What's the difference between white chocolate vs. dark chocolate? Compare ingredients, nutrition, flavor, and function. Discover the best variety to eat, flavor, bake, drizzle, and decorate with.
If you are a typical American, you will eat 11 pounds of chocolate this year. Yum!
Milk chocolate is the most popular type of chocolate, followed by dark and trailed by the white variety.
The versatility of chocolate is endless. Snack on a candy bar or drink it in liquid form. Flavor sweet desserts or savory sauces. Dip, dunk, drizzle, and decorate with it.
This article is all about the chocolate extremes – white and dark. So, which is better, healthier, tastier? White chocolate or dark chocolate?
Since 34% of the population prefers dark chocolate versus only 11% that prefers white chocolate, you may think dark chocolate is better. However, both chocolates have earned their place in the kitchen.
In this article, you will learn valuable tidbits about white and dark chocolate. You will discover each chocolate’s unique flavors, key differences, and the best way to use them in your culinary creations. Plus, you can find perspective on chocolate research, so you aren’t fooled.
Read more about white vs. milk chocolate.
Can We Get an Official Definition, Please?
Take two chocolates in your hand. One an ivory color, one a dark brown color. Visually, you can see how each looks unique. But beyond color, what makes white and dark chocolate distinct?
The answer lies in the ingredients list and the standard definition of each candy.
Fact #1: Only White Chocolate has a Standard Definition
White Chocolate Defined
White chocolate was accidentally invented by Nestlé during World War I to use up extra powdered milk. They combined cocoa butter with powdered milk and called it the Milkybar.
White chocolate was born.
However, confectionery coating sometimes looked and tasted like white chocolate. Candy coating is made with sugar and cheap vegetable fats instead of the expensive cocoa butter found in white chocolate.
Consumers had difficulty distinguishing between real white chocolate and an inexpensive knock-off. Especially if both products were called white chocolate.
In 2004 the United States Food and Drug Administration intervened and introduced strict guidelines to define white chocolate.
According to the FDA definition, a product labeled white chocolate must contain 20% cocoa butter, at least 14% milk solids, a minimum of 3.5% milkfat, and a maximum of 55% sugar.
The absence of cocoa solids means it will never be brown or have the characteristic “chocolatey taste”.
High-quality white chocolate often has extra cocoa butter added and less sugar. These bars will melt like a dream and have an exquisite mouthfeel.
Lower quality real white chocolate may have soy lecithin in it. Soy lecithin is an additive that lengthens shelf-life and reduces the chance of fat bloom.
Products without 20% of expensive cocoa butter cannot be labeled white chocolate.
Lower cost items with vegetable oil or cocoa butter substitutes on their ingredients list will not be labeled white chocolate.
You have seen artificial white chocolate products. White melting wafers, white morsels, and white baking chips are examples. Don't discount these imitators. They have their place in recipes and decorating.
However, they are often marketed to “trick” you into thinking they are authentic white chocolate. But they are not the real deal.
In fact, in 2019, Nestlé was sued for misleading consumers into thinking their premier white morsels were white chocolate. Although their label follows the FDA guidelines, they are shelved next to other chocolate products, labeled as chocolate.
Don’t fall for the white lie. Be a wise consumer and check the ingredient list. No cocoa butter? It’s not white chocolate.
Dark Chocolate Defined
Dark chocolate is perhaps the most exciting variety in the family. It has a more sophisticated taste with assertive bitterness. In a nutshell, darker chocolates have high amounts of cocoa solids combined with cocoa butter and usually sugar, but no milk.
Dark chocolate typically has less sugar than other types of chocolate. The lack of milk combined with reduced sugar gives dark chocolate a firmer texture and a nice snap.
The only ingredients required in dark chocolate are cocoa powder and cocoa butter. Dark chocolate recipes vary significantly in the cocoa percentage and sugar they contain. Why? Because there is no standard for dark chocolate in the United States.
Semisweet chocolate and bittersweet chocolate can sometimes be classified as dark chocolate. And although dark chocolate shouldn’t have milk in it, there are dark milk chocolate bars in the market.
The cocoa percentage of dark chocolate can range from 60 to 100%. Each manufacturer has their own formula of cocoa bean, cocoa butter, and sugar content.
