Chocolate Buying Guide

Chocolate Buying Giude by Wicked Goodies Here is the truth: The American chocolate industry has developed and successfully marketed so many artificial brands of chocolate that the average U.S. consumer is hooked on cheap/fake chocolate, a.k.a. mockolate. The best way to avoid buying mockolate is to first understand how chocolate is made. To brush up on those facts, follow this link to my Chocolate 101 tutorial. Please note that the following information is based on U.S. food standards alone.

U.S. Classifications of Chocolate

Bittersweet Chocolate (Dark)

Bittersweet chocolate, the purest of all processed chocolate, contains 35% – 100% pure cocoa product. When a percentage of cacao or cocoa is listed on the label, it represents the total amount of cocoa materials present (cocoa mass + cocoa butter). I recommend Sherffen Berger’s Bittersweet 70% Cacao Bar/Block, which can be found at Whole Foods. The packaging indicates that it contains 70% cocoa liquor. As a rule, the remaining percentage of volume is represented by sugar, so one can infer that a 70% bar is 30% sweet.

I especially like the above brand because it doesn’t use GMO soy for lecithin (an emulsifier that helps cacao remain stable).

For U.S. shoppers,Ghirardelli’s Bittersweet 60% Cacao Chip is decent in quality and available in most conventional supermarkets:

For US shoppers, I can also recommend Guittard’s 63% Extra Dark Chocolate Chips.

Some other decent brands of quality bittersweet chocolate include Theo, an organic, fair trade U.S. brand and Valrhona, a French import.

True connoisseurs, like wine aficionados, appreciate chocolate that is not only labeled by percentage of cocoa but also by the cacao’s country of origin. French chocolatier, Francois Pralus’ line of single-origin chocolates includes this Bittersweet 75% Chocolate from Indonesia, which on the packaging provides the latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates where the cacao is harvested:

Semisweet Chocolate (Dark)

Semisweet Chocolate is typically intended for baking purposes and found in the chip form.  At 1:2 proportions of sugar to cocoa, it has a sweeter, more neutral taste than bittersweet chocolate. Semisweet chocolate is the most popular form of baking chocolate in the U.S. because our palates have grown accustomed to higher levels of sugar.

Sweet Chocolate (Dark)

Sweet chocolate is a less common term used by U.S. standards to represent a lower quality of dark chocolate. It works fine for most purposes but has a diminished quality of taste. Hershey’s Special Dark is an example of poor quality commercial sweet chocolate, cleverly labeled.

Milk Chocolate

Milk chocolate is dark chocolate with dried milk product added. It is generally less stable than dark chocolate because the high percentage of dairy interferes with cocoa butter’s ability to bond. As a result, it is softer and not as effective for molding, piping, mousses, fillings, and frostings. Some consider it, like white chocolate, a confection as opposed to a chocolate. Generally it is not taken as seriously as dark chocolate although in Europe, there are some fantastic brands including Weiss Gianduja Hazelnut Milk Chocolate with 100% pure cocoa butter, perhaps the best milk chocolate bar I have ever had the insane pleasure to taste.

I do not recommend Hershey’s Milk Chocolate:

Hershey’s provides the lowest cost products because it uses the lowest cost ingredients: GMO beet sugar, GMO soy lecithin, fake vanilla, and dairy derived from factory-penned, hormone-fed cows. Here is a startling fact: Hershey’s milk is “acidified” in a chemical process called lipolysis, which preserves milk for longer production life. Lipolysis releases a byproduct called butyric acid, which is also present in vomit and bad butter; it’s what gives Hershey’s chocolate its off taste. Yet here in the U.S., the Hershey’s brand is so rooted in the fabric of the culture that Americans have grown to expect the smack of acid in every chocolate bar. Evidently some imitation brands even add butyric acid to their formulas purely for the familiar off flavor. In that way, the Hershey company has caused the U.S. chocolate market to devolve.

White Chocolate

White chocolate is a confection comprised of sugar, milk, cocoa butter, and flavorings. True white chocolate (below far right) contains only cocoa butter as its fat, hence the ivory hue compared to artificial white chocolate (left). I recommend Callebaut’s White Bloc, which is available at Whole Foods.

