When you’re casually shopping the chocolate aisle, it’s easy to presume that everything on the shelf in fancy packaging is high quality, but that’s not always the case. Just like wine, fancy packaging doesn’t always mean what’s inside is something you want. However, understanding the product description every bar can be complicated though if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
This week Bon Appetit ran an excerpt from Megan Giller’s upcoming book “Bean to Bar Chocolate.” In it, Giller tells you how to read the packaging when you’re shopping for a bar of chocolate and what should make you avoid a bar.
In general, most craft chocolate bars will tell you where the chocolate came from on the front of the label. You’ll also see the cocoa percentage, as well as the expiration date. Like most other foods, you want to get the freshest bar you can.
You also want to look at the ingredient list. Giller notes that cocoa beans should always be listed first in the list of ingredients. Phrases like “artisan,” “craft,” and “handmade” are often used on labels to make things sound fancy, but they don’t have legal definitions, so you shouldn’t rely on them as a sign of quality.
As for what to avoid. Here are a few of Giller’s suggestions:
- Chocolaty – In order for a chocolate bar to be “chocolate” in the US, it has to be made up of at least 10% cocoa. If it’s not, then you might see it called “Chocolaty” or “made with chocolate.” Stay away from these. This phrase will also be used if the bar uses artificial sweeteners, fats other than cocoa butter, or milk substitutes.
- Vanillin – This is a synthetic version of vanilla. you don’t want it in your chocolate.
- PGPR – This stands of polyglycerol polyricinoleate, which is used as an emulsifier in low-quality chocolate.
- Product of or Distributed by – These phrases are a good sign that your “craft” chocolate bar is anything but. If something is “Distributed by” then it was likely made by a big conglomerate then rebranded as craft. Likewise, “Product of Switzerland/Belgium etc” typically indicates that a bar was made by a larger company and then sold to the “artisan” brand you’re purchasing.
Take a look at the full excerpt, along with an image guide of how to read a chocolate label, in Bon Appetit.