The FDA doesn’t have a standard for dark chocolate. However, the European Union asks for a minimum of 35% cocoa solids in chocolate to label it as dark chocolate.
Fact #2: White Chocolate Does Not Taste Like Chocolate
What Does White Chocolate Taste Like?
Close your eyes and picture yourself biting on a white chocolate bar. You’ll immediately notice the chocolate’s smoothness and creamy texture. This palate-coating treat has high amounts of cocoa butter, essentially fat, and you can tell.
White chocolate’s buttery flavor usually comes with a subtle vanilla scent and memories of fresh milk. Don’t expect to find the intense chocolate flavor found in other types of chocolate. Instead, you get a textural experience.
White chocolate comes in more than just baking bars and chocolate chips. White chocolate is compatible with citrus, floral scents, nuts, and honey, and producers know it. Expect to find a wide variety of flavor combinations in the market.
In recent years, a growing number of specialty chocolate companies have produced unique chocolate bars. Picture white chocolate bars with exciting add-ins like cardamom, cashews, or raspberries.
What Does Dark Chocolate Taste Like?
On the other hand, dark chocolate has lots of cacao solids and no milk, making the specialty quite bitter and intensely flavorful.
Not as creamy or buttery as white chocolate, dark chocolate is snappy instead. It offers a burst of roasted flavors ranging from espresso, woody, and fruity, to the unmistakable taste of roasted cacao beans.
If you haven’t tried an official chocolate taste test at a chocolatier, give it a try. When you take a moment to analyze what you are tasting, you will be amazed at the array of flavors you can detect.
Fine chocolate companies sell a selection of dark chocolates with varying cocoa content. You can even buy dark chocolate that has 100% cocoa.
As with white chocolate, artisan chocolatiers make dark chocolate bars with tempting add-ins like candied oranges, black sesame seeds, or salted caramel.
Fact #3: Dark Chocolate "Eating" Bars Cost More Than White. White and Dark Chocolate "Baking" Bars Cost the Same.
Which is More Expensive (White or Dark)?
Good quality chocolate will always be more expensive than chocolate with cheap additives. However, which is more costly? White or dark chocolate?
A quick survey revealed that high-quality dark chocolate bars are more expensive than white chocolate. I compared two companies' white and dark chocolate bars -- Lindt and Green & Black’s.
Dark chocolate prices ranged from 12 to 25% higher than white chocolate.
However, baking chocolate was a different story. I compared Ghirardelli and Baker’s baking bars. Both white and dark chocolate baking bars cost the same.
Fact #4: Only one Ingredient Difference Makes White Chocolate White and Dark Chocolate Dark
All chocolate originates from the cacao tree in a tropical rainforest. Cacao pods on the tree are harvested at ripeness, opened, and the seeds are removed.
After the beans are hand-cleaned, they are fermented in large vats. There they undergo complex all-natural chemical changes, taking up to seven days. During fermentation, the “chocolate” flavor develops.
Fermented beans are dried and then roasted in a process not dissimilar to making coffee.
Next, they are winnowed, a task that separates the shells from the flavorful and bitter cacao nibs.
The tiny nibs are then finely ground into solid cocoa mass (also known as chocolate liquor). The cocoa liquor is placed under high pressure, which causes it to separate into cocoa powder and cocoa butter.
Here is where white and dark chocolate production changes. Only cocoa butter, milk powder, and sugar make white chocolate. Never cocoa liquid.
Dark chocolate is a mixture of cocoa butter, cocoa powder, and sugar.
White chocolate will never contain cocoa powder and dark chocolate should not have milk powder in it.
Whichever combination of chocolate is being made, the ingredients are rolled, kneaded, heated, and aerated in a conching process. White chocolate requires a shorter cycle of conching than dark chocolate.
Finally, the chocolate is melted and shaped into bars, chips, or powder. It is shipped to food manufacturers or a retailer near you.
Fact #5: White Chocolate Has a Shorter Shelf Life Than Dark Chocolate
White chocolate has a shorter shelf life than dark chocolate. When properly stored, pure white chocolate lasts for about 4 months.
In contrast, correctly stored dark chocolate can last up to 20 months.
