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Why Does Dark Chocolate Taste Bitter? (Food Facts Explained)

Why Does Dark Chocolate Taste Bitter? (Food Facts Explained)

Many people love dark chocolate, while others absolutely hate it. The reasons for both sides are, funnily enough, the same; dark chocolate has a very intense and rich chocolate flavor and tastes fairly bitter.

But why exactly does dark chocolate have a bitter taste to it?

Dark chocolate is made of at least 50% cocoa solids, a.k.a. cocoa powder, which has a naturally bitter taste. The higher the cocoa percentage, the lower the sugar percentage is in dark chocolate, which is why the bitter flavor is stronger in 70, 80, or 90% dark chocolate. 

Keep reading this article to learn more about the different tastes of dark chocolate, if there is a 100% dark chocolate type, and how you can make your dark chocolate taste sweeter. 

What Makes Dark Chocolate Taste So Bitter?

pieces of 80% dark chocolate in front of a bowl with brown cocoa powder

Dark chocolate has a bitter taste because it contains a high amount of cocoa and a lesser amount of sweeteners. 

It is this balance (or, rather, imbalance) that separates dark chocolate from milk chocolate.

After all, all chocolate types (except for white chocolate) contain a certain percentage of cocoa, but not all of them taste bitter, do they?

But once the percentage of cocoa powder is increased and, subsequently, the percentage of milk, cocoa butter, and sugar (read sweeteners) is decreased, the cocoa’s naturally bitter flavor takes over. 

Cocoa powder is the remaining product after cocoa beans have been roasted and ground into a liquid state (cocoa liquor). 

The cocoa liquor is pressed so that most of the cocoa butter (fat) it contains can be extracted. 

It’s kind of like making coffee with a French press. Only instead of dry coffee ground, you end up with a dry cocoa cake. 

The powdered form of this cocoa cake, which is commonly referred to as cocoa solids, is called, you guessed it, cocoa powder.

It is this powder that all dark chocolate is made from, and thanks to it, dark chocolate has a bitter taste. 

But why is cocoa powder bitter in the first place? 

Well, dried cocoa powder contains a ton of flavonoids, which are naturally bitter and activate your bitter taste receptors. 

Additionally, pure, untreated cocoa is fairly acidic, adding to its bitter flavor. 

RELATED ARTICLE: Find out more about cocoa powder and its bitter components in this related article!

Why Does Dark Chocolate Taste Burnt?

While dark chocolate naturally has some bitterness to it, and very high percentages of cocoa tend to hint at a slightly burnt taste, generally speaking, good dark chocolate should not taste burnt in any way.

If that is the case for the dark chocolate you’ve bought, it’s most likely due to an over-roasting of the cocoa beans.

If those beans get over-roasted (read burnt), the resulting cocoa powder will carry that burnt and very unpleasant flavor with it!

However, this is not the norm with high-quality dark chocolate, which is the one I always recommend.

Do All Dark Chocolates Taste Bitter?

pieces of 90% dark chocolate on a table

So do all types of dark chocolate taste bitter, you ask? That depends on the percentage of cocoa they contain and your taste buds!

Naturally, once that balance of 50% sweeteners/50% cocoa is shifting toward a higher amount of cocoa, the bitter taste of your dark chocolate will increase with every 10%.

That is why milk chocolate, which has a maximum of 50% cocoa content, does not taste bitter at all, but dark chocolate of 60 or more percent does!

70% dark chocolate (my favorite) will have even more bitterness to it, and so forth.

But! Some people’s taste buds simply do not get activated by dark chocolate at all, which means they will tell you that no dark chocolate tastes bitter.

Others might have hyper-sensitive bitter taste buds. Those people will tell you that all dark chocolates taste bitter, and very much so!

DID YOU KNOW: Such people are referred to as supertasters, and they are particularly sensitive to bitter flavors.

Is There 100% Dark Chocolate?

I think most of you out there are familiar with 60-80% dark chocolate, and some of you are probably also aware of the 90% one. But what about 100% dark chocolate? Does this even exist?

The answer is yes! There is pure, 100% dark chocolate. Lindt is a famous brand that sells a chocolate type like that. 

Now you’re probably thinking: oh wow, 100% pure chocolate. That must taste like heaven!

