Chocolate has always been a favorite among the sweets-lovers out there, but it is showing up in the U.S. in ever more sophisticated forms. In fact, foodies are calling it “the new wine,” with high-end bars usually listing their country of origin, blend of cacao (the seeds from which cocoa powder is derived), and information about the terroir (farming environment and practices). These gourmet bars can cost as much as a good bottle of wine, too, with price tags of as high as $20 or more. Some of the increasing popularity stems from a large body of research that shows dark chocolate has some real health benefits, like lowering blood pressure and fighting inflammation. But how much better is a $20 chocolate bar compared to a regular old Hershey’s bar? That’s where the labels can tell you a lot, but they don’t make much sense if you don’t speak “chocolate.” The primary thing you will find on dark chocolate bars is the percentage of cacao. This tells you how sweet the chocolate will be. For example, 70% means that 70% of the bar is pure cacao while the rest is primarily sugar and some binders. That would be a pretty sweet chocolate bar. In contrast, a 95% bar will be quite bitter. This percentage tells you nothing about the quality of the cacao beans, however. This is where things can get pretty subjective, though, as of course what one person considers delicious does not necessarily hold true for someone else. Cacao is grown around the globe, primarily in warm, wet climates. Different countries claim their cocoa beans possess distinct traits. Some chocolate connoisseurs tout Ecuador’s chocolate as superior in flavor and quality, while others claim Venezuela grows the best beans. Regardless of personal preference, there are a few things that experts say are indicative of the overall quality. First is smell – it should have a strong chocolate smell, which some also would describe as fruity (raspberry is a common description), nutty, smoky and buttery. The second clue is how the bar looks – it should be shiny, not dull or scuffed up. And the final indication is how it sounds – when you break a bar, it should make a crisp snapping sound. (Source: GMA, BBC)
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