Ancient Mayans never sweetened their chocolate drink. The aptly named “bitter water” consisted only of crushed cocoa beans and chilies. They would probably look at one of our modern chocolate bars and say, “What’s the matter, snowflake? Can’t handle a bit of bitterness?”. Well, they would say so right after screaming their heads off due to all that time travel business.
But, what we have to deal with now is that bar of chocolate in front of you.
I understand what’s happened: that rich hue and a shiny surface seduced you into taking a bite. Once you gave into temptation, you were rewarded with bitterness. You probably also paid a pretty penny for the blasted thing. So, what now? You don’t want to throw it away or waste it on that brownie recipe that never comes out right. Maybe you should leave it for a punishment game of sorts?
Nah, don’t do any of those things because there are ways to deal with bitter chocolate. This time, I’ll show you how to pair bitter chocolate for better flavor. what to add to the bar itself to reduce bitterness, and I’ll teach you how to recognize different types of chocolate so you never land in this pickle again.
Dark chocolate vs chocolate liqueur
You usually have to go to specialty stores to get your hands on chocolate liqueur, but it’s still possible to pick some up instead of classic baking or dark chocolate.
What is chocolate liqueur anyway? It’s pureed cocoa bean. It contains only cocoa solids, aka cocoa powder and cocoa butter. It’s usually used as a base for chocolate bar production and it’s not meant for eating. If you try to take a bite of that, you’ll meet pure bitterness, and maybe even break a tooth.
So, is there a difference between the liqueur and 100% dark chocolate? No, it’s usually the same thing. Dark chocolate ranges between 70% and 100%, while baking chocolate can go as low as 35% cocoa solids. Any dark chocolate that’s not 100% cocoa solids also contains sugar, vanilla, and an emulsifier like lecithin.
What you have to know is that chocolate liqueur aka 100% cocoa solids dark chocolate has to be clearly labeled. If you’re baking or eating dark chocolate, you should go for 70% at the most.
Know your chocolate
Chocolate comes in 3 types: white, milk, and dark. White chocolate only contains cocoa butter (and some even argue that it’s not real chocolate because of that), while milk chocolate has both dairy and sugar added to it. Fun fact: vegan milk chocolates usually have oat milk as their dairy replacement.
Dark chocolate usually has a label that notes how much sugar is added to the mixture. Bars marked as “unsweetened” should have no sugar at all, while the ones with it are marked with “bittersweet”, “semisweet”, and “sweetened”. Bittersweet dark chocolate will have the smallest amount of sugar or another sweetener, sweetened will have the most, and semisweet should fall somewhere in between.
While all 3 are not going to be too bitter, it’s best to pick bittersweet for baking and go for at least semisweet for eating. A quick note on chocolates sweetened with Stevia or another artificial sweetener: those are also better for eating because those low-calorie sweeteners turn bitter when exposed to a lot of heat.
There are two more terms you need to know: couverture and compound chocolate. Both of them are going to tell you a thing or two about the amount of cocoa butter in that bar.
Couverture chocolate has a higher percentage of cocoa butter than regular eating or baking chocolate. It’s used for covering and dipping (couverture means “cover” in French). Pick this stuff up only when you’re making chocolate bonbons or a cream puff croquembouche.
Compound chocolate is the opposite since it has either less or no cocoa butter at all. This makes it a budget- friendly option, and it’s usually quite sweet. However, it doesn’t behave the same as proper chocolate, so keep that in mind if you plan on making ganache, ice cream, or brownies.
Can bitterness be a sign of spoiled chocolate?
Yes, but it’s usually followed up by other signs as well.
Take a good look at the bar first. Do you see whitish spots or streaks? That’s usually a sign that the bar was sitting so long that the fat started separating. It’s not a clear red flag, but it’s a clear sign that it’s either an old (maybe even expired) chocolate bar and/or it wasn’t stored properly.
Your second clue should be a strong aroma that resembles garlic and onions. If you smell anything remotely similar, the chocolate is completely spoiled.
Also, look for signs of mold. Unlike fruit where you can often just cut the moldy bit off and cook the rest into a jam, you have to throw the whole chocolate bar away. Even a tiny amount of mold means that the bar is not salvageable.
