When it comes to chocolate, there's a whole lot of good on the dark side.

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Name the richest, most indulgent dessert you've ever had. Chances are it had dark chocolate in it. With a deeper, richer flavor than milk chocolate or white chocolate, dark chocolate contains more of the essence of what we love about the experience of eating chocolate. Here's a look at what dark chocolate is, the various forms it comes in, and whether or not it's as good for you as you hope it is.

What Is Dark Chocolate?

Dark chocolate is made from cocoa - the roasted and ground seeds, or nibs, of the cacao tree which produces a liquid or paste called chocolate liquor or cocoa liquor. The liquor is then separated into cocoa butter and cocoa powder. (Unlike milk chocolate, dark chocolate does not contain milk solids.)

Cocoa butter and cocoa powder are combined with other ingredients such as sugar to offset the natural bitterness of the cocoa, vanilla to enhance flavor, and an emulsifier for extra smoothness. Tweaking the amount of cocoa, cocoa butter, and sugar produces different kinds of dark chocolate:

  • Bittersweet has the least amount of sugar
  • Semisweet has more sugar than bittersweet
  • Sweet has the most sugar
  • Cocoa powder can be sweet or bitter, and has the least amount of cocoa butter
  • Couverture has the most cocoa butter, which makes it great for melting, dipping, and molding

What Does the Percentage of Cocoa Mean?

When you read the wrapper on a bar of chocolate, you'll see a percentage called out, such as 70% cocoa. It tells you how much of the weight of the bar comes from cocoa mass (cocoa liquor and cocoa butter). The rest of the weight comes from additional ingredients such as sugar and vanilla. The higher percentage of cocoa means more cocoa mass, which results in a more intense chocolate flavor.

Is Dark Chocolate Good For You?

When it comes to the health benefits of dark chocolate, there's sweet news for chocolate-lovers. Nutrition experts say dark chocolate is especially high in natural antioxidants, and that eating dark chocolate may improve cardiovascular health and reduce stress. In contrast, milk chocolate has milk added to the mix (but you knew that) and does not offer the same health benefits as dark chocolate.

Indulge dark chocolate cravings - in moderation - and lower blood pressure at the same time? Sweet!

How To Use Dark Chocolate In Recipes

Dark chocolate comes in chips and bars, and as sweetened or unsweetened cocoa powder. You can use dark chocolate in a vast array of desserts like cookies, cakes, cheesecakes, brownies, fudge, truffles, frostings, ice cream, puddings, and fondue. Or you could simply let a square of dark chocolate melt slowly on your tongue and bliss out.

Unsweetened dark chocolate shows up in savory recipes as well, such as Mexican mole sauce and chili. For best results, use the kind of chocolate that's recommended in the recipe you use so you get the right balance of flavors.

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