Fine Chocolate Glossary

Chocolate Terms

Terms used in the fine chocolate industry.

Artisan chocolate 
This term refers to chocolate produced by small chocolate makers--artisans--who understand their craft intimately. Artisan chocolate must be made under the care and supervision of a knowledgeable chocolate maker who could be defined as an artisan. If there is no artisan at a company, then the chocolate cannot accurately be called artisanal.

Refers to Theobroma cacao tree, and the fruits it produces, as well as its seeds. The fermented and dried cacao seeds are also often referred to as "cocoa" beans.

Chocolate maker 
This term usually refers to those companies that produce chocolate in small batches from fermented and dried cocoa beans.

Chocolate manufacturers 
This term usually refers to those large companies that produce a broad range of mass market and/or specialty chocolate from dried cocoa beans.

Chocolate liquor 
Ground-up cocoa nibs, whether in molten liquid or solid block form. The term chocolate liquor has nothing to do with alcohol in any way but refers to the nibs being in the liquid state when they are ground.

Chocolate or Cocoa percentage 
The percentage of chocolate liquor + cocoa butter + cocoa powder in chocolate. A higher cocoa percentage has little bearing on the quality. For example, a 70% chocolate may range from excellent to terrible. The only specific thing that we can say about a 70% chocolate bar, with any certainty, prior to tasting it, is that it has about 30% sugar in the formulation.

This term usually refers to a person who uses fine chocolate produced by chocolate manufacturers/makers to create unique chocolate products and confectionery.

Coating chocolate or chocolate-flavored coating 
Some or all of the cocoa butter is removed from the chocolate liquor and is replaced with less expensive vegetable fat of some kind to produce an inexpensive product to replace real chocolate.

Cocoa butter 
Cocoa butter is rare among vegetable fats because it is mostly solid at room temperature, though it starts to very noticeably soften and melt at just a few degrees beneath body temperature, leading to its unique melting mouthfeel. These interesting qualities are due to the fact that cocoa butter is polymorphic, with about six, somewhat overlapping, crystallization, and melting ranges. Cocoa butter is also rare in that it resists rancidity, and can be stored for much longer periods of time than most vegetable fats without spoilage. Additional uses include pharmaceutical and cosmetic purposes.

Cocoa butter percentage 
Mass market chocolates and cocoa powders often have much lower cocoa butter percentages than fine chocolate and high-quality cocoa powders because cocoa butter is an expensive ingredient. The higher percentages of cocoa butter in fine chocolate and fine cocoa powders have a positive impact on mouthfeel and flavor.

Cocoa nibs 
The broken pieces of the fermented, dried, and usually roasted, cocoa bean, after the shell--actually the thin seed coat of the cocoa bean--has been removed via a process called winnowing. Cocoa nibs may be eaten out of hand or ground into chocolate liquor, which itself may be used for chocolate making or pressing to extract the fat of the cocoa bean, called cocoa butter.

Cocoa powder 
Once the cocoa butter has been hydraulically pressed from chocolate liquor, the remaining material is a compressed "cocoa cake." This cocoa cake is then reground and sifted until it is a fine cocoa powder. Cocoa powder, though lower in cocoa butter than the initial chocolate liquor from which it is made, will still have from 10-22% cocoa butter content as defined by the FDA in Title 21 section 163.113. As mentioned under the term "cocoa butter percentage," in the FCIA Glossary, more flavorful fine cocoa powder will generally have a higher cocoa butter percentage.

Conching is a texture and flavor improvement process carried out by any of a variety of different machines called conches or refiner-conches. The process, which generally follows refining, takes place over the course of several hours to three days or more depending upon the machine, the chocolate maker's vision regarding chocolate flavor and texture, and the particular cacao from which the chocolate is made. It is still not well-understood what causes the significant flavor changes that occur within conched chocolate, though various food scientists throughout the 20th century have suggested that volatilization of certain flavor compounds, oxidation of others, and even the process of coating cocoa particles with cocoa butter, may play roles.

Fine couverture is made with care from fine cacao beans that are fermented and dried properly then roasted, refined, and conched with concern for the overall flavor and texture of the chocolate. Couverture is generally used by chocolatiers to coat ganache or in molded chocolate bonbons, though it may also be molded into bar form, or used in cooking and baking as well.

