Chocolate has become an essential part of American life, through seasonal holiday marketing, baking (as an ingredient, topping, or decoration), and everyday consumption. It started out as a popular drink in the colonies, often used as a calming mechanism or to improve digestion. Solid chocolate only emerged in the mid-19th century with a chalky, unpleasant texture. It wasn’t until around 1920, once milk had been incorporated into the chocolate, that people preferred eating chocolate to drinking it.1 The supply of chocolate in the U.S. became abundant as new technologies created affordable chocolate that turned it from an expensive luxury to a mass-consumed product.
The idea that chocolate has health benefits has been returning with the recent dark chocolate craze in America and is expected to cause the American chocolate industry to increase beyond its 2016 valuation of $27.88 billion. Dark chocolate is favorable for its iron, magnesium, and copper contents, and is known to act as an antidepressant by releasing endorphins and increasing serotonin levels in the brain. Chocolate is also a good source of flavonoids which can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.2 Dark chocolate made up 27.7% of 2016 chocolate revenues, and the consumer preference of dark chocolate over other varieties continues to grow, although milk chocolate has always been the most common type of chocolate in the U.S.3
As chocolate became a well-known and well-received product, the FDA began to publish loose regulations to verify the quality of chocolate products and promote transparency about ingredients and sourcing. Current regulations are likely inadequate in the current landscape of the chocolate industry that increasingly values dark chocolate yet lacks a standard for its cocoa content.
To market a product as milk chocolate, it must contain at least 10 percent chocolate liquor, and using less chocolate liquor reduces the cost of production. So, Hershey’s kisses only contain 11 percent chocolate liquor! Hershey’s also puts butyric acid in the milk powder used in their chocolates, giving them a subtle curdled milk taste and feeling that is not enjoyed outside of the U.S. This only worked in the U.S. because Hershey’s started producing their chocolate with butyric acid before most Americans knew the taste of chocolate well.4
White chocolate, on the other hand, was not considered chocolate in the United States until 2002, when the FDA eliminated the regulation that products must contain chocolate liquor to be considered chocolate rather than a confectionery. The FDA instead regulated that white chocolate must contain at least 20 percent cocoa butter. This change was a result of lobbying efforts by Hershey’s and the Chocolate Manufacturer’s Association.3
When so little of the chocolate product must contain cocoa, there is plenty of room for sugar and other additives. Before I started liking dark chocolate and appreciating its texture and distinct flavor, I probably didn’t like that it was less smooth, less sugary, and less melt-in-your-mouth satisfying. The creaminess of milk chocolate comes from cocoa butter and milk fats, and it is a trend in the U.S. not to add much cocoa butter or any milk fats to dark chocolate. Thus, the dark chocolate segment of the natural foods revolution embraces two ingredient chocolate with high cacao content and sugar.4
Nevertheless, the FDA does not provide standards for the identity of dark chocolate. 70% cocoa chocolates are usually considered a baseline for dark chocolate, and we assume that a higher cocoa percentage on the label means a darker chocolate; however, that percentage only indicates how much of the chocolate bar comes from products of the cacao bean. The ratio of cocoa powder to cocoa butter in the liquor and possible extra cocoa butter can change how dark the bar actually is.4
Without regulations on the definition of dark chocolate, corporations can easily label their products as “dark chocolate” regardless of their cocoa content to attract health conscious consumers who will pay a higher price for premium products.
Hershey’s Special Dark and Lindt Dark Truffles were probably among the first dark chocolates I was exposed to (and avoided). The labels on these products do not advertise the cocoa percentage in each candy because, with today’s unwritten standard that 70% is a minimum for dark chocolate, the dark chocolate claims by Hershey and Lindt would most likely be questioned by many. Hershey’s Special Dark has only 45% cocoa, and even their extra dark chocolate only reaches 60%.5 Lindt’s Dark Chocolate Truffles have a minimum cocoa content of 39%, while the shell on their extra dark truffles is still only 60%. (Lindt also has a newer extra dark truffle with 70% cocoa content and has bars ranging from 70% to 99% cocoa).6
Consumers more interested in bean-to-bar or organic chocolates would likely not be in the market for these traditional brands and would not be fooled by a package that doesn’t identify the cocoa percentage. On the other hand, average chocolate lovers convinced that they should convert to dark chocolate for health reasons could be more likely to purchase brands they are familiar with, and the lack of transparency on the label may contribute to further happy (over)consumption of sugary chocolate. The absence of a dark chocolate regulation could lead to loss of credibility for the major manufacturers, and reduce the competition between their dark chocolates and the dark chocolates made by small-scale firms. These firms create luxury products and are incredibly transparent about their cacao sourcing and cocoa content to thrive in the era of health-conscious chocolate consumption.
Conversely, Americans may be so consumed by their love of chocolate that marketing claims of dark chocolate or implications of health benefits do not widely affect their consumption choices. The consumers or small businesses that desire more transparency from the dominant manufacturers may thus be overshadowed by these massive corporations that will continue to prevent new regulations on chocolate standards.
The future of chocolate will likely include continued growth, spurred by the dark chocolate trend, that will benefit any confectionery corporation or small business dedicated to fulfilling the constant demands.
- Snyder, Rodney. “History of Chocolate: Chocolate in the American Colonies.” Colonial Williamsburg: That the Future May Learn from the Past. Accessed November 27, 2018. http://www.history.org/history/teaching/enewsletter/volume9/jan11/featurearticle.cfm.
- “North America Chocolate Market Size Analysis Report By Product (Dark, Milk, White), By Application (Everyday, Premium, Gourmet, Seasonal), By Country, And Segment Forecasts, 2018 – 2025.” Grandview Research. Accessed November 27, 2018. https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/north-america-chocolate-market.
- “Chocolate, as Defined by FDA.” Chocolate, As Defined by FDA | Registrar Corp. October 28, 2015. Accessed November 27, 2018. https://www.registrarcorp.com/fda-chocolate-standard-identity/.
- Martin, Carla. “Chocolate 101.” Lecture, New England Chocolate Festival, Boston, MA, October 13, 2018
- Times-Dispatch Staff. “Practical Nutrition: A Bit of Dark Chocolate Is a Good Thing, but Go for 70 Percent Cacao: Cocoa Meringue Kisses.” Richmond Times-Dispatch. February 08, 2012. Accessed November 27, 2018. https://www.richmond.com/holiday/valentines-day/practical-nutrition-a-bit-of-dark-chocolate-is-a-good/article_ce2a8bb4-a92e-5c6a-aaa6-6436a16592be.html.
- “FAQ.” Lindt & Sprungli USA, Inc. Accessed November 27, 2018. https://www.lindtusa.com/faq.