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A guide to the different types of chocolate

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A guide to the different types of chocolate
Do you know your dark chocolate from your Dutch cocoa? Or your cooking chocolate from your couverture? Read our guide to the different types of chocolate here
There are various types of chocolate products. The more cocoa solids each contains, the more bitter and chocolatey it is. The different types are not always interchangeable in cooking as they have different ratios of cocoa butter and cocoa solids, which can affect the texture, moisture and flavour of the recipe. The following are general guidelines only, as the ratios of ingredients in various types of chocolate vary from country to country.

Unsweetened chocolate

Also known as baking chocolate or bitter chocolate, unsweetened chocolate contains cocoa solids without added sugar or flavouring. Bitter, grainy and difficult to melt, it is used mainly by bakers and manufacturers of chocolate products rather than by home cooks.
"Unsweetened chocolate is used more by professionals than home cooks"
Professionals prefer it as they can completely control the sugar content of the finished dish. For the home cook, in recipes that specify unsweetened chocolate, replace each 30g unsweetened chocolate with two tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, plus three teaspoons unsalted butter.

Dark chocolate

A close-up shot of dark chocolate squares and dark chocolate shavings
Also known as plain chocolate, dark chocolate contains varying percentages of cocoa, plus sugar and fat. It is suitable for both eating and baking. Recipes specifying dark chocolate will be most successful if made with a chocolate that has at least 50 per cent cocoa solids.

Bittersweet and semisweet chocolate

Both types of dark chocolate, these have a high proportion of cocoa solids and little sugar (though semisweet has slightly more than bittersweet). They can be eaten as is, if you like bitter chocolate, or used interchangeably in cooking.


Couverture is a type of chocolate used by professional confectioners and pâtissiers, but it is also suited to the home cook. It contains more cocoa butter than ordinary chocolate and so melts and spreads easily. It also contains cocoa solids, sugar and, in the case of milk couverture, milk powder.
"Couverture has a high shine, rich flavour and brittle texture, and is used to coat desserts"
Couverture has a high shine, a rich flavour and a brittle texture. It is used to make chocolates and to coat chocolate cakes and desserts. For use in coating, it first has to be tempered; for recipes that require melted couverture to be combined with other ingredients, it does not need to be tempered first. Dark, milk and white couverture are available.

Cooking chocolate

The quality of cooking chocolate can vary widely. Choose a brand with a high percentage of cocoa solids and little or no vegetable oil (this should be absent from, or low down on, the list of ingredients on the package).
"High-quality cooking chocolate has little or no vegetable oil"
Types containing a large ratio of vegetable oil will have an inferior flavour or texture and are sometimes known as compound chocolate. Poor-quality chocolate such as compound chocolate lacks the lushness and intense flavour of true chocolate, and in most cases is best avoided.

Milk chocolate

Milk chocolate combines 20–30 per cent cocoa solids and milk (either fresh, powdered or condensed). It is the most common eating chocolate but is less widely used in cooking, and it should not be substituted for dark chocolate in baking as it will not give the same result.

White chocolate

A bar of white chocolate on a brown plate
This is not technically chocolate at all, as it contains no cocoa solids. It is made from cocoa butter (and/or, in cheaper types, vegetable fat), sugar, milk powder and vanilla. It is creamy-white in colour and very sweet, without the bitterness or the true chocolate taste of other types of chocolate. It is particularly sensitive to heat and can be difficult to handle.

Cocoa powder

If cocoa solids are pulverised and sieved, unsweetened (or natural) cocoa powder is the result. Cocoa powder can be used in baking or mixed with hot water or milk to make a drink. When used in baking, cocoa is usually sifted with the other dry ingredients, or it can be blended into a paste with cold water.
A person sieves cocoa powder into a mixing bowl
Cocoa powder with added sugar is usually sold as drinking chocolate. It should not be substituted for unsweetened cocoa in recipes, as the additional sugar and flavourings will affect the result.

Dutch cocoa

Dutch (or Dutch-process) cocoa powder is unsweetened cocoa powder that has been processed with an alkali (bicarbonate of soda/baking soda) to neutralise its natural acidity. It dissolves more easily than natural cocoa powder and is rich and dark. It is considered the best type of cocoa powder to use in cooking.
Banner photo: From dark chocolate to Dutch cocoa, read our guide to the different types of chocolate (credit: Towfiqu barbhuiya (Unsplash))
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