Kick the Candy, Keep the Bar

I’m a total chocoholic. I can’t get enough of the stuff. When I work from home, my afternoon snack is often 3 squares of 88% dark chocolate. I keep a bar stashed in my desk drawer. Michael came in one afternoon while I was indulging and made the mistake of asking if he could have a piece of candy. I thought the chocolate bar was going to melt right there on the desk from the gravity of the insult. He corrected himself pretty quickly, so I deigned to share with him, but egad!


The Facts
There’s a considerable difference between chocolate and candy. That is, real chocolate is not the stuff that ends up in a candy bar. A perfect example is Hershey’s Special Dark. It’s cocoa content–and that’s what you want to look for–is only 45%, versus my 88% Endangered Species Dark Chocolate jaguar bar. (Each different bar highlights a different animal.) Herein lies the difference between a candy bar and a chocolate bar:

Hershey’s Special Dark Dove Silky Smooth Dark Chocolate Equal Exchange Very Dark Chocolate Endangered Species Dark Chocolate
Cocoa content 45% 50-60% 71% 88%
Calories for ~40 grams 230 220 230 210
Fat 13 gr. 13 gr. 17 gr. 20 gr.
Carbohydrates 24 gr. 24 gr. 18 gr. 17 gr.
Fiber 3 gr. 3 gr. 5 gr. 6 gr.
Sugars 19 gr. 19 gr. 11 gr. 5 gr.
Protein 3 gr. 2 gr. 3 gr. 4 gr.

Note two important nutritional differences. First, lots of studies tout the health benefits of eating dark chocolate. But the significant point that often isn’t conveyed is that it’s the cocoa content that really matters. The higher the cocoa content, the more pure the bar is. The lower cocoa content indicates more ingredients were added that have diluted the strong cocoa flavor as well as the nutritional benefits in two ways.

In addition to losing the cocoa content, milk and sugar are added, both of which add carbohydrates and sugars. As the chart indicates (yes, I know I totally sounded like an academic writing that…), there’s far less sugar in a bar as the cocoa content increases. The same goes for the total grams of carbohydrates, which is determined by subtracting the amount of fiber to get the net carbohydrate grams. The 45% ends up with 21 grams while the 88% is only 11.

Second, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten 40 grams of an 88% bar in one sitting because three squares–or sometimes even just one–is satisfying. It’s because you’re actually getting the concentrated flavor of the chocolate over the sugar, which is what makes you want more. And this isn’t chocolate you chew. You let it melt on your tongue.

If you can find a 100% chocolate bar, that’s great, because, like cacao nibs, you’re eating 100% pure cocoa. For most people, this is way too strong and bitter as our taste buds are accustomed to candy bars, not cocoa. We have the colonial Spaniards to thank for this. When they invaded the Aztecs, they knew the cocoa beans were significant, but they couldn’t stomach the pure cocoa, so they added sugar to make it more palatable.

It’s pretty difficult to find a well-made 100% chocolate because it’s difficult to perfect and there’s not much demand for it. The best I ever had was from Soma in Toronto. Sometimes I think about making the 8 hour drive just to stock up on these bars, since the last time I checked,  they can’t be shipped to the U.S. thanks to Homeland Security policies.

For the Love of Chocolate
What I suggest you do, to get yourself off the candy bars and onto the good stuff, is start with the highest cocoa content you can tolerate, before it becomes too bitter. When we discuss the cocoa industry in my global economy class, I take samples of chocolate. A few daring souls try the 88%, but even for those who aren’t used to real chocolate, usually the 70% is sweet enough for them to enjoy. When we kicked the candy bars out of our house, we started with the Endangered Species 72% chimpanzee bars.

Over time, as we eliminated processed foods out of our diets, moving first to whole grains and non-refined sugars, and then to the low-carbohydrate diet, 72% became too sweet. Michael topped out at about 80% with the Equal Exchange bars, but I quickly came to love the 88% jaguar bars. You, too, can come to love what’s good for you.

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