Dark chocolate 
Though not all of the following ingredients are necessary for a fine dark chocolate formulation, the chocolate should not contain any ingredients beyond: cacao liquor, sugar, cacao (cocoa) butter, lecithin, and vanilla.

Lecithin, when added, is generally added during the end of the conching process. Lecithin is an emulsifier, and decreases the viscosity of chocolate. It is generally used within mass-market chocolate to allow a reduction in the amount of necessary cocoa butter for a given formulation. Some fine chocolate makers use lecithin while others do not - that is the personal choice of the chocolate maker.

Milk chocolate 
Fine milk chocolate should only contain cacao liquor, sugar, cacao (cocoa) butter, milk solids, milk fat, lecithin, vanilla.

Originally this French word referred to gold coins in use in European countries until the late 19th century. Now, in the world of chocolate, pistole refers to the coin-shaped pieces of couverture.

Cocoa beans are roasted to develop the characteristic aroma and taste of chocolate. The length of the roasting process and its temperatures vary, though for those familiar with coffee roasting, cocoa roasting times and temperatures can generally be said to be significantly longer and lower. Fine chocolate manufacturers generally do not roast every origin of cocoa beans in the same way, but try to find the combination of time and temperature that best enhances a particular origin's flavor.

Tempering is a process in which the temperature of the chocolate is manipulated to allow for a controlled crystallization of the cocoa butter to occur, thus allowing the cooled chocolate to have a good "snap," glossy sheen, and proper mouthfeel. In addition to book knowledge, fine chocolatiers must develop a highly refined understanding of the tempering process through experience, because only this experience ensures that each chocolate product is perfectly tempered, even when automatic or semi-automatic tempering equipment is used.

The French term terroir has been used in the wine industry for ages and is also relevant when speaking of cacao. It refers to the various ways a particular place can have an impact on a given population of cacao, such as the effect of general and micro-climates in the area, soil composition, and even the unique microbiology of the growing area and fermentary.

White chocolate 
Fine white chocolate should only contain sugar, cacao (cocoa) butter, milk solids, milk fat, lecithin, vanilla.

Fine Confection Chocolate

Terms to define what each confection is and what to look for in a fine confection.

Ganaches are the classic artisan confectionery center. They are an emulsion of chocolate and cream. Ganache can be flavored with fruit, nuts, spices, herbs, and aromatic liquids such as liquors or teas. Fine chocolate makers use couverture chocolate for each ganache that is specifically paired with a high-fat content cream that contains less water as well as natural ingredients for flavorings. Some fine chocolatiers will only source their flavors from their region. Ganaches are highly versatile and can be piped, slabbed or shell-molded, but the most recognizable form is truffles. While ganaches most often refers to cream combined with chocolate, they can also be made using a combination of cream, butter, and/or eggs.

As mentioned above, truffles are a member of the ganache center family. But they have a unique history. Originally truffles were piped onto a baking sheet and once the centers were hardened they were shaped into balls and rolled in cocoa. Because of their uneven and rough surface, truffles were named after the real truffle, the fungus from France. Now truffle centers can be hand-formed, cut into squares, and enrobed or piped into round chocolate truffle shells. The advantage of these truffle shells is that softer centers may be used.

What to look for in fine ganaches and truffles - with all varieties of ganache centers, freshness and flavor are the benchmarks. Fine chocolate gananches have a very limited shelf life and should be eaten quickly for the best flavor.

Creams and Butter Creams 
A creamy fondant sugar paste flavored with fruit, spice, or nut flavors. Favorite cream flavors are raspberry, maple, orange, and vanilla. Commercial cream center examples are peanut butter cups and Peppermint Patties. 

What to look for in fine creams - a creamy melt-in-your-mouth texture. The inherent sweetness of the sugar will be carefully balanced with the addition of the flavoring as well as the flavor and amount of chocolate that covers the center.

Caramels are made with cooked sugar, corn syrup, butter, and dairy. They are cooked at a lower temperature than their cousin, toffee, and therefore contain more water and have a soft, chewy texture. They can be flavored with vanilla, spices, and sometimes fruit. 

What to look for in fine caramels - the flavor should not just be of sugar but have a rich cooked flavor - even close to burnt in some products. The chocolate coating should be a thin shell that allows the flavor of the caramel to be predominate. Any hint of grittiness indicates the caramel is past its prime.

