Hershey’s and other companies have started using vegetable oil instead of cocoa butter in order to save on production costs. The result can be greasy, with an off-putting flavor.
Soy can also be genetically modified, so if you do have to buy a bar containing it, make sure it is labeled “non-GMO.”
Look for dark chocolate to contain 65 percent cocoa and up, while milk chocolate will normally contain less, around 50 percent, and white chocolate around 30 percent.
Bloom, a whitening of the surface, can be caused by cocoa butter or sugar separating from the rest of the ingredients after improper storage. The chocolate is still edible, but it may point to a larger manufacturing and quality problem and should be avoided.
It usually means the company is looking out for the consumer’s best interests, creating chocolate free of pesticides, which contains sustainably grown cocoa beans, and that is made without child labor practices.
Cocoa beans from South America have long been considered the gold standard of taste and quality, while Africa, Asia and the Caribbean also supply beans to many worthwhile purveyors. Do a little research and you’ll see that high-quality chocolate companies such as Green & Black’s provide sourcing information on their websites.
When I eat out and have a particularly delectable chocolate dessert, I make sure and inquire what brand and kind of chocolate the pastry chef is using.
I first chose my favorite Valrhona cocoa powder mostly because it was packaged in a clear plastic jar. I liked being able to see the richness and quality before purchasing. Specialty food shops can be a great place to find fine bulk chocolate bars and cocoa powders, as well as pick up a few new kinds to experiment with.
When it hits your tongue, a good piece of chocolate will be smooth, not grainy, and will melt slowly. If the chocolate melts too quickly, it may be due to the presence of partially hydrogenated vegetable oil instead of cocoa butter. The taste should not be sharp or off in any way, and the chocolate should not appear or taste waxy or oily.
Look for your chocolate bar to break with a satisfying snap, not slowly bend and tear. This snap signifies that the chocolate has been tempered correctly and contains a higher amount of cocoa.
– Kate Steffens
Kate Steffens is a pastry chef, writer, DJ, artist, designer and all-around Renaissance woman. She is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy and the University of Texas at Austin. She runs the rock-and-roll chocolate company, Straight Outta Chocolate. When she's not elbow deep in chocolate, you can find her reading, gardening, working on art projects and listening to old records.