialty Chocolate shops but they are very expensive.

Expect to pay US equivalent of $0.75 to $2.00, although occasionally more.

In The USA

  • health food stores and co-ops
  • fair trade stores
  • some candy stores
  • upscale grocery stores
  • specialty cooking stores
  • European specialty shops
In Seattle
  • DeLaurenti (Pike Place Market) wide selection!
  • PCC (Fremont) Michel Cluizel, sometimes others
  • Rainbow Grocery (15th Ave E) ChocoLove, ESCC
  • The Creamery (Pike Place Market) Green & Blacks
  • La Tienda Cadiz (15th Ave E) Enric Roveria
  • ChefShop.com (Elliot Ave near Magnolia Bridge)
  • Chocolat (5th & University downtown) ==now Neuhaus==
  • City Peoples (15th Ave E) Michel Cluizel, Domori ==closed==
  • The European Grocery (NE 50th & Roosevelt Ave)
  • Sunset Hill Green Market (NW 64th & 32nd Ave NW)
  • Trader Joe's (University District)
  • Central Co-op (12th Ave E) ==now closed==
  • Chocolat (Bellevue Square) ==now closed==
  • Elevated Ice Cream (Port Townsend)
  • Central Market (Poulsbo)
  • onboard BC ferries Denman Island
  • look around for more places!!!
Expect to pay $3.50 to $7.50, although occasionally less.

Bars i have tried

I have found and tasted over one hundred 70%+ Cacao and rated each one. I am continuing to look for more, and will always post my results when i find a new one.

NOTE: I buy, taste and post every bar i can get my grubby hands on. When i re-built this page in 1999 good chocolate was EXTREMELY hard to find in the USA. It is getting easier, but it is still hit or miss.

If your favorite 70%+ bar is not included on my list, it is not because i am trying to personally insult you, it is because i have never found it. Send me a bar , but please please please don't send me email about me ignoring your favorite!

Ok, before the full list:

My Favorites.
Slitti 82% Artigianale - fondenteItaly
Chocolat Bonnat 75% Pour Croquer  - trinitéFrance
Galler 70% noir extrêmeBelgium
Michel Cluizel 85% Grand AmerFrance
Enric Rovira 70% Rajoles - negroSpain
Chocolat Bonnat 75% Pour Croquer  - MadagascarFrance
Angelina Rumpelmayer 85% noir 85France

My entire list.

Check out the entire list of over 100 bars bars that i have tried. This list is sorted alphabetically by manufacturer. (and it's gotten rather large, so it does take a few moments to load -- i just don't want to remove any data!)

Many of these i have found in the USA. However, the majority of this list is bars that we collected on our 1999-2000 European Adventure. Looking for real Chocolate, eating it and collecting the wrappers became an inherent part of our travels. I wanted to try as much as possible, and at least one bar per country. I skipped over very, very few (only the Bourbon Vanilla things) and even doubled up on several by mistake. We bought 165 bars of 73 varieties. (Someday i will scan all the wrappers.) We would ALWAYS have one or two bars in our rucksacks and often would lay out 4 or 5 or 6 varieties and have a tasting. The climax of this was in Oslo when we sat down with Tonje, our Norwegian friend, and tasted the 5 Chocolat Bonnat single variety (and single locale!) bars side by side! Trinidad, Madagascar, Ivory Coast, Sri Lanka & Venezuela. It was amazing the differences between the different bars! I HIGHLY recommend this.

These days i show some restraint, buying only the Chocolate bars i consider to be of the highest quality:

  • 70% or greater Cacao solids ONLY,
  • no artificial flavors,
  • no extra ingredients,
  • maximum of 5 ingredients, with Chocolate being TWO of the top three,
  • a preference for ORGANIC and FAIR TRADE.
  • a preference for non foil wrapping.
  • fresh (a recent date -- the flavor is lost very quickly and the bar can go rancid in only a few weeks)

What i would like to see on the labels!

Here's what i wish the labels all contained:
  • variety (sub-species)
  • place of origin (where it was grown)
  • date of harvest
  • date of manufacture
  • percentage of Cocoa Butter and Cacao Paste
  • percentage of vanilla and lecithin, if any.
  • parent company of manufacturer

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