Well, I hate to disappoint you, but 100% pure dark chocolate has a powerful and very particular flavor that most people will not agree with!

Of course, there is absolute bitterness of pure chocolate, which can be very hard to swallow (pardon the pun). 

Additionally, pure dark chocolate actually does have a certain burnt flavor as well. Some people, including myself, would compare it to chewing on a cigar (not all that pleasant!). 

Lindt’s 100% dark chocolate has a strong bitter, smokey, and earthy flavor. That does speak for itself, doesn’t it?

Let’s just say it’s a lot of pure chocolate taste! There is almost no cocoa butter in 100% dark chocolate and just 1g of sugar! That means that there is basically no sweetness to be found here.

And while it can be paired with certain beverages or desserts and enhance their flavors, you’d really have to know your flavor game to enjoy it fully. 

For the average chocolate fan, it’s probably not recommended if you ask me! But that’s really up to anyone to decide.

Why Do People Like Dark Chocolate So Much?

This one is all about personal preferences and taste receptors! If you like a very rich and deep chocolate flavor and don’t mind the bitter flavor, you will simply love dark chocolate.

I am in love with it myself and always have been. On the other hand, my husband Max cannot stand the taste of dark chocolate. He’s a milk chocolate lover instead.

Again, it’s all about your preferences! Some people prefer sweet chocolate. Others like it strong and bitter.

Some people aren’t sensitive to bitter tastes. Others are very sensitive to it and just can’t stand it.

Why Do People Hate Dark Chocolate So Much?

Comically enough, the answer to this next question is the same as before: personal preference and taste receptors!

You wouldn’t believe how many forum threats there are out there discussing the hatred for dark chocolate.

The number one reason is, of course, the bitterness of dark chocolate. If you don’t like bitter flavors or your taste buds are very sensitive to them, why on earth would you like to eat dark chocolate?

This one makes a lot of sense, don’t you think?

Others state that they are just not used to the strong and rich flavor of dark chocolate when they first try it. Some get eventually used to it, while others will never fall in love with it.

Pretty sensible as well, right?

And some people just follow the principle that chocolate has to taste sweet.

Okay, this one is a little off. But on the other hand, there are also those who claim that chocolate must taste strong and bitter.

I don’t really care one way or the other. Everyone’s entitled to their favorite chocolate! Just don’t start a war over it, okay?

How Bitter Is Bittersweet Dark Chocolate?

Bittersweet dark chocolate has a cocoa content of around 70%, making it fairly bitter and one of the most commonly consumed dark chocolate types.

However, as the name so aptly suggests, bittersweet dark chocolate (read 70% dark chocolate) still has enough sugar and cocoa butter to give it a certain sweetness.

I think the border between dark chocolate lovers and haters can be drawn across the 70% chocolate area!

For lovers, dark and bitter chocolate really starts at around 70%, while sweet chocolate more or less stops at 70% for the haters.

Is Semisweet Chocolate Bitter?

Semisweet chocolate is yet another form of dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 50 to 60%.

Many sources state that the cocoa content of semisweet chocolate hovers between 35 and 65%, but that’s not accurate, in my opinion!

Because if there’s less than 50% cocoa in the chocolate, it simply cannot be classified as dark chocolate!

And then there’s the name again; semisweet. Basically, any chocolate with less than 50% cocoa tastes pretty sweet (like milk chocolate).

Hence, calling that chocolate semisweet would just not be correct!

Semisweet means somewhere in between, which is precisely what 50 to 60% cocoa implies.

And the semisweet semi-bitter flavor of semisweet dark chocolate definitely seconds this!

How to Sweeten Dark Chocolate?

If you are using dark chocolate for a baking recipe and want to make it sweeter, all you have to do is put the cocoa-sweetener ratio back into its balance.

You can do so by first melting the dark chocolate in your microwave or a pan and then adding one of the following sweeteners to it:

  • sugar
  • honey
  • condensed milk
  • maple syrup
  • agave syrup

These sweeteners will reduce your dark chocolate’s bitterness and intense chocolate flavor! 

The amount of sweetener you add to the dark chocolate will depend on how sweet you’d like your dark chocolate to become.

I typically start with 1 to 3 tablespoons and then go from there. 

As always, it’s all about experimenting and finding the right balance!

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