Taste Test

We Tried 17 Dark Chocolate Brands to Find Our Snack Soulmate

There's no pick-me-up like a chocolate pick-me-up.

December 22, 2021
Photo by Food52

Director of Content Brinda Ayer and I share a filing cabinet, which is to say, we share snacks: crackers, halva, popcorn, and, most importantly, dark chocolate. There are few things—coffee included—more reliable to pull me out of a 2 p.m. slump.

So, in the name of selfishness research, we decided that a taste test was in order: Whenever we’re in need of a restock, which brands of dark chocolate bars should we seek out? I went to five supermarkets and bought every dark chocolate I could find in the 70 percent to 85 percent cacao range, which totaled at 17 brands. Chunky mix-ins, like nuts and dried fruit, were a disqualifier, but salt was okay if the brand insisted upon it.

What Does Good Chocolate Mean?

As a rule of thumb, dark chocolate should contain at least 70 percent cacao. “When you see labels that read ‘70 percent cacao,’ this means the product contains 70 percent chocolate liquor by weight and the rest is mostly sugar, plus a little emulsified chocolate and/or vanilla,” according to the editors of America’s Test Kitchen. Good-quality dark chocolate should not contain a dozen extra additives, with the exception of flavorings like sea salt or caramel. But again here, we weren’t interested in caramel, mint, or fruit fillings; all we want is a delicious bar of solid dark chocolate.

We also appreciate when dark chocolate bars are committed to fair-trade and organic practices, but we don’t believe that those factors don’t necessarily indicate good chocolate. In fact, some of our taste testers' favorite brands of chocolate were the ones that you’d probably find lining the aisles of a pharmacy. Spoiler alert: One of the most popular brands of dark chocolate was from Trader Joe’s, which should come as no surprise to us since that grocery store can do no wrong.

Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Look, we’re not here to tell you what to eat or not to eat for your health and wellness. That being said, we’re certainly not mad about the fact that dark chocolate may have significant heart-healthy benefits. According to the American Heart Association, dark chocolate contains high levels of flavonoids, which is associated with a lower risk of heart disease and high blood pressure in adults.


Best Dark Chocolate Bars

Here’s how the dark chocolate bars fared, in alphabetical order:

Alter Eco Deep Dark Sea Salt (70%)

This chocolate is a minimalist at heart: no artificial flavors, or emulsifiers, or soy, or GMO ingredients. The cacao is single-origin from Ecuador and spiked with fleur de sel. Plus, what a pretty pink package! On the whole, our taste testers were into it: Multiple people called it “nice,” which is nice, and one person summed it up as “rich but not too heavy.”

Chocolat Stella Noir Dark (72%)

Like some of its brethren, this bar’s ingredient list includes vanilla (common but by no means a given with dark chocolate), which adds some candy energy to the mix. “I could EAT THE WHOLE BAR,” one taste tester declared. Another called it “fruity and roasty and delicious,” while another still said they would “pair it with something sweet to let it shine in all its bitter glory.” Maybe a cold clementine? Or a couple sticky dates? Another experiment is in order.

Chocolove Strong Dark Chocolate (70%)

Chocolove gets a gold star for effort. This bar was thoughtful enough to come with its own love poem (printed inside the wrapping!): The Elizabeth Barrett Browning sonnet sighs, “If thou must love me, let it be for naught.” (You tell ’em, Liz!) Despite its good intentions, our taste testers weren’t smitten. One said it was “pretty good,” while another said it was “pretty good?” Some complimented its warm, coffee flavors, while others lamented that it wasn’t “as ‘strong’ as the name implies.”

Divine Deliciously Rich Dark Chocolate (70%)

But how delicious and rich are we talking? Quite delicious, according to our taste testers! One “could imagine this with peanut butter,” which is the ultimate compliment, if you ask me. Other praises included “cocoa-y,” “yum,” “creamy, not too bitter,” and “good for dark chocolate devotees.” Which is all of us, right?