According to the FDA, white chocolate must contain at least 20% cocoa butter or the product cannot be called ‘chocolate.’ Yet in the baking isle of the average American grocery store, counterfeits are more common than the real thing. Nestlé’s (U.S.) Premier White Morsels is a prime example of a popular imitation product containing 0% cocoa butter. I do not recommend this brand.

Note how the Nestlé Premier White products don’t contain the word ‘chocolate,’ because they don’t qualify. As a general rule, if it doesn’t say chocolate on the front of the label, it’s fake.

Mockolate a.k.a Artificial Chocolate or Compound Chocolate

Compound chocolate is the formal U.S. term for imitation chocolate. In addition to the Nestlé products shown above, here are some examples of popular U.S. compound chocolates that are not real chocolate:

Wilton Candy Melts (all varieties)

Merken’s Confectionery Coating (all varieties)

Always read the label. If it says hydrogenated or artificial, it’s mockolate.


• McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. New York: Scribner, 2004.
• Gisslen, Wayne. Professional Baking, Fifth Edition. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009.
• Moskin, Julia. “Dark May Be King, but Milk Chocolate Makes a Move” The New York Times. Online. Travel. 3 Nov, 2008.
“Dark Chocolate Chips” Cook’sIllustrated Magazine. 1 May, 2009.
• “Types of Chocolate” Wikipedia. 20 Dec., 2011

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Chocolate Buying Guide — 39 Comments

  1. Never noticed an off flavor in Hershey’s chocolate. And I never ate the stuff when I was a kid. There is no white chocolate in many of my local grocery stores. Just white morsels like Nestle’s. Ah well, c’est la vie. TINA HAS SPOKEN.

  2. I am wanting to make cake pops as you stated to not use candy melts what would you recommend? I seen above you commented on using oil would you use this or only as a back up as she did not have access to candy melts. And I usually use nestle just because I can be it in bulk, but could this be maybe why it gets grainy on me when I add milk? or does any chocolate do this?

    • In the bakery industry, I’ve often used cocoa butter to thin out chocolate for dipping. At home, I’m more likely to use vegetable oil because it’s what’s on hand.

      What kind of milk are you using? That doesn’t sound familiar about milk causing graininess. If your ganache has tough little gritty bits in it, it’s probably because the chocolate got cooked. When white chocolate gets singed by heat, it first gets grainy before it burns black. The best way to make ganache without burning chocolate is to scald the milk then pour it over un-melted chocolate and allow that mixture to sit uncovered while stirring occasionally with a spatula.

      As for the candy melts, despite the fact that they are an imitation product, I will admit they do have some advantages, especially for the home baker. They melt down quite easily and that is not a quality of most white chocolates. Nestle white, on the other hand, is difficult to melt down. It burns easily over heat, even over a gentle hot water bath. That’s probably why you’re struggling with that brand.

      Overall, white chocolate is more temperamental and less stable than dark chocolate. During the melting stage, it requires more vigilance, needs to be constantly stirred to prevent over-heating. I’ve also noticed that it performs better in general when it’s fresh and new versus old and stale.

  3. Hello,
    Appreciated ur sincere opinion & facts about chocolate brands & usage. Hence, I’m in love with cake pops & would like to make some for my kids but where I currently live chocolate candy melts do Not exist. After doing some research for a substitute I only found that I can add either coconut or vegetable oil to the regular chocolate & will get the desired shininess & consistency as of the chocolate melts. Is this true?? Do u have any other suggestion or solution coz honestly I’m stuck in here & dying to do some cake pops for my kids & afraid if I dip them in regular chocolate they might brake & will not have the desired outcome. Ur help is much appreciated if u can inbox me with some suggestions, tips, information… Thank you in advance

    • Carla, yes you can add any kind of vegetable oil to the chocolate and that will help prevent it from cracking. It will also make the chocolate thinner so it’s better for dipping.

      In bakeries, pastry cooks melt cocoa butter down with the chocolate as that works great for dipping things like cake pops.

  4. Hi! At what point do you add your coloring? While you’re making the chocolate or when you knead it? Thanks!

    • I assume you mean in terms of when you’re making modeling chocolate? For big batches when I only need one color, I add it with the corn syrup during the production phase. For smaller portions of colored modeling chocolate, I pinch off a piece from a larger batch and knead the color in, usually with a little corn starch (a.k.a. corn flour) to offset the added moisture.

