your guide to reading chocolate labels

We celebrate National Dark Chocolate Day annually on February 1st. But just what qualifies as dark chocolate? In this post, I’ll answer that question, help you differentiate between dark chocolate, dark milk chocolate, milk chocolate, and white chocolate, and share a few tips on how to read chocolate labels and shop for better tasting, healthier chocolate by interpreting those labels.


One of my favourite kinds of chocolate is Dark Milk Chocolate. It is dark chocolate of generally 55-65% cocoa with a small amount of milk powder and sugar added to it. This pairing of a 65% bar from Guatemalan beans and a 65% bar made from Madagascan beans crafted by Sirene Chocolate of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, features two of my favourite chocolates bars from one of Canada’s best bean-to-bar makers.

reading chocolate labels is important if you want to buy healthy chocolate

If you’re looking to buy chocolate bars, look for a simplicity of ingredients. The healthiest bars generally only have two ingredients: organic cocoa and organic cane sugar. Innovative companies such as Fine & Raw chocolate of Brooklyn, New York, are using organic coconut sugar as a sweetener as an alternative to cane sugar. Fine & Raw uses 50% raw and 50% roasted beans in its 70% dark chocolate and it is truly delicious.


Dark chocolate bars generally have at least 70% cocoa, and are the healthiest for you as they are pure “food of the gods” with no additives or preservatives. The higher the percentage, the more cocoa in the bar. But beware. Bars of 100% cocoa are intense and have absolutely no added sugar, so definitely an acquired taste.


Cacao 70 of Montreal uses fresh cocoa beans to make their chocolate.

The cocoa may be listed as cocoa, cacao, cocoa mass, cocoa liquor, or cocoa solids. It’s pretty much all the same thing: the pure dark brown substance that is created from processing cocoa beans. But cocoa or cacao (used interchangeably these days) should be the first ingredient listed on any label of quality chocolate.


A visit to the Jouvay Chocolate (Diamond Chocolate) Factory in Grenada showed me how cocoa butter was extracted from the cocoa beans in the chocolate making process.

Most of the time the cocoa butter is extracted during this process. Some chocolate makers choose to add the cocoa butter back in to make the chocolate creamier without adding dairy, so you may see cocoa butter listed on the label as well.


The Jouvay Chocolate Factory in Grenada packages the cocoa butter and sells it in solid form for cosmetic purposes.

To sweeten their cocoa, many chocolate makers prefer to use organic cane sugar. It is more natural and less sweet than processed white sugar. So if you have a 70% chocolate bar, that will most likely mean there is 30% sugar in the bar. Some chocolate makers add a tiny amount of lecithin (less than 1%) as an emulsifier to help the chocolate keep its shape. A small amount of lecithin is quite alright.


SPAGnVOLA is a US-based chocolate maker that grows its own cacao in the Dominican Republic and focuses on the purity and freshness of its ingredients–all clearly disclosed on its chocolate labels.

When buying chocolate bars, truffles, bonbons, ganaches, or filled chocolates, look for pureness of ingredients. Companies like US-based SPAGnVOLA Chocolatier grow their own cocoa as well as the passion fruit, ginger, and other flavour enhancing infusions in the Dominican Republic to make their incredible chocolate. So you will see ‘passion fruit’ as an ingredient and not ‘passion fruit flavouring’ which may indicate the use of simulated flavourings. Believe it or not, some commercial grade chocolate even has carnauba wax in it! Be sure to read the ingredients on your chocolate label and check for any pure additives or preservatives.


Swedish cocoa grower and chocolate maker Bertil Akesson makes a wonderful white chocolate bar crafted from the cocoa butter of Madagascan cocoa beans.

Remember that vegans prefer not to eat dairy products, and so will prefer dark chocolate to milk chocolate. And diabetics can eat a small amount of pure dark chocolate, but should shy away from white chocolate, which is primarily made from cocoa butter and sugar, and therefore does not possess the same health benefits of dark chocolate.

One final thing that is important to those of us who care about the cocoa farmers and the environment. Look for the word “Sustainable” on the label of your preferred chocolate. That means that both the farmer and environment have been equally cared for in the growing and processing of the cacao. “Fair Trade” is the next best thing, as it implies that the farmer has received a fair price for the cocoa, and “Ethical Chocolate” is also a label sometimes applied to chocolate that has been fairly and ethically produced in every step along the cocoa trail.

I hope this information will help you in reading chocolate labels and understanding that chocolate can indeed be good for you if consumed in moderation, and if you buy it in its purest form. Enjoy!






















Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I researched and wrote Volume I of Chocolatour that won a Readers' favourite Award in 2014. Always enjoy experiencing new destinations and flavours.

38 Responses

  1. Alice Carroll says:

    Wow, I didn’t know that there are chocolates that have fiber in them as well. I’m interested in looking for chocolate gift boxes in the future because I want to start looking for a good gift for my dad. He doesn’t like sweets much so maybe dark chocolate would be a good option.

  2. Thanks Doreen, it is very useful information.

  3. I always eat dark chocolate. It was however, an adjustment from milk chocolate that I used to love.

  4. I am not sure that chocolate would ever be healthy – well maybe one square or two. A great guide nevertheless. I can’t say I ever really thought about reading chocolate labels before.

    • Lyn, pure cacao and dark chocolate have the most anti-oxidants of any food on the planet. I have a chapter in my book on the health benefits of chocolate. You’d be quite surprised of the number of benefits of eating cocoa nibs or dark chocolate of 70% cocoa or higher.

  5. Monika says:

    Hi Doreen, Thanks for this – what a great idea to demystify the labels on chocolate. Perfect timing too. I have to admit I was given a very high percentage cocoa chocolate bar(90%?) for my birthday recently – none of us could quite eat it, so it is definitely an acquired taste. Wish I’d kept the label now so I could see what was in it!