Equal Exchange Panama Extra Dark Chocolate (80%)

Though we love its commitment to fair-trade food systems and organic ingredients, this chocolate bar’s flavor wasn’t our taste testers’ favorite. One wrote that it had “no distinct chocolatey flavor,” which I think it’s fair to say is the goal here. Another “probably wouldn’t have this again,” while someone else found it “bitter, but in a tangy way?” That all said, one lone wolf totally loved it: “very rich and deeply cocoa-y, like a fudgy brownie.”

Ghirardelli Intense Dark Twilight Delight (72%)

We can all agree that this bar wins the name contest—who doesn’t want a twilight delight? But the reviews were mixed. While Ghirardelli didn’t have the highest cacao percentage of the bunch, taste testers still found its flavor intense: “Smoky tasting,” said one, “too much for snacking.” Another remarked on its “buzzy, coffee-like taste.” On the bright side! This chocolate “blooms pretty nicely” and “melts well.”

Green & Black’s Dark Chocolate (85%)

The darkest dark chocolate we tried. Made with Trinitario cacao beans, this bar proved to be a little extra for afternoon snacking. Several people commented on its bitterness (“bitter,” “very bitter,” another “very bitter,” you get the idea), which left us somewhere between “can’t eat too much of it” and “not my bag.” That all said: One taste tester summarized it as “deep,” which is something all of us wish to be called.

Hu Simple Dark Chocolate (70%)

The word no appears eight times on the Hu label: no palm oil, no refined sugar, no cane sugar, no sugar alcohols, no dairy, no gluten, no emulsifiers, no soy lecithin. Which leaves us with...cacao, coconut sugar, and cocoa butter. This standout sweetener seemed to catch the eye (tongue?) of our taste testers. “Obscured by the coconut sugar flavor,” said one. “Fruity,” said another. A couple of people noted that it was “caramelly” and “too molasses-y.” Meanwhile, others appreciated its balance of sweetness and bite.

Lily’s Extra Dark (70%)

Another atypical sweetener—this time, stevia, a no-calorie buzz-ingredient that our taste testers weren’t all that into. A couple people found it unpleasantly “bitter.” Also thrown around: “synthetic flavor,” “tannic” (is this a compliment outside of wine?), “not bad,” and two instances of “not my fave.” Of course, there’s always an outlier: “I thought I would hate it because of the stevia,” one wrote. “But I didn’t.”

Lindt Dark Chocolate (70%)

Lindt prides itself on “exceptional cocoa flavor” and the group was inclined to agree. “Solid dark chocolate,” one noted, adding that it had “good snap.” While this boasted the same cacao percentage as several other bars, it stood out for its creaminess. “This is the chocolate for milk chocolate lovers who wish they liked dark chocolate,” one taste tester wrote before scribbling a big star and exclaiming “Favorite!” Similarly, someone else said it was “milk chocolate–esque” and that they could “eat a ton of this one,” before becoming self-conscious: “Am I basic?” they wrote. No! You’re great.

Madécasse Pure Dark Heirloom Chocolate (70%)

This bar won the New York Chocolate Show 2009 Best in Show, a competition I had never heard of before a minute ago, but now would very much like to attend. Madécasse describes itself as “dark chocolate with a subtle fruit aftertaste,” which our taste testers would say is quite the understatement. Almost every review remarked upon its fruitiness, including but not limited to: “immediately tangy and fruity,” “wow so fruity,” “tastes like a cherry tart,” “tastes like chocolate-covered blueberries,” and “tasted like blueberries?”

Mast Dark Chocolate (80%)

On its label, this chocolate bar compares itself to “a black dress” and “a charcoal suit” and “your best jeans,” which sound like three very different days/nights to me, but maybe that’s the point? This bar really divided the group. Some were fans: “Whoa, this one’s pretty nice” and “SO GOOD!” Others found it boozy and not in a nice way. A couple people remarked that it was “winey,” while someone else tasted “hops.” And one particularly honest taste tester compared its flavor to “straight alcohol. Or cherry liqueur? Also gasoline.”

Scharffen Berger Bittersweet Dark Chocolate (70%)

Another divisive pick, Scharffen Berger was neither an outright winner or loser according to the team. Favorable reviews included “really nice” (to “eat plain or for hot chocolate!”), “a crowd-pleaser,” and “bitter with a nuanced flavor.” Meanwhile, others thought it was “flat” and “eh not bad, but not my fave.”

