Down your Dairy Milk and prick up your ears. I’m going to ask you to eschew that sweet milky marvel made with a full ‘glass-and-a-half’. Don’t be so pessimistic, though, for the glass remains resolutely half-full. With the new breed of brilliantly burnished bars, even those fond of cheap chocolate tools can do a DIY job on their tastebuds and develop a desire for the deeply dark stuff.
So why turn to the dark side? Because it’s broadly beneficial is why – to wallet, waistline and wellbeing. On the face of it, high-cocoa bars can command a high price pertaining to their percentage, but you also consume it in far smaller amounts. Hence the svelter silhouette. Within said silhouette will be antioxidants aplenty; helping your heart and boosting your brainpower.
If you really can’t bear to climb above the seventy-percent sector when it comes to chomping, high-cocoa chocolate might charm you in the kitchen. Please refrain from Peter Kay-like ‘chilli jam?!’-style proclamations, and simply embrace the notion of integrating sweet and savoury. After all, when it comes to these bitter babies, the chocolate actually contributes more of the latter anyway.
Although largely billed as bars to bite into, all the specimens here work spectacularly in all sorts of stews, hotpots, moles and, indeed, anything that calls for a deep, rich flavour and perhaps a bit of smoke. Willie’s Black 100% Cacao, on the other hand, is bred especially for culinary use, the nine-strong range enabling you to choose one with characteristics to flatter the flavours in your food.
Rococo founder Chantal Coady has long allowed chocolate to creep into her savoury cooking. Her book, ‘Mastering the Art of Chocolate’ is a pretty good place to seek inspiration to start doing the same – although pairing chocolate with oysters or cheese might be for the advanced advocate only. A bit of cocoa in a chilli, though, is an enigmatic addition that’s all-too-easy to fall for.
You grow more bitter with age not just in character, but palate too. Most of us have come round to the substantial joys of olives and Campari, so why not chocolate? Whether you think you’re embittered to bitter or are ready to bite, channel Dr Pepper and forge forward on your cocoa crusade. After all, as the soda-pop practitioner asks; ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’
The Twilight Zone:
Get your palate prepared to explore the dark side with a couple of lower-cocoa chocs – they may be punier in percentage yet are still brilliantly bold in terms of taste.
The Chocolate Tree Unroasted Madagascar bean-to-bar 70%
Very unusually, the beans are unroasted, giving rise to a delicately-hued bar with an abundance of the kind of subtle floral and fruits, honeyed vanilla and toffee you’d more often find in milk.
Cocoaloco Dominican Republic 73%
Tobacco-y, leather, a little fruity, mellow at heart… this bar’s like being given a big bear hug by the best type of Grandad. One who’s recently been sneakily imbibing a cupful of rich, powerful cocoa.
Montezuma’s Very Dark 73%
Mellow and creamy with lots and lots of vanilla and oak flavours – the choc equivalent of hudging up in a squidgy old soft leather chair and nursing a glass Bourbon. If ya dig that, you’ll dig this.
Original Beans’ Piura Porcelana 75%
This bar from rare beans boasts astonishing complexity: astounding Peruvian cocoa clarity with oodles of fruit, from berry to citrus. Track your bar back to bean and download a tasting quiz online.
Marou Ba Ria 76%
A pale Vietnamese bar with a powerful and most unusual, smoky, tea-and-tobacco aroma. The Marmite-y, umami citrus notes and leather mean this 76% punches way above its weight.
This little lot are pitchier in persuasion- from the 80% mark right through to the pure, unadulterated stuff. Organised in ascending order, to best facilitate your climb to the highest cocoa echelons.
Menakao Dark 80%
Lots and lots of dark-roasted coffee, a few flowers and sharp acid bursts. Pleasingly tannic, with a good hint of the creamy, cinnamon woodiness often associated with Madagascan chocolate.