Storage Tips for White Chocolate vs. Dark Chocolate
Both chocolates are delicate, especially if exposed to high temperatures and humidity. Chocolate is best stored unopened in its original packaging in a cool, dry place away from heat sources and direct sunlight.
If opened, you must store chocolate in an airtight container. Vacuum seal opened chocolate if you can. Alternatively, wrap the chocolate in plastic wrap.
Chocolate absorbs aromas from the environment, so store it away from other food.
Beware of chocolate bloom. White or grey streaks are signs of fat bloom, and a dry white film indicates sugar bloom. Fat and sugar bloom can affect both white and dark chocolate.
Fat bloom happens when the chocolate is exposed to warm temperatures. The cocoa butter begins to melt and separate from the rest of the chocolate ingredients. It rises to the surface of the chocolate and resolidifies. The white lines are the resolidified cocoa butter.
Sugar bloom occurs when chocolate is stored in damp conditions, like the refrigerator. The humidity draws the sugar out. The sugar then absorbs the water droplets and dissolves. When the moisture evaporates, the sugar crystals remain on the surface of the chocolate.
If your chocolate shows either type of bloom, worry not. Melt it, temper it and mold it again — you can still use it and eat it.
How to Tell if Chocolate Has Gone Bad
If bloom is not a sign of chocolate going bad, what is? It all comes down to the flavor.
Rancidity is hard to describe but easy to detect — it just tastes off. And no, rancid chocolate won’t make you sick; it’s just not a pleasurable experience. White chocolate will go rancid before dark chocolate does.
Fact #6: White Chocolate Has More Calories and Sugar. Dark Chocolate Has More Fat.
Remember that there is no standard for dark chocolate in the United States. As a result, chocolate recipes vary widely between manufacturers.
I compared 4 brands: Green & Black’s, Lindt, Ghirardelli, and Baker’s.
- White chocolate ~ 160 calories/ 1 oz.
The range was 155 to 162 calories per ounce.
- Dark chocolate ~ 151 calories/ 1 oz.
The range was 142 to 161 calories per ounce.
Dark chocolate has more fat than white chocolate.
- White chocolate ~ 9.5 grams/ 1 oz.
- Dark chocolate ~ 11 grams/ 1 oz.
- White chocolate ~ 17 grams/ 1 oz.
- Dark chocolate ~ 9 grams/ 1 oz.
On average, white chocolate has more calories and sugar than dark chocolate. However, dark chocolate has more fat.
Fact #7: White Chocolate Melts Quicker and at a Lower Temperature
White vs. Dark Chocolate Melting Points
Ganache, candy-making, and decorating all begin by melting chocolate. Here are the facts about melting white vs. dark chocolate.
- The more cocoa butter the chocolate has, the lower the temperature can be to start melting. Chocolate with high cocoa butter will also melt more quickly than chocolate with less cocoa butter.
- In the United States, only white chocolate requires a specific amount of cocoa butter. All white chocolate must have a minimum of 20% cocoa butter.
- There is no cocoa butter requirement for dark, milk, or any other variety of chocolate. However, Canada and the European Union require dark chocolate to contain at least 18% cocoa butter.
The melting temperatures listed below are averages because of the range of recipe formulas and lack of regulation (in the United States).
- White chocolate starts to melt between 82 and 84° F (28 to 29° C). For tempering, melt the white chocolate to about 87° F (31° C).
- Dark chocolate starts to melt between 86 and 90° F (30 to 32° C).
Fact #8: You Can't Get the Health Benefits Observed From Research Studies by Eating a Chocolate Bar
Health Benefits of White Chocolate vs. Dark Chocolate
You may have heard the buzz about the health benefits of dark chocolate. Are you wondering if your favorite candy is nutritious too?
People have consumed cocoa beans (not chocolate) for medicinal purposes as early as 460 AD in South America and the mid-1500s in Europe.
Which is healthier – white chocolate vs. dark chocolate? Most chocolate research focuses on the benefits of flavonoids in the cocoa bean (which dark chocolate has). Limited research has been done on cocoa butter (the main ingredient of white chocolate).
Flavonoids are only found in cocoa solids. What does that mean when comparing white and dark chocolate? Only dark chocolate has cocoa solids, so it has flavonoids. White chocolate has none.