Taza Dark Chocolate 70%

This chocolate was the only round bar in a sea of rectangles, but that wasn’t what our taste testers talked about. Unlike the others, Taza is stone-ground with molinos, or traditional Mexican mills, which yield a nubby texture. While some found it distracting, most taste testers were super into its “Crunch bar vibes” and “gritty,” “grainy” consistency. One person even drew four stars and...circled two of them? But why?

Theo Sea Salt Dark Chocolate (70%)

When Theo says sea salt, Theo means sea salt. We were here for it, though. One taste tester called it “a celebration.” Another said: “There is a lot of salt happening here, but also dried fruit vibes. This would kill on a s’more and I would pair with a beer.” Honestly, what else do you need to know?

Tony’s Chocolonely (70%)

Tony’s mission is to make chocolate production “100% slave-free worldwide,” which you can and should read more about here. Also worth your time: this deep dive by Melissa Clark about how chocolate gets made. As I unpacked my haul, several people spotted the Tony’s wrapper and said something like, “I love Tony’s!” And the taste test results echoed as much. The kind words included: “very snackable,” “delightfully bitter,” “yummy,” “impressively silky for a dark chocolate,” and “I’d eat it on a plane.”

Trader Joe’s Pound Plus (72%)

The title says it all. This bar weighs in at a whopping 17.6 ounces, which makes it either very impractical or practical to keep in your desk, depending on the size of your desk and stress of your job. “Now that’s what I look for in chocolate—a nice snap!” one taste tester announced. “Chocolate that I want to snack on,” said another. And: “Not mad about this at all. Would buy, but not gift.” But isn’t every chocolate a gift? Especially to yourself?

What is your favorite dark chocolate brand? Let us know in the comments below!

This post contains products that are independently selected by our editors and writers, and as an Amazon Associate, Food52 would earn from qualifying purchases.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Soniahalfner
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    Nicole S. Urdang
Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles on the fly, baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., and writing about the history of pie in North Carolina. Now she lives in New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's award-winning column, Big Little Recipes (also the cookbook in November 2021!). And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

24 Comments

Soniahalfner February 12, 2022
- Hu was outstanding (admittedly the hazelnut, almond of cashew butter filled bars) but have really gone downhill since being bought by Mondelez. Something has changed. It’s like what happened to Magnolia cupcakes, Ben & Jerry’s, Snapple and more recently Ample Hills Ice Cream - Big Food buys them out, the recipe gets compromised (eg carageenan, an inflammatory, is now in Apple Hills ice cream), it becomes a gas station aisle brand, dies, the hunt is on for the next acquisition…
- Trader Joe’s massive 30% Dark Chocolate Hazelnut is my budget go-to. It’s more like 90% whole hazelnuts glued together with chocolate. Admittedly a tad on the sweet side, but stops me from eating too much. It MUST be eaten straight from the fridge. Amazing value at $3.99.
- the most outstanding chocolate of all: Chocolate Moderne, an artisanal and award winning husband and wife chocolatier brand, is the one I eat every day. All I need to survive is oxygen and their $9.95 Avante Garde Almond Praline bar or Blood Orange Bergamote https://chocolatmoderne.com/collections/chocolate-bars/products/avant-garde-bar-blood-orange-bergamot?variant=29458236211309
 
Hannah January 6, 2022
I particularly like the Moser Roth collection found at Aldi’s, and Choceur is another German brand found there that has 55% cocoa and tastes like very good semisweet chocolate to be broken up and baked into a cookie.
 