Prestat Intensely Dark 80%
It could have been a rogue specimen, but this bar shone in neither appearance nor taste. A lacklustre, crumbly eat with little snap, length, or discernible character, bar a slight nuttiness.
Grenada Chocolate Co. 82%
A great big bittersweet smack round the chops – fruit-driven, headily aromatic, creamy-rich and a barely perceptible, saffron-like medicinal quality. And boy does it linger.
Hotel Chocolat Hacienda Iara 82%
The red berry fruitiness seems to be teased out further by the sweetness, finishing off with a scattering of roasty-toasty nuttiness. Smooth, a good melt and low in tannin.
Duffy’s Corazon de Ecuador Camino Verde 83%
This crunchy, munchy bar is the true definition of ‘bittersweet’. It starts mellow and comforting, full of roasty, nutty coffee flavours; but finishes with a delightfully spiteful acidic, citrussy backbite.
Demarquette Extra dark house bar 85%
Nutty and pretty mellow with a robust bittersweet bite, this bar doesn’t offer the eater much of a challenge – but there’s not too much to get excited about beyond a brief red fruit burst.
Thorntons Belgian Extra Dark 85%
Sweeter than many of its high-cocoa counterparts, this bar is a bittersweet blend that offers a less-complex cocoa hit that’s perhaps easier to love immediately – lots of cinnamon and coconut.
Green and Blacks 85%
A beefy blend – indeed, there’s almost a touch of Marmite on the tongue. That meatiness is nicely countered with this bar’s fulsome mouthfeel and rounded out with a hint of creamy vanilla.
Asda Extra Special Ivory Coast & Dominican Republic 85%
As you might guess from the origin, this is totally tropical. It’s a flowery, floral flavour which tastes of bananas and well-aged rum. Beautifully bittersweet and boasts a creamy melt.
Tesco Ecuador & Ivory Coast 85%
Fruity, rather citrusy and slightly acidic, Tesco’s bar boasts a richer mouthfeel than many of the lower-percentage offerings
Tesco Finest Swiss 85%
A savoury nibble, with a characteristic Swiss smoothness in the conch. There’s roastiness and rich coffee notes in this tannic blend, and it leaves a lovely, if rather drying, aftertaste.
Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference 85%
You can detect a ferrous note in the aroma, but in the mouth it’s all zippy tannin and bright acidity, coffee and a little bit of leather. Most satisfying, and comes wrapped in handy snack-sized portions.
A chunky slab that’s mouth-filling, rich, and rather indulgent. Tastes like raspberries and cherries with a bit of coconut, subtly spiced with cinnamon. A fair-trade bar that raises the bar in taste terms.
Godiva Extra Dark Santa Domingo 85%
As berry-filled as a bottle of neat Ribena, all perky purple fruit and citrusy, clean acid. It’s all underpinned by a deep, persistent cocoa flavour and the perfect lingering sweetness.
Plamil Organic 87%
An interesting eat, offering a nicely crisp snap with blackcurrant and purple fruit, a few nuts for good measure and a lingering aftertaste that delivers tannins and bright acidity in equal measure.
Lindt Excellence Noir Absolut 99%
Lindt recommend you work up to this bar, and you’ll be richly rewarded. It clings to the mouth and palate, rich with buttery roasted nut flavours. A savoury specimen to thoroughly savour.
A pleasantly brisk crunch as you bite in, then a long melting smoothness that lets the legume-y flavours roll around your mouth in waves with no cloying cling and just a bit of mellow acidity.
Black As Night
Uncompromising, pure cocoa products. You’re ready… Go forth and explore the darkest side of life.
Paul A Young 100%
This is just something else. As you chew there’s a big rush of acid, with plenty of citrus, a hint of smoke, salt, meat… The flavours keep coming, it barely dries the palate, and is an absolute triumph.
Hotel Chocolat Peru Pichanaki 100%
Peruvian chocolate is just so darn CHOCOLATE-Y. Brightly acidic and a little mouth-puckering from tannin, the flavour is clean and sparkling, zippy and zesty – albeit with an earthy rooting.
