The Review of Popular Dark Chocolate Brands You Must Unwrap

by Gregory
"Healthy" Foods That Sicken Us

For me, dark chocolate and wine are the two most relaxing items to consume.  They are truly a God-send.  Once my taste buds touch them, a cavalcade of warmth fills my body.  When it is the two of them combined, it is a veritable culinary orgasm of delight!  So it makes sense that we commit to a review of popular dark chocolate brands.

All hyperbole aside, it would behoove all people to incorporate a serving of dark chocolate into their daily routine.  Why?    Studies abound heralding the benefits of cacao.  The phytonutrients, catechins, and polyphenols in cacao help combat Type II (lifestyle) diabetes, incidence of strokes & heart attacks, improves satiety (fullness), and helps with weight maintenance, among other things.  (Read 4 Top Superfoods You Should Be Eating Right Now for greater depth into the health benefits of dark chocolate.)

A great primer for this article is Cocoa vs. Cacao: Wait, There’s a Difference?! There I discuss the fundamental difference between cocoa and cacao and herald one as the winner.  It is a worthy read to get the most out of this review of popular dark chocolate brands.

If you take a cursory look at the macronutrient levels of dark chocolate, you will likely be amazed by two things: high calories and high fat.  But before you throw out the bar and opt for the rice cakes, remember that Gary Taubes in his book Good Calories, Bad Calories revealed that not all calories are created equal.  Fat brings fullness and essential micronutrients which lead to cell membrane formation as well as cholesterol and hormone production.  Remember that fat does not make you fat so please don’t worry about the fat content.

So let’s get to the point because this article is not specifically about the benefits of dark chocolate.  You already know that high-percentage dark chocolate is good for your health.  So before we begin this review of popular dark chocolate brands let’s set some ground rules.


Criteria

  • No chocolate bars over $5.00. I’m sure your mind has been blown when you have ventured into Whole Foods to lay your eyes on $7-$10 bars of dark chocolate. C’mon!  I don’t care if it is sprinkled in gold, no one should be purchasing bars that expensive.
  • Only 80% or higher bars. The whole benefit of dark chocolate comes more from cacao than cocoa so it seems counter-intuitive to review sham-like 30% dark chocolate bars.  Might as well be eating Hershey’s.
  • Only well-known brands. When I go to my high-end grocery store, there are more types of dark chocolate than there are Imelda Marcos shoes. (Sorry only people growing up in the 80s will get that allusion.) Honestly, there are dozens of brands now.  We are only sticking to those that can be found in most of America, but you can honestly apply my review to any local brands you encounter.

Please note:

  • I am including the serving size because many times food makers will decrease the size of a serving to make the macronutrients amounts smaller, thus making you think it is healthier. (Cereal makers are notorious for this.) Luckily here all 7 are roughly the same size.
  • Since they are all on 85% or higher, you will notice that all are very low in sugar compared to lower percentage varieties, flavored dark chocolate, and of course, regular milk chocolate.  I’m not going to spend time comparing the macronutrients.  The fundamental difference here will be the ingredients.
  • Lastly my grading of these products will not be swayed by Fair Trade Certified status. Solely the ingredients & taste.
  • Click on the specific brand of chocolate bar to purchase on Amazon.

Another great primer for this review is our article or podcast on Sugar-Laden Superfoods.


Guittard 91% Cocoa Nocturne

  • 40 grams per serving
  • 210 calories
  • 21 grams of fat
  • 12 grams of saturated fat
  • 14 grams of carbs
  • 5 grams of fiber
  • 4 grams of sugar
  • 4 grams of protein

Ingredients

Cacao Beans, Pure Cane Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Vanilla Beans

Pros

Guittard’s Nocturne brand has a lot going for it.   It has minimal ingredients, but most importantly, it features actual cacao and vanilla beans.

Cons

It tastes like cardboard.

Overall

Guittard is the most expensive of the seven (7) bars here (approx. $4) and that may be due to the pure ingredients.  Since it uses actual premium cacao beans, the taste is more bitter than the others and duller.  If you can develop a taste for it, and perhaps most pragmatically, if it is on sale where you can get it for $2-$3 it is definitely worth the buy. Just get ready for the cardboard taste.  Grade: B+ 


Divine 85% Dark Chocolate

  • 42 grams per serving
  • 260 Calories
  • 21 grams of total fat
  • 13 grams of saturated fat
  • 16 grams of carbs
  • 6 grams of fiber
  • 6 grams of sugar
  • 4 grams of protein

Ingredients

Cocoa Mass, cocoa butter, sugar, cocoa powder, sunflower lecithin, vanilla

Pros

As with all these high percentage dark chocolate bars, it is low in sugar and boast a good amount of fiber.

Cons

Its ingredients are not stellar.  It features no cacao products per se, solely cocoa, and uses a vegetable oil (in sunflower lecithin) to emulsify it.

Overall

The taste is average.  The price is roughly $3.  Nothing exception in its macronutrient or ingredient profile to push it “Above Average.” Grade: C


Perugina 85% Extra Dark Chocolate

  • 40 grams per serving
  • 240 calories
  • 20 grams of fat
  • 13 grams of saturated fat
  • 11 grams of carbohydrates
  • 6 grams of fiber
  • 5 grams of sugar
  • 3 grams of protein

Ingredients

Chocolate (Processed with alkali), sugar, cocoa butter, sunflower lecithin, natural vanilla flavor

Pros

Compared to the others on this review, not much.

