What does Cacao Content (% Cacao) mean?

As chocolate's reputation for being a superfood grows, we've seen numerous references to the cocoa health equation:

higher percentage cocoa content = healthier

Unfortunately, this isn't always true. The percentage of cacao content is a good indicator for where to start. But, it can be comprised of processed cacao "parts." Not all of these parts are created equal in terms of health effects. 

If you want to maximize antioxidants while enjoying a cacao product, dig a little further into the ingredients list.

What to look for:

  • Cacao / Cocoa Nibs, Beans or Cracked Cocoa - this means the inside of the cacao beans in their natural ratios is being used.
  • Cocoa Liquor / Mass / Paste / Solids - don't worry, cocoa liquor isn't alcohol! It's simply the whole cocoa bean ground down to a liquid state. Also known as: chocolate liquor, chocolate, unsweetened chocolate, bitter chocolate, baking chocolate or cooking chocolate.
  • Cocoa, Cocoa / Cacao Powder - this means the cacao beans have been processed to remove a portion of the cocoa butter (fat). Typically, this leaves the more antioxidant-rich part in the cocoa or cocoa powder.

Other indicators:

  • Total Fat Content - added cocoa butter contributes to a smooth, rich mouth feel (and counts toward the total cocoa content), but isn't known to retain antioxidants. If you're eating 70% cacao content bars for health reasons, look for bars where fat grams account for no more than 40% of the total weight.
  • Processed with Alkali or Alkalized, Dutch or Dutch-Processed - this means the cocoa was chemically treated to reduce bitterness, astringency and / or make it blend more easily. Unfortunately, it also removes most of the antioxidants. Other descriptions may include "processed with": Ammonium, potassium, or sodium bicarbonate, carbonate, or hydroxide, or magnesium carbonate or oxide.

Check out our other blogs on how to choose the healthiest dark chocolates: