Dark chocolate is known both for its health benefits and also for its bitter flavor. If you want the benefits but not the bitterness, you’re not alone. Most people are not used to the intensity of 100% dark chocolate, and if you’ve had a bad experience eating low-quality, bitter, acidic dark chocolate, you may be reluctant to try again.
However, as with most things, quality matters, and a high-cacao percentage dark chocolate is worth your effort. A 100% dark chocolate bar is good when it’s made from the highest quality cacao beans. These high-quality cacao beans allow complex flavor nuances to shine through, and when the chocolate is tempered properly, it creates a smooth, creamy texture (known as mouthfeel) that melts in your mouth.
In addition to providing great health benefits, if you’re following a keto or paleo diet—or simply watching your sugar intake—you might want to eat 100 percent dark chocolate. It has no sugar added, but you can also sweeten it yourself to get it just right.
Dark chocolate pairs well with a variety of foods and drinks—if you know what to look for. Keep reading to learn more about how to sweeten 100% dark chocolate yourself and how to create the best pairings.
How to Sweeten 100% Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate bars come in a range of cocoa percentages—anywhere from 50 to 100 percent dark chocolate. The cacao percentage indicates how much of the bar, by weight, is made from cacao beans, including cocoa mass (or solids), cocoa nibs and cocoa butter. A higher cocoa percentage means that the chocolate bar has more cocoa mass and less room for fillers like sugar, dairy, soy lecithin, vegetable oil and vanilla. A chocolate bar with 75 percent cacao means the chocolate bar is made up of three-quarters cocoa solids and one-quarter sugar and other ingredients. The higher the percentage listed on the packaging, the lower the sugar content. 100 dark chocolate contains no added sugar.
The percentage listed on the chocolate label is also an indicator of how bitter the chocolate will be. Fifty percent dark chocolate has more sugar than a chocolate bar that’s 85 percent cacao. A chocolate bar’s sweetness can come from more than just sugar—things like fruits, nuts, artificial sweeteners or even honey can be used to sweeten chocolate. 100 percent cocoa chocolate has a more intense flavor along with more antioxidants and health benefits.
Some 100 percent cacao chocolate can taste bitter if no sugar is added. But if chocolate is made with high quality cacao and processed correctly, you will be able taste the different flavors the chocolate has to offer and not just bitterness or astringency.
So how can you sweeten 100% dark chocolate yourself?
- Pair it with different foods or drinks. Pair a 100% chocolate bar with cheese, fruits, nuts, coffee or wine. (More on this in the sections to follow.)
- Melt the chocolate and add sugar, honey or artificial sweetener.
- Add candied fruit. After melting the chocolate, stir in two tablespoons of chopped candied fruit.
What’s the best way to melt chocolate? You can use a double boiler or the microwave. To melt chocolate in a double boiler, chop the 100 dark chocolate bar into uniform-sized pieces to make sure they melt evenly. Add the chocolate pieces to a double boiler and melt over low heat. When the chocolates start to melt, use a rubber spatula to stir them and scrape the sides and bottom of the double boiler for about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the chocolate from the heat and one tablespoon of sugar, honey or artificial sweetener. Mix well. Pour the mixture to a mold and let it cool before eating.
To prepare chocolate in the microwave, use a microwave-safe bowl and heat the chocolate for about a minute or until completely melted. Stir in sugar, honey or artificial sweetener like stevia powder. Taste the mixture to see if it is sweet enough. If not, add more sweetener. Then spread the chocolate into a thin layer or pour it into a mold.
Cheese and 100% Dark Chocolate Pairings
Dark chocolate 100% pairs well with cheese. Both are fermented—cacao beans are fermented and roasted to bring out the flavor nuances, and the final flavor of cheese comes from the compounds produced as healthy bacteria and yeast ferment during the aging process.
When pairing 100 dark chocolate bars with cheese, remember that similar nutty, tangy, creamy, roasted and metallic aromas complement each other best.
- Aged cheese is nutty and less acidic than other cheeses. It has a crunchy texture that pairs well with chocolates with a nutty flavor and with fillings and inclusions like almonds, honey and maple.
- Blue cheese has a sharp, pungent aroma and flavor that will bring out the nuances of a strong 100% dark chocolate.
- Goat, sheep and cow’s milk cheeses (both soft and firm ones like Gouda, Brie and Gruyère) are usually more pungent and acidic and pair well with both dark chocolate and milk chocolate.