Hotel Chocolat Dominican Republic Conacado Co-operative 100%
Rich, creamy feeling in the mouth with powerful earthy cocoa, then the inevitable acidity – but with this black beauty it quickly fades to a fruity, Marmite-y, almost miso-like savour. Really rather pleasant.
Hotel Chocolat Coastal Ecuador Hacienda Iara 100%
A rather softer build up than some others, with more tannin and mellow nut notes. There’s coffee, too, with the clean acidity of a good espresso – and the same sort of powerful, caffeinated rush.
Hotel Chocolat Saint Lucia Island Growers 100%
Delivers savoury, savoury, Marmite-y cocoa round every nook and cranny of your palate before the mouthwatering burst of bright acid which mellows again to give a rich, slightly peppery finish.
Melt Bold 100%
This one is nuts. Quite literally – mellow and dry, it tastes like a mouthful of fresh redskin peanuts dusted with the merest smidge of vanilla. Of all the ‘pure’ examples, this is the least acidic by far.
L’Artisan du Chocolat 100%
There’s a lot of smoky, roast-y flavours pinging about here, along with an intriguing, almost game-y meatiness. The melt is great and the bar has more crisp snap than many of its crumblier compatriots.
La Maison du Chocolat Coro Noir 100%
Possibly the most classically ‘chocolatey’ of all the pure bars, Coro Noir is rich, smooth and luxurious. It slinks around your gob and clings to your palate, all smokey, smouldering berry flavour.
Rococo Plus Noir Que Noir 100%
That fresh, leguminous taste is present in this clinging bar, together with a fleeting and pleasant purple fruit acidity that rounds out to leave a rich cocoa impression without puckering your mouth.
Menakao Pure Cocoa 100%
An incredible melt on this pure cocoa bar shows the talent of the chocolatier. Flavours rush in hard and fast and don’t die down for a long time – tons of bright fruit, a few tannins and very little acidity.
Now We’re Cookin’
Willie’s Harcourt-Cooze cacao cylinders come with a caveat – the chocolatier advises you shear off shavings into your cooking rather than try and get your gob round their substantial girth. To suit their culinary purpose, this pure cacao retains more acidity than their eating counterparts, much like choosing fruit varieties – now, how’d you like them apples?!
Willie’s Black Cacao – Venezuelan Rio Caribe 100%
Intensely, intensely chocolate-y, the hit you’d imagine getting snorting ruddy red cocoa powder. This is a ruddy lovely specimen, with acidity sneaking up after the roasted nut and espresso flavours.
Willie’s Black Cacao – Madagascan Sambirano Superior 100%
Exceedingly aromatic, as Mr Kipling might put it. And he might like to steal a bit of that intense summer-fruitiness for some of his baked goods. Packed full of juicy, ripe, bright acidity.
Willie’s Black Cacao – Peruvian Chulucanas 100%
Peruvian beans yield clean clear chocolate flavour. The astringency in this purple-fruited cacao errs on the ‘earthy’ side – like acid rain and hyper-ripe plums splattering all over hot sun-baked soil.
Willie’s Black Cacao Indonesian Java Light Breaking 100%
The warm leathery, tobacco-y, toffee-d notes of this slightly paler-shade-of-black-cacao cut the acid and astringency somewhat. This smouldering specimen would be a wonder in a casserole that could benefit from an earthy, smoky underpinning.
…And now for something completely different
Bored of the black stuff and wishing for something wacky? Try this for size;
The Chocolate Tree Chocengorroch dark chocolate with maca and guarana 74%
Created as a tasty, caffeinated pick-me-up for Scottish music festival Knockengorroch, this very rich bar coats the palate with plenty of deep cocoa and just enough sweetness. It’s spiked with rainforest stimulants which add subtle herb notes, a little dryness and a slightly granular mouthfeel. A strange and utterly delicious energy boost.