ChocoLou January 6, 2022
Ok chocoholics, let’s cut to the chase. THEO’S 85. Simply pure, simply Seattle, just a small business in the Fremont neighborhood ( also known as “The center of the universe). We eat THEO’S chocolate and we set our clocks back 5 minutes. When in Seattle, come on over the bridge and visit. We are friendly…..and we eat chocolate!
 
eirroc January 6, 2022
The best dark chocolate that I ever had was gifted to me by a colleague who picked it up on a layover in Ukraine, of all places. It was 100% dark. It lasted me for an entire year, as it was so rich and smooth that a single bite was satisfying. The texture was so smooth, that it was the perfect complement to the bitterness. The label was gorgeous, too, which is why she says she thought I’d like it. It is apparently not sold anywhere in the US, so memories are all I have now. It was Meetty brand. Whatever you do, do NOT Google “Meetty chocolate” – it apparently means something not safe for work in Ukrainian and Russian, and I hope the work IT guy doesn’t report my search history…
 
Nicole S. January 6, 2022
I have a new very affordable favorite for eating or tempering: Guittard 74% wafers.
I get them at Whole Foods for $8 a bag.
Fruity, balanced and not too sweet.
 
karen's K. January 6, 2022
Chocolove Organic 73% Dark Chocolates the best!
 
Alisa Q. January 6, 2022
A San Francisco company called Recchiuti chocolate is the best I have ever tasted.
Not bitter, smoke, nutty, just divine chocolate in bars and many beautiful single pieces.
Made with Guittard chocolate and pure flavors, it is absolutely the best.
I haven't tasted Thomas Keller's chocolate bar at $20 and probably well deserved, but I have tasted half on your list and Ricchiuti is totally my favorite. ricchiuti.com (I added that website for your delight.
 
JZeens January 6, 2022
Jelina's dark chocolate with sea salt is to die for! Just discovered their chocolate last fall. The dark chocolate honeycomb is fantastic too.
 
Nicole S. December 24, 2021
A small midwestern company called Crow & Moss makes some of the best chocolate bars in America. If you’re feeling really adventurous, try their vanilla smoke dark bar. The Zorzal is extraordinary.
As for Dick Taylor Chocolate, they are also wonderful. If you’re on a budget, try buying their trapezoidal baking squares. It’s the same chocolate at a much better price point.
9th & Larkin is another amazing small producer out of San Francisco. Their packaging is especially beautiful and makes for memorable gifts.
 
Nicole S. December 24, 2021
If you really want to explore dark chocolate, even in the higher ranges, please check out www.chocolateratings.wordpress.com there are over 500 reviews of chocolate from all over the world.
 
Rosemary December 24, 2021
For serious lovers of dark chocolate there is only 1: Valrhona Abinao, 82% cacao. Very smooth, not at all gritty, unlike most very dark chocolates. For those who prefer a less intensely dark chocolate, I recommend Valrhona Guanaja, 70% cacao. And why didn't you list any Valrhona at all? It's not that hard to find, Trader Joe's carries it as do many other stores.
 
jude1 December 22, 2021
Dick Taylor chocolate, roasted and created in Humboldt County, California. Check out their website.
 
Smaug December 22, 2021
Lindt all the way for bar chocolate- not only is it first rate, it's easily available and reasonably priced. Guitard for chips, of course. Best ever- Poulain.
 
cocoamantra June 14, 2021
Wonderful information and quality article. Thank you so much for sharing. We at Cocoa mantra manufacturing fine quality organic dark chocolate with natural cocoa butter using Indian cocoa beans. Request to the author and readers to visit us and rate us. Website: http://cocoamantra.com/
 
cocoamantra June 14, 2021
Wonderful information and quality article. Thank you so much for sharing. We at Cocoa mantra manufacturing fine quality organic dark chocolate with natural cocoa butter using Indian cocoa beans. Request to the author and readers to visit us and rate us. Website: http://cocoamantra.com/
 
Barbara R. March 4, 2021
We prefer Valrhona Le Noir Amer 71% Dark Bittersweet
 
Nicole S. March 4, 2021
What chocolate do you self a favor and check out the 500 with you most of the dark chocolate from all over the world:
Www.chocolateratings.wordpress.com.
 
Chococraving March 4, 2021
Great article.
 
Srikanth D. January 10, 2021
Wonderful article. Could you please consider our Chocolate brand as well. Chocolate Mantra is India's artisan Chocolate maker. We have wide range of Chocolates, we use finest quality single origin Indian cacao beans. Please visit our website https://www.ChocolateMantra.com
 
Nicole S. May 15, 2020
If you love chocolate, especially dark chocolate, check out: www.chocolateratings.wordpress.com.
There are over 450 reviews of chocolate from around the world.
No ads and nothing for sale.