- Parmesan cheese has salty, savory, fruity and tart notes that pair well with dark chocolate.
- Truffles and caramels combine with a variety of cheeses because of the dairy component.
Fruit and 100% Dark Chocolate Pairings
If you’re looking for a dessert pairing, look no further than fruit and chocolate. You’re probably familiar with chocolate covered strawberries, but did you know that dark chocolate also pairs well with mangos, bananas, figs and pears? Because 100 percent dark chocolate can be bitter, it pairs best with fruits that are extra sweet. It helps neutralize very sweet fruits.
Dark chocolate also pairs well with the sourness of passion fruit and the tanginess of citrus.
Nuts and 100% Dark Chocolate Pairings
Dark chocolate is full of essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents. The higher the cacao percentage, the more health benefits you’ll reap. Dark chocolate has ten times more antioxidant properties than blueberries and is high in flavanols, which are compounds found naturally in many plants. Flavanols offer a variety of health benefits, including lowering blood pressure, improving cholesterol levels, increasing blood flow to the heart and brain and fighting cell damage.
Like dark chocolate, many types of nuts are also considered superfoods. They are a great source of antioxidants and key nutrients like vitamin E, magnesium and phosphorus, and they also contain good fats and important proteins. The health benefits provided by both 100 percent dark chocolate and nuts make for a great combination.
Nuts like almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts and pecans pair best with rich dark chocolate. Dark chocolate brings out the flavor of the nuts and enhances its own unique flavor. For example, hazelnuts pair well with dark chocolate because the bitterness of the chocolate gives the creaminess of the nuts an irresistible edge.
Strong Coffee and 100% Dark Chocolate Pairings
Coffee and dark chocolate are a natural pairing when done right. For the best pairing, it’s important to understand the flavor, acidity and texture of both the coffee and chocolate and how they work together. To find the best combination, start with your coffee. Dark roasts, like dark chocolate, have their own flavor profile. A dark, bold roast like a Sumatra, Italian, Indonesian, Brazilian, Ethiopian or Guatemalan pair best with 100% dark chocolate.
If you prefer espresso, a cup prepared from a Brazilian blend will go well with high cacao percentage dark chocolate. A strong ristretto like Noir is a perfect option.
Wine and 100% Dark Chocolate Pairings
Wine and chocolate are a classic pairing, but a dark chocolate and red wine pairing can be one of the most difficult to create due to the tannins in red wine. Tannins cause wine to have a bitter flavor, and when combined with 100% dark chocolate, it can be overwhelming to the palate.
The darker the chocolate, the sweeter the wine should be. Sweet as used here refers to the fruity notes found in wine that provide a nice balance to the often-bitter flavors of cacao. The complex flavors of dark chocolate pair well with a robust red wine like Shiraz or Cabernet, which bring out the fruity and peppery notes in the chocolate.
Other great pairings include the following:
- Zinfandel: This wine has dense fruit and energetic, spicy notes that pair well with dark chocolate.
- Banyuls: This fortified wine from Southern France has flavors of caramel, chestnut, dried apricot, plum, sour cherry and orange peel that all pair well with dark chocolate.
- Malbec: This bold Chilean wine would make a perfect pairing for a dark chocolate with nutty or intense chocolate flavor.
- Carmenere: This lighter bodied wine has nuances of chocolate, coffee, and spice.
- Merlot: The deep blueberry and plum notes in this wine offset the intensity of the dark chocolate.
- Port: The cinnamon in port’s flavor profile pairs well with dark chocolate.
At Cococlectic, we can help you find the perfect dark chocolate to pair with your favorite cheeses, fruits, nuts or wines.
Each month at Cococlectic, we feature a different American small-batch bean-to-bar chocolate maker who is passionate about producing their chocolate from scratch using only three main ingredients: cacao beans, sugar and cocoa butter.
The chocolates sold at Cococlectic are vegan, non-GMO, fair trade and ethically sourced. They do not contain any soy, gluten, dairy or nut, but they may be produced in a facility that handles these ingredients.
We sell only dark chocolate bars in our chocolate shop. Monthly subscription boxes, one-time gift boxes or corporate gift boxes containing your choice of dark bars only or mixed bars with inclusions of fruits and nuts are available with the purchase of the Office Box. Each chocolate box comes with 4 full-size dark chocolate bars that are made in the US.
Sign up for our chocolate-of-the-month subscription club and join us for a free virtual chocolate tasting with our featured chocolate maker of the month.