  5. Hi, I absolutely love your optical illusion cake, my son graduates in a couple of weeks (HS) and would like to try your technic on his cake, Im only making one tier, (a 10×3 double layer)his school colors are royal blue, orange and white… would that work on the optical illusion?? IF so…. should I use the callebauts white chocolate and color it with Americolors ? Is there any possible way to use the wilton chocolates even though it isn’t recommended? I’m only asking because they already come in the colors I need, sorry for so many questions, Im very new to decorating out of my comfort zone but I need to start somewhere and I think my son’s cake would be the one, (it’s just family so if I mess up they’ll eat it anyway 🙂 )thank you for your help.. And BTW that optical illusion cake is BEAUTIFUL …..

    • Hey, thanks! Yes I think those colors will work fine and you can certainly use the Wilton candy melts. Although they are not my preferred brand, they still work fine for making modeling chocolate. Good luck, congrats on your son’s graduation and we’d love to see your results! Cheers.

      • Good Morning Kristen,
        Thank you for getting back to me, I forgot to mention that I live in LAS VEGAS, so by the time I make this cake we should probably be in the 100’s… this cake has to travel from LV to California 5hrs,(we’ll be driving late at night to avoid the high heat and traffic) it gets hot there too but with humidity. in your opinion do you think the chocolate will hold up during the ride, I can put it in a ice chest and put ice blocks (plastic ones) around it if that’ll help, but if its too much for the chocolate what about fondant? Im probably over stepping my abilities here but I’d really like to give it a shot…
        thanks again

        • Stella, On days like that, it helps to wait to put any delicate 3D decorations on the cake until you’ve arrived at the destination. I would put those kinds of things in little coolers with an ice pack.

          Five hours is a long way to travel with a cake but I know some bakers here who sometimes travel from San Diego, CA to San Francisco, CA with wedding cakes decorated with modeling chocolate. They pack the tiers in coolers with ice packs as you describe. I think that is about a nine hour drive from SD to SF so it gives me confidence that you could do it from LV to CA as well.

          I’ve also dealt with both hot and humid summer wedding cake deliveries in Boston and find that it’s important to get the car cooled down before you start loading the cake into it and have every single other thing already packed and ready to go before you start transferring the cake into the car. I’ve also discovered that it’s best to pack the ice packs underneath the cakes, interspersed with kitchen towels for stability.

          Good luck!

  6. Hi.. Just wanted to check if I can use callebaut compound chocolate white to make modelling chocolate. Or do I need to use couverture only thanking you.

    • Yes you can certainly use the compound chocolate but note that there are hydrogenated fats in place of cocoa butter in compound chocolates so the modeling chocolate will be a little less firm and stable compared to a batch in which genuine chocolate was used.

  7. This was such a refreshing read, written from your perspective in the USA….. I’m in the UK, and am sick of many in the USA (and other countries), referring to candy melts when selling their products, as “CHOCOLATE”……when it is not!! In fact, the only person who has ever been rude on my FB page in over 2 years…. repeatedly argued with me over what was correctly classified as chocolate…insisting that Merckens chocolate flavour candy melts contained 6% cocoa powder, therefore WAS chocolate! Hopefully a few more will read your info (and book), become better informed, and attempt to use the real thing 🙂 Many thanks

    • I love this response. Thanks for being someone who gets it! I’m only sorry to see that the UK is also now being inundated with the same problem. Since Cadbury got purchased by some big American conglomerate, things have started to change overseas as well. I’ve heard that the UK now has this new class of chocolate called “family chocolate,” which indicates that a certain amount of hydrogenated fat is present in place of real cocoa butter. Watch out for that stuff! And thanks again for writing.

  8. Hi. Ive been trying to make cake pops right. I’ve been using merckens white chocolate to coat it and it keeps breaking. What’s a good white chocolate to use for this purpose. Sorry I’m so off topic here.

