(Editor’s note: This article was updated to correct a unit of measure as well as the annual worth of the cocoa bean industry.)
The average American consumes over 11 pounds of chocolate per year, combining for a total of 2.8 billion pounds annually. But not all chocolate is created equal. Milk, dark, and white chocolate each have their diehard fans. So, what sets them apart from one another?
Chocolate is derived from the bean of the Theobroma cacao plant, which is native to the tropical regions of Central and South America. According to the World Cocoa Foundation, “the modern word ‘chocolate’ stems from two words in Nahuatl, the language spoken by many native groups: chocolatl, which translated literally means ‘hot water,’ and cacahuatl, which referred to a bitter beverage made with cocoa that was shared during religious ceremonies.”
The Spanish conquistadors were the first to add sugar to the hot beverage. It wasn’t until a century later that this delectable treat made its way to the rest of Europe, where it became a dessert associated with the upper classes and ultimately gained a reputation as an aphrodisiac. In the mid 1800s, the Germans started to add milk to the drink. Around the same time, chocolate started on the path of becoming a wildly popular confection when a man by the name of John Fry discovered that adding cocoa butter to the powder used to make the steamy treat turned it into a solid. In 1910, Belgian inventor Jean Neuhaus III introduced the world to pralines, chocolates with flavored fillings, while the Swiss were the first to introduce a solid milk chocolate variety.
Today, cultivation of the cocoa plant spans an area known as the “cocao belt,” which is in tropical climates within 20 degrees and south of the equator. Africa’s Ivory Coast region is now the largest grower of cocoa beans, producing over 2 million tonnes in 2020 for an industry that is worth over $130 billion. In contrast to the giant industry, the average Ivory Coast chocolate farmer earns only 97 cents per day, highlighting persistent inequities to be aware of when choosing chocolate products.
Types of Chocolate
Dark chocolate is the purest form, containing anywhere from 30% to 90% of cocoa solids. The higher the percentage, the more bitter the chocolate and the crumblier it is. In terms of nibbling on dark chocolate, most people prefer to stay in the range of 65% to 70%. Dark chocolate is considered a great source of antioxidants and contains several minerals like iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, and more. But buyer beware, just because dark chocolate has several benefits doesn’t make it entirely healthy. Calories from sugar can really add up, so be mindful.
In terms of popularity, milk chocolate has a leg up on dark. Milk chocolate is made of cocoa solids with added milk content, which can be in the form of liquid, condensed, or even powdered. To be considered “milk chocolate,” a creation must contain minimum quantities of 10% chocolate liquor, 12% milk solids, and 3.39% milk fat. Of course, the higher milk and milkfat content means higher calories and fat, so you lose some of the health benefits that would come with dark chocolate.
White chocolate is the youngest of the three types, first created in 1936 by Swiss chocolate maker Nestlé. If you’re a real chocolate aficionado, you’d likely consider white chocolate to be a fraud as it technically contains no cocoa powder or chocolate liquor at all. It does contain cocoa butter, sugar, and milk solids, and what is considered to be white chocolate is regulated similarly to milk and dark varieties, with minimum requirements of at least 20% cocoa butter, 14% total milk solids, and 3.5% milk fat.
Should you be craving a chocolate fix that mass market candy bars just won’t cut, head to downtown Truckee. Follow your nose to Sweets Handmade Candies as the aroma of melting chocolate wafts along Commercial Row and lures you into the shop. Opened in 1995, Sweets’ confections are crafted with top-notch Belgian chocolate. You’ll find delectable treats like caramel- and chocolate-drizzled popcorn, fudge, truffles, pralines, caramels, peanut butter cups, and fruit- and nut-filled morsels. They also have a second location on South Virginia Street in Reno.
Over on the North Shore, tucked away in the Boatworks Mall, you’ll find the hidden treasure that is Tahoe City Chocolates. Delight yourself with a selection of homemade chocolate confections like the company’s renowned truffles, but also take a step back in time with a collection of retro candies from years gone by like Big League Chew, Razzles, Turkish Taffy, Pop Rocks, and SO much more. Oh, and there is ice cream, too!