Cons

Inferior ingredients.  Read my article on Cacao vs. Cocoa to see why “Chocolate (Processed with alkali)” is subpar.  Plus it uses sunflower lecithin, and not even a vanilla, but rather “natural vanilla flavor.”

Overall

Substandard bar in this price/quality range.  Average in taste.  Skip it! Grade: C-


Ghirardelli Intense Dark 86% Cacao

  • 45 grams per serving
  • 250 calories
  • 25 grams of fat
  • 15 grams of saturated fat
  • 15 grams of carbohydrates
  • 5 grams of fiber
  • 5 grams of sugar
  • 3 grams of protein

Ingredients:

Bittersweet chocolate (unsweetened chocolate), cocoa butter, sugar, milk fat, soy lecithin, vanilla, natural flavor.

Pros

With Ghirardelli (and Lindt) we are approaching the “working man’s premium dark chocolate bar.”  Meaning that these bars are the least expensive of the 80% or higher bars.  If you notice its serving size is 5 grams larger than the rest while maintaining the same macronutrient levels.

Cons

Well, it is a “working man’s premium dark chocolate bar” so the ingredients are more substandard than the aforementioned Perugina & Divine.  It features cocoa butter, which is substandard, but most egregiously contains “milk fat” and “natural flavor.”

Overall

The benefit of this bar is that you can find it at any grocery store and it costs only $2.50.  Also, it has a nice smooth taste.  The reason it tastes well is because it has been “adulturated” by milk fat and natural flavors.  You are getting for what you pay.  Not for the vegetarians.  Grade: D


Lindt Excellence 85% Cocoa Extra Dark

  • 40 grams per serving
  • 230 calories
  • 18 grams of fat
  • 11 grams of saturated fat
  • 15 grams of carbs
  • 6 grams of fiber
  • 5 grams of sugar
  • 5 grams of protein

Ingredients

Chocolate, cocoa powered, cocoa butter, demerara sugar, bourbon vanilla beans

Pros

The other “working man’s premium dark chocolate bar” Lindt products are omnipresent and well-priced (comparable to Ghirardelli).  Even more important, its ingredients are better quality as well.

Cons

Compared to the higher brand Guittard & others, it doesn’t feature cacao.

Overall

The best of the “working man’s premium dark chocolate bar.”  No “milk fat” or “natural flavors.”  No “soy or sunflower lecithin.”  It uses actual vanilla beans which is impressive for a lower-price bar.  Taste is smooth and above average.  Take it any day over the Ghirardelli. Grade: B


Green & Black’s 85% Dark Cacao Bar

  • 40 grams per serving
  • 260 calories
  • 21 grams of fat
  • 13 grams of saturated fat
  • 14 grams of carbs
  • 5 grams of fiber
  • 5 grams of sugar
  • 4 grams of protein

Ingredients

Organic Chocolate, Organic Cocoa Butter, Organic Cocoa, Organic Raw Cane Sugar, Organic Vanilla Extract

Pros

The best tasting out of the group.  All the ingredients are organic, which is important given the pesticide load in which cacao beans are doused.  Middle priced around $3.50.

Cons

No cacao.

Overall

All Green & Black’s chocolate bars are great-tasting.  The ingredients in it are not as quality as Guittard but compared to the others in the group, it is the go-to-bar.  No extra ingredients to sully it.  Grade: A-


Trader Joe’s The Dark Chocolate Lover’s 85% Chocolate Bar

  • 40 grams per serving
  • 250 calories
  • 20 grams of fat
  • 10 grams of saturated fat
  • 13 grams of carbs
  • 6 grams of sugar
  • 5 grams of fiber
  • 4 grams of protein

Ingredients

Cocoa Mass, Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Soy Lecithin, Natural Vanilla Flavors

Pros

It is notoriously cheap.  It costs only $1.80.  But perhaps the best thing about this bar is that you get two bars instead of one!

Cons

You get for what you pay.  Similar to Ghirardelli, you notice the ingredients are substandard.  The “boogie man” of all processed foods, “Soy Lecithin” is here.  (Read our article/listen to podcast on the Ideal Clean Eating Pantry to see what is wrong with soybeans.). Not too mention “natural vanilla flavors.”  C’mon, Trader Joe’s, just use “vanilla extract” or “vanilla beans!”

Overall

Don’t get lost when perusing the aisles of Trader Joe’s, for they boast more brands of dark chocolate than Willy Wonka. (This bar is always near the checkout.)   If you must get a Trader Joe’s bar, this is the one.  For 85% it has a great sweet taste, but the subpar ingredients supersede the taste. Grade: D


The biggest question you must answer is “What is more important: ingredients or taste?”  If it is the former, opt of the Guittard Nocturne since its ingredients are top-notch.  If it is taste (with above average ingredients), reach for the Green & Black’s.  For the least expensive bars, choose the Lindt.

In are interested in a bar that is not on this list, apply this criteria:

  1. Cacao over cocoa products.
  2. Vanilla beans over vanilla extract or vanilla flavor or vanillin.
  3. Organic sugar over regular sugar.
  4. No Lecithin emulsifiers

And as always, choose the unflavored varieties.  Less sugar…less ingredients…more cacao!

Now go open your dark chocolate bar, sit back, and enjoy!

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A. Gregory Luna

 

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