How Cacao Percentage Affects Chocolate Flavour
It may seem counterintuitive, but it turns out you can’t judge a chocolate solely by its cacao-percentage number. At first glance, it may seem logical that as the percentage goes up, so does the bitterness and intensity of flavour—but this isn’t always the case. In fact, some of Lindt’s high percentage bars, like 78% and 90%, are extraordinarily smooth and creamy. At its essence, the number refers to the percentage of pure cacao solids in a bar. However, the true story of the percentages is much more complex. Each percentage bar is like a unique vintage of wine, and each one goes through different processing techniques using different bean varieties, and has slight variations in ingredients like cacao, cocoa butter, vanilla and sugar. All of this affects how the flavours and aromas are expressed, and how the chocolate should best be enjoyed and used in baking. We sought the expertise of Lindt Maître Chocolatier Thomas Schnetzler to help explain the differences between some of Lindt’s most popular percentage bars: 70%, 78%, 85% and 90%.
Chocolate is incredibly complex and made up of hundreds of flavour components. The first place many chocolate lovers start is with Lindt Excellence 70% Cacao. Thomas describes it as the quintessential gourmet chocolate: dark, intense, balanced, rich and decadent. Some will notice notes of dry cherry, vanilla and orange. Lindt’s 78% bar is interesting because although it has more cacao, it’s actually creamier than the 70%, and has notes of toasted nuts like pecans and walnuts. In contrast, the higher percentage 85% bar is more assertive on the palate. The presence of cocoa powder adds very robust cocoa notes. “This is a bar for purists who enjoy a bold taste,” says Thomas.
And while, Lindt’s 90% bar has more cacao, it’s still quite smooth and creamy, thanks to the presence of cocoa butter. Interestingly, it also has less of a cocoa taste compared to the 85%. The cocoa butter gives the 90% bar a nice melt that reveals earthy notes of espresso. To further explore the flavours of high percentage cacao, try Lindt’s intense 99% chocolate and its new 95% bar.
The best way to learn is to sample all the varieties with your own palate. Chocolate tastings are a great activity to enjoy with friends, because taste is such an individual thing and it can be fun to compare notes. Another experiment is to try the percentages in ascending order, and then in descending order, to really highlight the subtle differences between each bar. You’ll notice how increasing the percentage doesn’t always mean the flavour becomes more intense or bitter.
Taking in the fragrance of cacao is one way chocolate lovers can deepen their tasting experience. The aromas develop in different ways, Thomas says: “The notes in each of Lindt’s percentage bars are the result of interactions between the different cacao bean varieties and how each is treated during roasting, grinding and conching.” With Lindt’s 70% bar, you’ll notice balanced cocoa aromas and notes of red fruit and vanilla. With the 78% bar, there’s a smoky finish, and the 85% bar has deeper, more intensely powerful cocoa notes with hints of vanilla and leather. Lindt Excellence 90% has noticeably earthy aromas of fall leaves and firewood. To really explore the aromas, and the chocolate itself, follow our guide to tasting with all five senses.
How to Enjoy
Lindt’s cacao percentage chocolates are delicious when consumed by themselves, or paired with coffee, wine or cheese. Recently they’ve even been recognized by popular Food Network chef Ina Garten as the choice for bakers. All the percentage varieties behave slightly differently when used in recipes, though. “As a rule, higher percentage cacao bars set a ganache slightly firmer than regular supermarket baking chocolates,” says Thomas. He adds that another important element is the amount of cocoa butter. High levels of this natural fat mean the chocolate will melt faster and have a more creamy, buttery finish. So Lindt’s 70% and 78% bars melt quicker than the 85% or 90% bars. Because of this, a bar like Lindt Excellence 85% will keep its shape when used as an intense dark chocolate chip. Lindt Excellence 70% and 78% melt at around the same rate, but Thomas says the 70% bar is a great all-rounder that lends itself to any baking projects—particularly mousses and cakes—while still delivering that unique Lindt taste. And because the 78% bar is so creamy, it’s delicious enjoyed by itself or paired with a Rwandan coffee, which can be quite fruity and sweet.