For my generation, dark chocolate trauma usually took one of two forms. The Blue Box of Candy Karma struck when we were desperate for something sweet. We knew what it was and what it would do and we swore we would just eat one piece. Even though it tasted worse than the cheapest waxy Easter Bunny, just one piece became two or three. An hour later, our beleaguered intestines called up Montezuma, the patron saint of digestive vengeance.
Even more insidious was the bar of unsweetened chocolate tucked away in the cabinet next to the baking powder and the food coloring. Hefty and smelling tantalizingly like a pan of warm brownies, it was easy to ignore the warning sign that should have told us we would be sorry as soon as we took a bite. It was freakishly hard and dense as no chocolate bar should be. It didn't stop us. Bearing down hard, our jaws would pop as we scraped away a corner and the dark curls melted onto our tongues, turning the world brown as we choked. So much for dark chocolate.
Years later, it was marketed as a grown up, sophisticated treat. Hershey's Special Dark, Dove Dark, and the deeper hue of Pocky for men might appeal to Mom and Dad, but we weren't fooled. We would keep to our Cadbury Eggs, thank you very much. Those lovely medium brown ovoids were soft on the tongue, melting to a creamy mush that put every kid in a sugar coma by the time all the "Peace be with yous" had been passed around in church.
So how does one go from the gooey thrill of sugar and palm oil laced with not really that much cocoa to the snap and tang of candy so dark it will stain clothing? Age, maturing attitudes about food, and health concerns are the usual reasons. The current nutritional wisdom is that a little chocolate in your diet can be a good thing. The flavanols, antioxidents, and oleic acids fight inflammation, are good for your circulatory system, and can even serve as mood boosters and craving tamers. However, there is a catch: This works best with chocolate that has not been alkalized or heavily sweetened. In other words, if you want the health benefits, you need to stick to the dark stuff.
Diabetics (at least THIS diabetic) are advised to eat a square a day. That comes to four to eight carbs depending on the chocolate. Some dieticians prefer their clients keep the percentage to seventy or above?
Percentage? It is amount of the bar that is derived from the actual cacao (or cocoa) beans, this includes the liqueur, which is the center of the bean ground to a liquid, cocoa powder and cocoa butter. Some labels may use cocoa and cacao interchangeably, but when it comes to candy, cocoa usually refers to cocoa powder while cacao refers to the whole bean. Most premium dark chocolates list the percentage. The higher the number, the less sugar is used and more intense the taste. Regular dark chocolates that don't list the percentage of cacao are usually around 40 to 50%.
What to expect from this Mephistophelean version of your mother's favorite indulgence? This isn't remotely like the stuff you might pilfer from your bowl of Halloween giveaways. It snaps when you break it and the blocks click against each other like tiles. It's best eaten in small bites to give your palate a chance to let the flavors unfold. Below are my reviews of eight of the many seriously dark bars out there. Since my dietetic requirements limit me to one square of the really hard stuff a day, I had to do a snap test with everything at once and then cut off small corners to test for taste and mouthfeel. They are all very different and all good, so this is in alpha by maker order and not ranked.
Alter Eco Dark Blackout Organic Chocolate 86% Cacao - San Francisco based Alter Eco has created a dark bar that presents a sweet, chocolatey tang that lasts on the tongue before dissipating into a slightly bittersweet aftertaste. It is the closest thing to a semi-sweet chocolate chip you will find in a premium chocolate bar. If you ever raided the pantry for a handful of chocolate chips or feel nostalgic for a chocolate chip cookie, this is your bar. It weighs in at 3.17 ounces. A recommended serving is half the bar or five squares: 240 calories, 14 carbs, 6g of sugar, 5g of fiber, 3g of protein. Divide that serving by one of five squares and you get: 48 calories, 3.75 carbs, 1.2g of sugar, 1g of fiber, and .6g of protein.
Chocolove Extra Strong Dark Chocolate 77% Cocoa - Packaged in a pretty gold wrapper containing a preprinted love note, this bar might be the perfect mashnote to send a chocolate lover. Like the Ghirardelli reviewed below, this is what the Japanese might call a gentle or "woman's recipe. It is lightly acidic and there is little aftertaste. A bite is a sweet burst of cocoa that dissipates quickly. The whole bar weighs in at 3.2 ounces. A recommended serving is one third of the bar or six of the eighteen squares 190 calories, 12 carbs, 6g of sugar, 3g of fiber, 2g of protein. Divide that serving by two of the six squares and you get: 63.3 calories, 4 carbs, 2g of sugar, 1g of fiber, and .66g of protein.