And finally, there’s that familiar smell of vomit. American chocolates often taste a bit of vomit because dairy farms are very far away from chocolate factories. The process that preserves milk for the trip to the factory produces a compound called butyric acid. If you ever had a Hershey’s bar, you are very familiar with its distinct aftertaste. But, if that aftertaste is stronger than usual, that’s bad news. Throw that bar out.
You get what you pay for
If the bitterness seems more chalky and less chocolaty, it is a mark of the quality of that chocolate bar. Premium dark chocolate is actually quite a delicacy and may need no adjustments or improvements at all.
But that comes at a price. And it doesn’t matter what the labels say, but if you’re not spending at least $10 per bar, you’re not getting the premium stuff.
How to reduce the bitterness of dark chocolate
Add salt. I know that your first instinct is to add sugar, but salt is a lot more effective in countering bitterness.
Salt has this weird ability to diminish bitterness while enhancing sweetness. Gary Beauchamp and Paul Breslin from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia were the first to discover this back in the mid-90s. They explained that this happens due to the ions in salt that block many receptors on the tongue that detect bitterness.
Chocolate has over 40 compounds that contribute to its distinct flavor and almost half of them result in sensory perception of sweet chocolate. Adding salt further boosts our tongues’ ability to detect them
If you’re in a mood for a quick test (but not willing to play with that pricey bar of chocolate just yet), pick up a grapefruit. Instead of drowning it in sugar to mask the bitterness, try sprinkling a little bit of salt. Give it a taste and see if it’s a bit more palatable.
How to make dark chocolate taste better
Make dark chocolate taste better by pairing it with other foods. Here are some great pairings and reasons why they work.
How to make dark chocolate taste sweeter
Salt will help block out the bitterness, but you’ll need sugar to make chocolate sweeter.
First, let’s learn how to temper chocolate. This is an important step if you wish to set the chocolate as a bar again once we’re done. Check out this video by How to Cook That’s Ann Reardon that has 4 different methods explained.
Now, to add our sweetener. Pick a liquid sweetener, like simple or golden syrup, honey, sweetened condensed milk, etc. It will be easier to mix through and it will help chocolate set better. Use a maximum of 1 tablespoon per 8 ounces of chocolate. Mix the sweetener with the chocolate thoroughly before pouring it into a mold.
What to do with dark chocolate that is too bitter
Now, here comes the fun part. No matter how bitter the chocolate is, it can always become the beginning of something wonderful.
Here’s just a handful of things that you can do with bitter chocolate
Coffee and chocolate
These two are actually closely related. Before Europeans messed with it, chocolate was prepared in a similar manner we brew coffee today. Try adding a square of unsweetened or bittersweet chocolate in your cup of Joe and see if it brightens your morning.
Chilies and chocolate
Ancient Mayans were on to something here. Your tongue gets so busy with the spiciness in chilies that it doesn’t get to pay that much attention to the bitterness.
But also, you should always keep some chocolate on hand if you like to cook a lot of hot dishes. Because of its bitterness and fat content, chocolate is a perfect ingredient for cooling things down when you overdo it with the spice.
Fruit and chocolate
A classic pairing that always works. The bitterness in chocolate will make the fruit taste even sweeter, making this a rather healthy suggestion for a chocolate article.
Bacon and chocolate
Salty bacon is a great partner for bitter chocolate. You can pair them up in two ways. Either drizzle some chocolate over your breakfast or sprinkle some finely chopped bacon over your chocolate.
Cheese and chocolate
Remember our old friend, butyric acid? It’s the reason why chocolate pairs well with cheese. Bitter chocolate will especially work well with aged and moldy cheeses, so feel free to add it to a cheese board for your next dinner party.
But that’s not all. you can make one of the easiest yet most amazing deserts using this pairing. Take out your trusted food processor and add 6 ounces of melted dark chocolate, 6 ounces of pitted Medjool dates, and 3 ounces of blue cheese. Blitz until fully combines. Pour into a mold and leave to set. When set, cut into squares and toss in a bit of cocoa powder.
It may sound weird, but it works and it will impress everybody.
Both chocolate ganache and chocolate truffles sound expensive and complicated. But the truth is that they couldn’t be simpler to make.
The basic recipe requires 2 ingredients: equal amounts (by weight) or chocolate and heavy cream. And unlike other recipes that have only 1 or 2 ingredients where the method is very specific, all you have to do is to boil the cream and pour over chopped chocolate to melt it.
But what do we do about the bitterness, I hear you ask. Well, just sweeten the cream or use sweetened whipping cream. You can also add a pinch of salt and any other flavorings and fixings that strike your fancy.