Toffee or Brittle 
Hard caramel contains much the same ingredients as soft caramels but in different proportions. Toffee is cooked to a significantly higher temperature, it contains less water, browns more, and has a much harder texture. Toffee is usually cooked in a copper kettle, covered in chocolate, and rolled in chopped roasted nuts.

What to look for in fine toffee - as toffee is a cousin of caramel the flavor should not just be of sugar but have a rich cooked flavor and could taste close to burnt in some products. Nuts are traditionally paired with toffee. They should be toasted and without a hint of stale or bitter flavor. The chocolate coating should be balanced in both flavor and amount so it doesn't overpower.

Rich caramel, toasted nuts, usually pecans, and chocolate create a classic, familiar combination.

What to look for in a fine turtle - Fresh, toasted nuts balanced perfectly with chocolate and caramel. The nuts are the key and must be of the highest quality.

Sponge Candy 
Sponge candy, also called cinder block, seafoam, or honeycomb is a crispy sugar candy that is the perfect foil to smooth chocolate. It is a simple confection consisting of caramelized sugar, almost molasses-like flavor with a very unusual, crisp at first then melt-away texture. Many believe Sponge Candy originated in Buffalo, NY. 

What to look for in a fine sponge candy - crispness is key. A well-made and fresh sponge candy will not have any chewy characteristics.

Nut Clusters and Nut Bark 
Clusters and barks are merely chocolate and roasted nuts either mixed or layered together.

What to look for in fine nut bark - a perfect balance of chocolate to nuts as well as lightly toasted, very fresh nuts.

Fudge is made of a combination of chocolate, sugar syrup, fat, dairy products, and flavoring. It is recognized for its smooth, dense texture, and is most commonly paired with nuts. Fudge was said to be invented by Ivy League college students. In spite of the ‘homemade’ origin, making excellent fudge is not a simple feat. 

What to look for in fine fudge - fudge inherently has both a smooth and sugary texture. The sugar is kneaded until the crystals are tiny which takes time and labor. Chocolate fudge should be very smooth with a rich chocolate flavor.

A cross between truffles and fudge. Mint is king (think Frangos). They get their melting quality because of eutechtics of incompatible fats. When cocoa butter and other fat such as coconut or palm oil are mixed the resultant combination melts at a much lower temperature in your mouth, resulting in a "melting" mouth feel.

What to look for in a fine meltaway - deep chocolate flavor that comes through even a strong flavor like mint and melting texture leaving no residual taste of fat in your mouth afterwards.

Cordials are chocolates with a liquid center. Liquor cordials are liquor flavored sugar syrup enrobed in chocolate. A familiar example is brandied or maraschino cherries combined with a sweet creamy fondant filling then covered in chocolate.

What to look for in fine cordials - very good quality chocolate and a balance of the flavoring (liquor or fruit) and sugar syrup.

Marshmallows date back to ancient Egypt, where the sap from the root of the marshmallow plant was mixed with honey to create this confection. Modern marshmallow is made using sugar, corn syrup, gelatin, and flavoring. Many artisan chocolatiers are creating amazing marshmallows flavored with fresh vanilla beans, spices, nuts, and fruit essences. 

What to look for in a fine marshmallow - artisan marshmallows are formed into slabs and cut rather than extruded into cylinders like mass-produced marshmallows. They should be pillowy soft with no dried-out edges.

Nougat is one of a family of aerated confections. The word nougat is derived from the Latin word nux, meaning ‘walnut.’ History suggests that nougat was made using egg whites, honey, and nuts. This is no longer its defining quality. Modern nougat is a foam aerated with egg whites and containing cooked sugar, corn syrup, and honey in varying proportions. It may be firm and white with dried fruits and nuts, or soft and airy. 

What to look for in fine nougat - the quality of the nuts and fruits is paramount, balanced by the right amount of sugar foam.

A mixture of blanched almonds and sugar ground to a paste, marzipan has a long history. There is a dispute about its origin, but not about its methodology. While a staple of confectioners in Europe, marzipan has not enjoyed the same popularity in the U.S. 

What to look for in fine marzipan - the quality of the nuts balanced with just the right amount of sugar.