Ghirardelli Intense Dark Midnight Reverie 86% Cacao - For the high percentage of cacao, this chocolate had a very light, sweet taste. unlike other bars where the liqueur and the vanilla seem to alternately assert themselves, this bar tends more toward sweetness with a slightly fruity and fleeting after taste. This is the dark bar I would give to someone who has never tried this kind of chocolate before. The whole bar weighs in at 3.17 ounces. A recommended serving is half the bar or four of the eight squares 250 calories, 15 carbs, 5g of sugar, 5g of fiber, 3g of protein. Divide that serving by one of the four squares and you get: 62.5 calories, 3.75 carbs, 1.25g of sugar, 1.25g of fiber, and .75g of protein.
Lindt Excellence Extra Dark 85% cocoa and Supreme Dark 90% Cocoa - The eighty-five percent Extra Dark has a slight taste of oak that sweetens and mellows to cherry. It is complex and enjoyable and has an oddly fatty mouthfeel to have such a lean recipe. One square definitely feels like a full portion. The Supreme Dark is sweeter and deeper in flavor. The initial cherry-like chocolate taste is smooth and the bourbon vanilla asserts itself nicely. It seems to hit my palate almost all at once with no lingering finish. Not the most complex of chocolates, but quite nice. Of all the bars I reviewed, this is the one I can see someone possibly eating an entire serving. The bars weigh in at 3.5 ounces each. The nutritional information lists the entire container has 2.5 servings. That would be four squares. Extra Dark 85%: 230 calories, 15 carbs, 5g of sugar, 6g of fiber, 5g of protein. Divide that serving by one of the four squares and you get: 57.5 calories, 3.75 carbs, 1.25g of sugar, 1.5g of fiber, and .1.25g of protein. Supreme Dark 90%: 240 calories, 12 carbs, 3g of sugar, 5g of fiber, 4g of protein. Divide that serving by one of the four squares and you get: 60 calories, 3 carbs, .75g of sugar, 1.25g of fiber, and 1g of protein.
Madecasse Madagascar Chocolate 86% Cocoa - There is something almost floral about the initial taste of this chocolate. The texture, while not as smooth as the European or American chocolates, is crisp and delightful, The mouthfeel suggests something that breaks and scatters across the palate. The finish is sweet, rich and light. This complex, unusual candy embodies what I think the French culinarians meant when they coined the term amuse bouche. The whole bar weighs in at 2.64 ounces. A recommended serving is half the bar or twelve of the twenty-four squares 211 calories, 15 carbs, 10g of sugar, 2.6g of fiber, 2.6g of protein. Divide that serving by three of the 12 squares and you get: 52.75 calories, 3.75 carbs, 2.5g of sugar, .65g of fiber, and .65g of protein.
Moser Roth Premium Dark Chocolate (Aldi) 85% Cocoa - Aldi is a chain owned by one half of the now-divided Albrecht family grocery business in Germany. (The other half owns Trader Joe's.) High quality house brands, organic items, and product lines that go beyond the usual discount fare make Aldi a little slice of heaven for frugal foodies on a budget. Their sweet pastries and all of their nonseasonal house brand chocolates are made in Germany. Moser Roth is their premium line of chocolates. Their darkest at 85% is sweet, woody and has just a hint of salt and vanilla. It tastes like one of those happy accidents during holiday candymaking where someone overshot on the cocoa and the result is a sweet culinary sin that stays in the kitchen because it is not for children or church ladies. The whole bar weighs 4.4 ounces. A recommended serving is two of the five individually wrapped bars. 330 calories, 16 carbs, 8g of sugar, 6g of fiber, 6g of protein. Divide that serving by one half of one bar and you get: 82.5 calories, 4 carbs, 2g of sugar, 1.5g of fiber, and .1.5g of protein.
World Market All Natural Chocolate 99% Cacao - The deep, dark bar has the same eye-opening jolt of flavor as that first well-made espresso you tried as a college freshman. The label lists dark chocolate liqueur and sugar as its only ingredients. It is surprisingly smooth, almost smoky to the tongue at first. the aftertaste is tart and berry-like. It is the candy equivalent to a nice Merlot on a caffeine bender. The whole bar weighs in at three ounces. The nutritional information lists a recommended serving at half the bar. That would be six squares. Is it good? Oh, yes it is, but you'll probably find your cocoa jones tamed after just one. 210 calories, 14 carbs, 1g of sugar, 7g of fiber, 5g of protein. Divide that serving by one of the six squares and you get: 35 calories, 2.3 carbs, .16g of sugar, 1.16g of fiber, and .83g of protein.
copyright 2013 Jas Faulkner/ Zen Dixie