Japanese chocolate manufacture called Royce created this ganache-like confection. You can easily make a copycat version of it by following the same method as if you were to make the chocolate ganache. The only difference is to use half as much cream (by weight).
Definitely a great option when you’re too lay to roll out a bunch of chocolate truffles. And just like with the chocolate ganache, you can either sweeten or use sweetened whipping cream.
Forget about wimpy hot cocoa and make yourself a rich mug of hot chocolate. As long as you know the basic ratio, you can make this drink from any bar of chocolate.
You’ll need 1 part (by weight) of grated chocolate to 4 parts of hot milk. Pour hot milk over the chocolate and whisk to combine.
Though it doesn’t really matter when you add sugar to this mixture, I prefer to sweeten the milk before heating it. I usually use 1 tablespoon per serving for 70% cocoa solids dark chocolate.
You can also infuse the milk with vanilla, cinnamon, orange zest, etc, as well as add a healthy splash of rum or bourbon.
Most chocolate mousse recipes I know of usually call for bittersweet or semisweet chocolate. That doesn’t mean they won’t work well with bitter chocolate at all. You can always add a bit more sugar if you wish.
Or you can try Nigella Lawson’s Instant Chocolate Mousse. This recipe uses marshmallows to set the mousse. Since they are very sweet, they work better with bitter chocolate. And as a bonus, this mousse set very quickly, and there are fewer chances of anything going wrong.
By the way, if you’re still in the mood for a classic chocolate mousse recipe, check out this on watery chocolate mousse and how to fix or prevent it. It may come in handy when you’re adding more sugar and changing the ratios in a recipe.
Of course, they are on this list. And you know that you are not a proper adult if you don’t have at least one good brownie recipe in your repertoire.
I love that is supposed to come from legendary Katharine Hepburn. It’s tailor-made for bitter chocolate and they come out quite rich yet balanced.
If you never had this Swedish chocolate cake, your life may have no meaning. Luckily, I’m here to enlighten you.
This cake is so easy to make, and even easier to devour. It’s somewhere in between a brownie and a chocolate gateau.
The original ratio resembles a pound cake: equal amounts (by weight) of eggs, flour, butter, sugar, and chocolate. You can make it that way and it’s going to come out good, but I prefer this recipe from.
Whichever way you go, one bite and you’ll forget brownies ever existed.
This is one of those things I thought there’s no point in making at home. I mean, you have to deal with sugar syrups and thermometers, and who knows what else. Candy making is a lot of work and it’s always easier to just go and buy the ready-made stuff. But, maybe not if you’re taking a shortcut or two.
Sweetened condensed milk is the secret ingredient in all easy chocolate fudge recipes. Plus, because it is already so sweet, it’s perfect for working with bitter chocolate.
You’ll need one 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk and 12 ounces of any dark chocolate. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, then pour in the condensed milk and stir to combine. Pour the mixture into a preferred mold and leave to set. Yup, it’s that easy.
Add a teaspoon of vanilla and a pinch of salt, and it will taste even better. The method works with all other types, but keep in mind that the ratio will have to be different if you’re using white or milk chocolate.
Heston’s exploding chocolate gateau
I’m getting giddy at the mere thought of this magical confection.
Let’s be honest, Heston Blumenthal is brilliant. Knowing his whimsical ways, one might think that it’s impossible to reproduce that magic at home. This recipe proves otherwise and you have to try it out at least once. Don’t give a heads up to anyone about the popping candy and watch their minds explode. In a good and yummy way.
There’s only one part of the recipe that’s problematic and it’s that finishing touch. To be honest, I don’t bother with the flocking and just dust the gateau with some cocoa powder. It’s still perfect but involves less heavy machinery.
Kitchen tools you’ll need
- Chocolove Xoxox Premium Chocolate Bar
- Lindt Excellence Bar, 70% Cocoa Smooth Dark Chocolate
- The Art of the Chocolatier: book
- The Chocolate Addict’s Baking Book
The best way to combat bitterness in chocolate is to sprinkle a bit of salt, but if you want to create a sweeter chocolate bar, use a liquid sweetener in form of honey or sweetened condensed milk.
Or better yet, use bitter chocolate as an ingredient to create something awesome. Either pair it with fruits or cheese, or use it as a starting point of a yummy recipe.