  9. I have a question. I like working with ganache to ice my cakes. But I don’t know much about chocolate. I have done some research on which is the best chocolate for me to use to make the chocolate ganache but I’m still not sure. I will like to give my customer a good quality tasting ganache. Is there a good quality chocolate that you could recommend for me to get to make ganache. I was told that guittard was a good quality. It would be greatly appreciate. Thank you in advance. I love your web site.

    • Any of the dark chocolates that I recommend above will make a tasty ganache. Also if you use farm fresh cream the taste and quality will be even better.

  10. Just ordered your book on Amamzon…can’t wait to receive it in a few days. I have been watching several videos on You Tube about modeling chocolate and am confused…help! I was under the impression that in order to work with melted chocolate to create very thin rose petals I should use only tempered chocolate? It looks as though it is sturdier and will melt less? The tutorial suggests I pour out a very small circle of choc on parchment paper and place another sheet of parment on top and spread out with my fingers…let it dry and peel off the very thin petal layer. Do you have different design techniques? These tiny flowers will be placed on cookies.

    Thanks for advice!!!!

    • Yes I have seen this way you’ve described done in bakeries using fondant as well and it is the more common way to make flowers with modeling chocolate. I use a different technique that involves rolling out the modeling chocolate then cutting the flowers from it. This way you can get very thin petals without having to handle the modeling chocolate as much. Here it is: As for roses, which are so much larger, you can cut out different sized round petals from sheets of modeling chocolate using any type of circular cutter.

  11. Is it possible to add americolor white color to white modeling chocolate made from lindor white chocolate? I’m making cake toppers with it and need the dress and tux to be as white as possible.
    Thank you

  12. i have tried lots of recipes for modeling chocolate but always so sticky ,i use white chocolate so i can add pastel colours,so i will try your recipe and roll out using cornflour as you suggest ,i will keep you posted

  13. Hi there the information here is fabulous thank you, I wonder if you can help I’ve made a batch of white using callebaut and liquid glucose (I’m in the uk) and it won’t knead, it’s crumbly and hard, is there anyway to save it? Would you recommend I use more glucose next time? Thank you so much x

    • Yes you can definitely save it by kneading in more glucose or melting it down a little and stirring in more glucose. Callebaut is high quality so it may require a teaspoon more of syrup. This is a common problem that just requires a minor recipe adjustment.

  14. Congratulations on a bold & informative article on chocolates! I wish more people paid attention to the quality of the food they eat. Over the years, I’ve learnt to not only avoid foods whose labels are full of chemical terms but heavily advertised foods. The more the ads, the less real stuff they can afford to put in it seems! I had come here looking for a chocolate modeling recipe..let’s hope my batch works!

  15. I LOVED this buying guide. FINALLY, someone has the guts to use REAL chocolate and to shun all the artificial, nasty concoctions passed off as chocolate here in the US. I personally can’t stand working with anything that is hydrogenated, but most people seem to have no problem with it. This is one of the most informative pieces I have ever read about chocolate. Definitely subscribing!

  16. I know the wilton is not real chocolate but would it work as modeling chocolate.

    • Yes it will work! It will be easier to use if you reduce the amount of corn syrup slightly, like by 1 teaspoon. Imitation chocolate yields a softer modeling chocolate, which is not as easy to work with, but it will still work well for most things.

  17. Just wondering your thoughts on the chunks of white chocolate sold in major grocery stores like Stop & Shop? I would love to try making this for a cake I’m making this week but I don’t have a Whole Foods nearby. Thank you.

    • Could you specify a brand? I’m not sure what you mean by chunks. Thanks. If you are referring to Nestle white morsels, which are most common in U.S. supermarkets, then yes, they will work, but you should reduce the amount of sugar syrup in the recipe by 1-2 teaspoons. That type of chocolate makes a softer, more marshmallowy consistency of modeling chocolate. It’s not as easy to work with as modeling chocolate made from genuine white chocolate but it will certainly work for most purposes.

  18. The most incredible information shared in the most understandable way. Feel like I was sitting in a top notch cooking class with a top notch instructor! Kudos and thanks.z

  19. Just wondering the best white chocolate to use as I need a white white not yellow. Also what about black does the white turn grey or will it go black?

    • Use bittersweet modeling chocolate to make black. Since it’s already brown, less food coloring is needed.
      Most faux white chocolate has titanium dioxide whitener, Merkens and Nestle included.