Semisweet Vs Dark Chocolate – What’s The Difference?

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Chocolate is the single most popular treat in the world and lately, there has been a particular focus on dark chocolate culture.

But with so many dark chocolate choices, how could you possibly know the difference – if there even is one! The biggest question we always get is whether semisweet and dark chocolate is the same.

So, is there a difference between semisweet and dark chocolate? Semisweet chocolate is a subcategory of dark chocolate. Dark chocolate must have a minimum of 35% cocoa solids. The higher the number of solids, the more bitter the chocolate becomes. Semisweet chocolate has a cocoa solid content of between 35-65%.

If you want to know more, continue reading as we will have a look at what chocolate is, explain how it is categorized, and compare dark chocolate categories.

Everything You Need To Know About Chocolate

To understand anything about chocolate, especially its composition, we need to look at where it starts.

Chocolate is obtained from cocoa beans in cocoa fields. There are 3 main varieties: Forastero, Criollo, and Trinitario.

Forastero is the most common and easily obtained varietal of them all. Chocolates that are made using Criollo beans are much rarer and considered a delicacy.

Firstly, the cocoa beans are harvested, cleaned, and dried in the sun. They are then roasted and undergo several steps to remove the cocoa nibs.

These nibs are then ground into a cocoa mass and liquefied. This liquid, also known as chocolate liquor, is chocolate in its purest form without any preservatives, stabilizers, or colorants.

This liquor is further processed into cocoa solids and cocoa butter

Cocoa butter is a white cocoa mass that is the base of every type of chocolate. Cocoa solids are what gives certain chocolates their dark brown color and bitter flavor.

The ratio of cocoa butter to cocoa solids is what determines the type of chocolate.

Chocolate Categories

For us to understand what the difference (if any) between semisweet and dark chocolate is, it will help to explain how chocolate is categorized.

As we previously mentioned, the ratio between cocoa butter and solids is what determines the type of chocolate.

White chocolate is the sweetest chocolate available on the market. It consists of cocoa butter, sweetener, and milk but no cocoa solids. This means that there is no brown color imparted in the mixture which gives the chocolate a silky cream color.

To be classified as white chocolate, by law, it may not contain any cocoa solids.

Milk chocolate is also sweet chocolate that consists of cocoa butter, sweetener, milk, or powdered milk as well as cocoa solids. This means that milk chocolate does have a brown color.

To be classified as milk chocolate, most laws state that there has to be between 20-35% cocoa solids (some countries have slight variations of this number).

Dark chocolate is what we will be discussing in-depth.

Dark Chocolate

Like we just mentioned, to be classified as dark chocolate, it must contain a minimum of 35% cocoa solids meaning that there is still a large portion of the unclassified territory. This naturally led to other classifications arising.

Dark chocolate has 3 classifications: semisweet, bittersweet, and bitter.

Semisweet chocolate is defined as chocolate with a cocoa solid content of between 35-65%

Bittersweet chocolate has a cocoa solid content ranging between 65-80%.

Any chocolate above 80% falls under bitter chocolate. This isn’t an official chocolate term but all the chocolates that range from 80-100% are extremely bitter with virtually no sweetness at all.

In some regions of the world, they only classify 70% and higher chocolate as dark chocolate, but the majority of classifications as previously mentioned. 

Semisweet Chocolate Vs Bittersweet Chocolate

Considering semisweet chocolate is a type of dark chocolate, it would be better to compare semisweet and bittersweet dark chocolate.

These are indicators of how much sugar the dark chocolate contains – the higher the solids percentage, the lower the sugar content will be.

Semisweet chocolate has a slightly darker color than milk chocolate (which is a light brown) and depending on the percentage solids, a slight bitter taste.

If the chocolate has a 35% solid content, the chocolate will still be extremely sweet and no bitter notes will be picked up. Only when the chocolate reaches about 50% will you start to note a bitter taste coming through as there will be much less sugar and much more solids present.

Semisweet chocolate is very versatile as it can be easily substituted with either milk chocolate or bittersweet dark chocolate.

Like most chocolates, semisweet chocolate comes in many forms including chocolate chips, discs, bars, slabs, and blocks. They are all the same, just in different shapes intended for different uses.

Bittersweet chocolate contains a cocoa solid percentage of between 65-80%. This means that they contain more solids and much less sugar than white, milk, or semisweet chocolate.

