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How to choose the best quality chocolate (and why it matters)

Chocolate – a beloved treat across the globe. Whether you’re tucking into a gooey chocolate brownie, sipping a comforting mug of cocoa or taking a bite out of a chocolate bar, there are few treats more satisfying. And you want to make the most of that moment, which means choosing the best quality chocolate that you can afford. 

Because poor quality chocolate doesn’t just disappoint your tastebuds. It’s also often packed with sugar and additives, it may contain traces of pesticides, and it won’t give you the health benefits of high-quality dark chocolate. Even worse, it could be linked to child labour.

So, how do you choose the best quality chocolate? We’ll reveal all shortly. But first off, let’s put one myth to bed… 

Chocolate isn’t bad for you

In fact, chocolate can actually be good for you. Don’t believe us? Maybe you’ll believe Tim Spector. While he’s probably best known for his role in the Covid Symptom Study app, Spector is now mainly focusing on gut health. In his latest book, Food for Life, Spector states, “Dark chocolate has large amounts of polyphenols and fibre and is good for your gut.”

And it’s not just your gut that benefits. Dark chocolate can even improve cognitive function, according to neuropsychologist Rachel Taylor.

But here’s the crunch. While cocoa beans aren’t unhealthy,  the other ingredients that are often added to chocolate – like sugar – often are. So, if health is a top priority, you’re going to want to choose dark chocolate as it has less sugar.

Why is it best to choose high-quality chocolate?

There are numerous reasons to choose the best quality chocolate that you can find.

Better taste

Ultimately, better quality means a richer flavour.

Better for health

High-quality chocolate tends to have fewer added ingredients so may be better for your health. According to Tim Spector, “Most of the evidence suggests consuming chocolate may be protective for heart health, though this may only be true for high-quality dark chocolate.”

Better bakes

If you enjoy chocolatey bakes (and who doesn’t), you’ll want to look for a high-quality cocoa or cacao powder. We recommend Food Thoughts Organic Cacao Powder, which is made from 100% cacao. As there’s nothing added, it’s easier to get the ingredients spot on in your baking.

Better for farmers 

High-quality chocolate is usually produced from ethically sourced cocoa beans. This means that the farmers have been paid a fair price and there’s less chance of child labour. Always check that the packet says ‘fairtrade’ or ‘fairly traded’.

How do you pick the best chocolate?

The best quality chocolate is made with fino de aroma cocoa beans and has minimal added ingredients. It’s organic, fair trade and has a high cocoa content – at least 70%.

Let’s look at how to choose the best quality chocolate in a bit more detail…

1. Check the ingredients list

Tim Spector recommends choosing the best quality dark chocolate with high levels of cocoa and only three or four ingredients. “The purest form of dark chocolate is made simply by mixing cocoa solids and cocoa butter with sugar.”

2. Go for a higher percentage of cocoa – at least 70%

The cocoa percentage should be clearly stated on the label. If it isn’t listed, it’s probably pretty low. As Spector says in his book, “The consensus is that above 70 percent seems to be the right health balance when the fermented products and polyphenols outweigh the fat and sugar content.” 

If you find dark chocolate too bitter, consider upping the percentage of cocoa gradually. For example, you could start with one square from a 40% bar each day, move onto 50% the next week, and so on.

3. Choose fair trade

If you buy fair trade, you’ll know that the farmers have been paid a fair price for their labour and enjoy better working conditions. It also often means that the cocoa is better quality. You can find out more about fair trade cocoa here.

4. Look for the words ‘fino de aroma

Fino de aroma cacao beans are amongst the best in the world. Only 8% of cacao worldwide makes the grade. The beans are also sun-dried rather than heavily processed, so they retain more flavour and nutrients. At Food Thoughts, we only use fino de aroma cocoa beans. We won’t accept anything less.

5. Go organic

Organically grown cocoa beans are better for the environment and for farmers. Plus, there’s no risk of pesticide residue ending up in your chocolate.

6. Choose award-winning products

The Great Taste Awards recognise the finest food and drink products in the UK. Competition is fierce and judges include top chefs, food critics, restaurateurs and food writers. So if you spy the Great Taste Award badge, you know you’re onto a good thing. Food Thoughts has won several Great Taste Awards over the years, including for our Chocolate Coated Roasted Cacao Nibs.  

Does premium quality chocolate cost more?

If you’re on a tight budget or worried about weight gain, bear in mind that dark chocolate is pretty filling and you only need small amounts to reap the benefits. So, premium quality chocolate might cost a little more, but a single bar will probably last you for several days.

What is the most pure chocolate?

The purest chocolate is cacao. It’s minimally processed so hangs on to more of the cocoa bean’s antioxidants, minerals and other goodness. You can use cacao for lots of things. Food Thoughts Cacao Powder makes decadently dark hot chocolate drinks, or it can be used instead of cocoa powder in cakes. We also make award-winning Pure Cacao Melts. These unsweetened disks of dark chocolate are perfect for brownies and other recipes.

You can read more about the benefits of cacao here.

Can you get away with cheaper chocolate for baking?

You can, but life is too short for disappointing bakes. Better ingredients = better results. If you’re on a budget and don’t want to sacrifice taste, check out our guide to energy efficient baking. You can also save money by buying in bulk.

What do you look for when tasting chocolate?

A chocolate tasting session can be great fun. Before you pop each piece in your mouth, take a moment to appreciate the aroma. What differences can you detect between the fragrance of different types of chocolate? 

How does the chocolate look? (High-quality chocolate will usually be glossy and evenly coloured.)

Finally, taste the chocolate. Rather than bite straight into it, let it start to melt on your tongue. What’s the texture like? Good quality chocolate should feel smooth and silky rather than gritty or greasy. Savour the taste. Does it change as the flavour develops? Poor quality or overly sweetened chocolate might leave you with an unpleasant, artificially sweet aftertaste.

One man’s oyster is another man’s Marmite, so you might not agree with your friends which chocolate is the best. But you’ll have a lot of fun debating it.

Which chocolate is best quality?

We’ve got to give ourselves the top spot here. At Food Thoughts, we believe great bakes start with great ingredients, so we only use fino de aroma cocoa beans. All our products are fairly traded. Many are organic. And we’ve won several Great Taste Awards, including Great Taste Producer 2022.

You’ll find Food Thoughts products in most supermarkets and can also buy direct from our shop.