    • Hi Monika. The 90% bar was likely 90% cocoa mass and 10& cane sugar. It is definitely an acquired taste for cocoa of that high a percentage. But it also depends on the origin of the cocoa, as you will prefer certain origins to others based on your personal taste preferences (i.e. whether you like a fruitier tasting chocolate versus a nutty or earthier chocolate.) Happy Holidays to you!

  6. Miranda says:

    This is so timely! Thanks for writing this super helpful guide. Now I know which chocolate to buy for who. 🙂

    • Doreen Pendgracs says:

      Hi Miranda and thx for your comment. I think it is indeed to think about the chocolate we are buying and consider the recipient. We all have such different tastes and priorities. Have a great holiday season. 🙂

  7. Max says:

    This is a great overview of the basic ingredients in each type of chocolate. Also, for anyone looking for a vegan white of milk chocolate, many makers are now turning to coconut as a creamer instead of cow’s milk! Charm School comes immediately to mind. Thanks for the quality content, as always, Doreen!

    • Nice to ‘meet’ you, Max. Thx for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Great tip on the coconut milk! I’ve had chocolate made with coconut oil, but I don’t think I’ve had any made with coconut milk! I shall have to give it a try!
      Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…your guide to reading chocolate labelsMy Profile

      • Max says:

        You definitely should! I’m sure there are some great makers doing coconut milk justice in Canada. Another American maker just came to mind, as well: Solstice. I just ordered more of their bars, though their coconut milk chocolate was not in stock. It’s been a few years since I last tried them, but I remember good things! Keep up the good chocolate work.

  8. We’re a good ways away, but it has been a stressful year alround.

  9. This is awesome information. Thanks for sharing. You always know how to make things like this approachable too.

  10. Sherryl P says:

    Doreen, I have to confess that if I’m buying chocolate, I’ll pay attention to the ingredients if they’re clearly marked on the packaging but I don’t believe I ever read the list of ingredients. I will now! Thanks.

  11. Yes, SO helpful, Doreen! I am a huge chocolate lover myself, but in the past year, I have really been watching my sugar intake and so for a while I wasn’t eating it at all. More recently, I have turned to dark chocolate with almonds, since there is less sugar and the protein helps absorb what is there. My most recent purchase is 70% cocoa – glad to see my instincts were right, since that is what you recommend as well! And I love your attention to sustainability as well. So important!

  12. This is excellent, and timely information, Doreen. You have definitely enlightened me about the world of chocolate and once you know how much better *good* chocolate is, you can’t go back to buying “candy bars.” At least I can’t–well except for the occasional Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. We all have our “guilty pleasures.” I do read labels more carefully now, and it’s good to know how the cocoa or cacao might be listed so I know I’m getting the real deal. I’ve found some very reasonably-priced bars, but even when I spend a bit more, it’s more than worth it, and when I have the really dark chocolate, with a higher percentage of cacao in it, a little goes a long way, so it lasts longer. I almost always buy chocolate for gifts and this gives me even more information to make sure I’m making good, healthy choices for friends and family.

  13. Very useful information. I pay more attention to the ingredients on the label because of what I’ve learned from you. Also when I am buying any for my daughter, who doesn’t handle milk products well and tries to stay away from too much sugar. She also has a soy allergy, so I need to avoid the bars with soy lecithin as well.

    • Thx, Donna. Glad you found the post helpful. It’s amazing how many of us have to avoid certain ingredients in our food. So getting into the habit of always reading the labels–even on treats like chocolate–is a really good idea. Happy Holidays to you. 🙂

  14. Great guide, Doreen. Happy to share this on Facebook for all of my choco-holic friends. I love to read labels, so this is a good education.

  15. Janet May-Hewson says:

    I’m so glad you gave us this info. It makes a difference clearly on what you are getting. I’ll start paying attention to the ingredient lineup.
    Thanks Doreen.

  16. Linda says:

    Indeed, a great post. And thanks for reminding me what white chocolate is. I always forget, it is made with the cocoa butter, rather than the cocoa itself. (Correct?)

    • Correct, Linda. Milk chocolate and dark chocolate will have cocoa mass or liquor in it. But white chocolate is made only from cocoa butter, sugar, and any infusions the chocolate maker or chocolatier may wish to add. Thx for stopping by. 🙂

  17. This was really insightful for me, Doreen. We assume the more expensive chocolate is the best, but there are so many variations.

  18. Phoenicia says:

    Thank you for an insight into eating healthier chocolate Doreen. I recently ate a bar of dark chocolate which had 70% cocoa. It was Green and Blacks brand and I found It rather bitter. I only needed a few squares due to the richness.

    • Doreen Pendgracs says:

      Hi Phoenicia. Yes, Green and Black’s is a good brand. You will find the higher percentage chocolate to taste somewhat bitter to your palate until you become accustomed to it. And yes, one only needs to eat a small amount of the pure chocolate in order to feel satisfied. Stick with it, and try different brands and origins to find the one(s) that best suit your palate.

  19. I agree this was very helpful Doreen. I think most people tend to assume that the expensive chocolate is always the best and I’ve learned from you there is a lot more to consider than just the price. Happy to share this valuable information!

    • Doreen Pendgracs says:

      Thanks, Marty! Indeed, price is not the determining factor on quality. It is purity and craftsmanship that are key.

  20. Thanks, Doreen, that was very helpful. I’m never sure what’s good and what’s not and tend to default to price as an indicator. Did I ever mention that you are the reason I started eating dark chocolate? Never liked it before, but now I think of it in the same way I think of good coffee.

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