Bittersweet will also have a much darker color than some semisweet dark chocolates and depending on the percentage of solids a much more bitter taste.

80% bittersweet chocolate is very bitter and you will note that the sweetness is almost completely unnoticeable, depending on your taste preferences.

As with semisweet chocolate, it comes in a variety of forms intended for different uses.

How To Use Semisweet And Bittersweet Chocolate

Semisweet chocolate is the perfect all-rounder. It isn’t nearly as sickeningly sweet as white chocolate meaning it is great chocolate to use for recipes that already contain a lot of sugar.

You can substitute bittersweet or bitter chocolate with a semisweet option as it will help reduce the bitter flavors. 

Bittersweet chocolate on the other hand is the perfect chocolate to add depth to your flavor palette. It can create a beautifully rich dish that compliments many other flavor ques within the recipe.

Chocolate can be used in an endless amount of dishes, both savory and sweet. It can be used as a condiment, a garnish, a flavoring ingredient, a colorant, or a stabilizer. 

If chocolate must be incorporated into a recipe and it is not in a powdered form, it is usually melted over a double boiler. It is then slowly incorporated to ensure it doesn’t cook any of the other ingredients like eggs.

It can, however, be incorporated in pieces to create texture in the final product or contribute towards the moistness of the product.

Both semisweet and bittersweet chocolates pair well with pungent cheeses like chevre or blue cheese. It also compliments a wide variety of nuts and most strong brewed coffees.

Chocolate also makes a great accompaniment for a lot of beers, wines, and sparkling wines.

How To Choose Quality Chocolate

As we all know, different products have different qualities.

Between semisweet and bittersweet chocolate, neither are better in quality. Quality in chocolate is determined by two main factors:

  1. How Chocolate Is Sourced – The most important of these would be the quality of cocoa beans including whether they are organic or were sustainably sourced. We truly believe that responsibly sourced ingredients automatically taste better. Make sure your chocolate has an approved stamp on it.
  2. How Chocolate Is Manufactured – This includes a large number of steps and each is as important as the next. If the beans weren’t roasted properly at the start, no matter how well you temper it in the end, it will not be a good product.

How To Properly Store Chocolate

No matter what type of chocolate it is, it should always be stored in a cool, dry place away from any direct sunlight.

Chocolate should never and under no circumstance be stored in the refrigerator. The moisture in the fridge will cause either sugar bloom or fat bloom.

This is when either the structure of the fat changes or sugar crystals form on top of the chocolate, creating a harmless thin white layer.

Chocolate can also easily absorb odors so make sure there aren’t any strong odors wafting around the storage area.

Feel free to check out our complete guide to storing chocolate (well, specifically chocolate chips, but chocolate is chocolate regardless of what shape).

Dark Chocolate Nutrition

By now most people would have heard that dark chocolate is healthy.

It contains tons of antioxidants and minerals such as iron and magnesium. Antioxidants prevent oxidative stress that is a contributing factor to aging.

Thus, think of a dark chocolate fountain as an antioxidant-filled fountain of youth.

Some research has suggested that dark chocolate can help reduce inflammation, lower the risk of heart diseases, reduce insulin resistance, lower blood pressure, and improve your brain function.

Depending on the type of dark chocolate, it doesn’t contain a lot of sugar. The higher the percentage of cocoa solids in a chocolate slab, the lower the amount of sugar it contains.

However, all that being said, chocolate should still be consumed in moderation as it is extremely high in fat and can also be the cause of various health issues.

100g Dark Chocolate (70-85%)
Calories 604
Protein 7.87g
Fat 43.06g
Carbohydrates 46.36g
Dietary fiber 11g
Sugar 24.23g
Iron 12.02mg
Magnesium 230mg
Zinc 3.34mg

Related Questions

Can semisweet chocolate be milk chocolate?

Semisweet chocolate consists of cocoa solids and sugar. There’s no milk products part of the production process. Even though it can be very sweet, it still classifies as dark chocolate.

If the recipe only calls for dark chocolate, which should you use?

We recommend using a 62-65% semisweet chocolate if the recipe doesn’t specify which dark chocolate to use.

If the recipe only says to use “chocolate”, try using a 55% chocolate as it is a very neutral and will not lean towards any specific flavor profile.

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