Everyone has their own opinion about chocolate. Some people prefer milk, others white, and many swear by dark. Most people also prefer an addition such as nougat, caramel, other flavors, or nuts. Just as the kind of chocolate can vary, its uses can as well; it can used in drinks, desserts, candy, eaten on its own, and more. The origin of all of this is the cocoa bean, which is harvested and made into one of two main types of chocolate: milk and dark. Dark chocolate is different from milk chocolate in many ways including the manufacturing process, taste, and health benefits.
Chocolate starts life in the form of cocoa pods, harvested by hand in tropical climates. After the pods are split open and the beans are fermented and dried, the manufacturing process begins. The beans become chocolate liquor after they are roasted, then it is mixed with sugar, vanilla, and other additives for flavor. This is where the distinct difference in taste between dark and milk chocolate originates. Even though both milk and dark chocolate start as chocolate liquor and contain cocoa butter and cocoa powder, the other ingredients added at this stage make it one or the other. Sugar is the main ingredient in milk chocolate, followed by milk, whereas plain dark chocolate has a majority cocoa powder with a much smaller amount of sugar. The fact that no amount of milk is added to dark chocolate is one of the main variations between these two products. Emulsifiers, such as lecithin, which affect the chocolate’s viscosity, may also be added to either type.
As the ingredients in producing milk and dark chocolate differ, the taste follows. The most distinct difference is the bitterness that is found in dark chocolate versus the sweet creamy taste of milk chocolate. Dark chocolate is bitter naturally, but it is also affected by the amount of cocoa present in the product, which can vary between 35 percent and 100 percent. Another variable that strongly affects the taste of chocolate is the quality of the ingredients. This not only applies to the quality of the cocoa beans, but also the additives included in the manufacturing process such as the milk, sugar, and vanilla.
Artificial flavorings can also have a big influence on the quality of the chocolate. Some companies replace cocoa butter with vegetable oil, which qualifies the product as a compound chocolate. A compound chocolate is made “from a combination of cocoa, vegetable fat, and sweeteners…used as a low-cost alternative” (Furla ́n). Implementing these variables, which affect both the quality and taste of the chocolate, reduces the manufacturing cost.
One significant difference between dark and milk chocolate is its effect on health. The health benefits of dark chocolate include a beneficial influence on blood pressure, blood flow, cholesterol, as well as skin protection against sun damage. The key to these effects of dark chocolate is Flavanols. Flavanols are compounds which are naturally in certain foods such as apples, grapes, tea, cherries, and cocoa. Flavanols have a positive impact on health because they “account for the antioxidant effect provided by red wine and green tea” (Hammit). Cocoa is a great source of antioxidants which are important for the body because they protect cells from free radicals.
In fact, according to a study on this topic, “cocoa and dark chocolate had more antioxidant activity…than any other fruits tested” (“Proven Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate”). Additionally, dark chocolate can help with diseases such as heart disease and diabetes because it reduces insulin resistance. Many studies showed that these health benefits were especially effective in men, particularly elderly men. Women may not see the same level of benefit due to how flavanols affected platelets, components found in blood which are directly related to clotting. While dark chocolate does have health benefits, it should be consumed in moderation. After all, dark chocolate does contain its fair share of calories.
Dark chocolate versus milk will continue to be an unending argument among chocolate lovers. While they both originate from the cocoa bean, dark chocolate and milk chocolate are different in many ways. Milk chocolate contains a significant amount of sugar and milk while dark does not. Dark chocolate consists primarily of cocoa powder, unlike milk. Each type has a distinct flavor ranging from sweet and creamy to exceptionally bitter. The effect on the human body also differs between the two. Dark chocolate has flavanols which benefit health in many ways. Milk chocolate does not provide those same advantages because it contains less of these beneficial compounds and has more added sugar and fat included in the manufacturing process. There are many more factors which separate dark chocolate and milk chocolate, but in the end, they are both the perfect treat.