However, white chocolate outshines dark chocolate when used externally. The cocoa butter in white chocolate can help in skin moisture and elasticity.
Research is seldom conducted on a dark chocolate bar (with varying amounts of sugar). Instead, experiments are performed on either cocoa powder or isolated flavonoids.
Simply, the benefits observed during research are based on cocoa without sugar, not on a chocolate bar. Dang it.
But here are some of the highlights from research on dark and white chocolate.
Dark Chocolate (polyphenols and flavonoids in cocoa)
- Cocoa beans contain flavonoids, which are powerful antioxidants. Antioxidants keep you healthy by neutralizing harmful free radicals that can damage your cells and cause aging.
Your own immune system produces free radicals to protect you from pathogens. The high level of antioxidants in cocoa flavonoids is the perfect remedy to combat free radicals.
- Improve blood flow. Flavonoids reduce oxidative stress and help your body make nitric oxide. Nitric oxidate helps your blood vessels dilate, which improves blood flow. When your blood flow improves, lower blood pressure results.
Lower blood pressure helps prevent heart disease. When your blood pressure is high, you are at greater risk for heart attacks and stroke.
- Polyphenols, such as gallic acids, have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antineoplastic properties. Cocoa has 611 mg gallic acid equivalents per serving.
- Antidiarrheal effects. Cocoa has been used to treat diarrhea in ancient South American and European cultures.
Flavonoids can bind and inhibit the protein that regulates fluid secretion. That helps prevent fluid buildup (often associated with diarrhea) in the small intestines.
- Epicatechin and catechin (flavonoids) act as a brain stimulator that can improve memory decline, brain processing speed, executive function, and working memory. Especially in elderly adults.
- Some flavanols increases insulin sensitivity and reduces insulin resistance.
- Chocolate has a lot of sugar, which is harmful to your teeth. However, cocoa has inhibitors of the dextransucrase enzyme, which causes the formation of plaque extracellular polysaccharides from sucrose.
Is cocoa good for your teeth? The ground husks of cocoa beans were made into a mouth rinse for children. And the rinse was effective in decreasing plaque scores.
White Chocolate (cocoa butter)
White chocolate does not have flavonoids. Its only nutritional value comes from cocoa butter. So, are there any health benefits in cocoa butter? Minimal, but yes.
- Cocoa butter has small amounts of vitamin E and vitamin K. Vitamin E is an antioxidant and has been shown to aid eye health. Vitamin K helps make proteins that help your blood clot and strengthen your bones.
- Cocoa butter supports healthy skin when used externally. Cocoa butter is often used in lotions and creams. It can aid in retaining skin moisture and elasticity. And it works to prevent stretch marks.
Important Notes about Health Research on Chocolate
- Research on the health benefits of chocolate is often funded by chocolate companies. Top chocolate companies contributing to chocolate research include Mars, Hershey, Nestlé, and Barry Callebaut.
One observation found that 98% of Mars studies were favorable toward the health benefits of chocolate.
- After processing cocoa into chocolate, the polyphenol content goes from 100% down to 10%.
- It would be impossible to get the benefits highlighted in these studies by eating dark chocolate bars. Dark chocolate has approximately 29 mg of flavanols in each ounce. Study subjects showing any health improvement always consumed more than 29 mg of cocoa flavanols per day.
For example, one study showed improved memory and executive function in older adults who consumed 900 mg of cocoa flavanols each day for 3 months.
If you wanted to gain these same benefits by eating dark chocolate, you would need to eat 31 oz. of dark chocolate each day.
Let’s put that in perspective. Hershey’s giant candy bars are 6.8 oz. each. You would need to eat 4½ of those giant candy bars each day to get 900 mg of flavanols.
You probably only ate that much candy once on Halloween when you were 10 years old. And you regretted it the next day.
If you ate 31 oz. of dark chocolate to get 900 mg of flavanols, you would also ingest 4,681 calories, 341 grams of fat, and 279 grams of sugar.
This unhealthy level of calories, fat, and sugar would lead to weight gain, plus a higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, and more.
A True Healthy Cocoa Story
On a more positive cocoa consuming note...
The Indigenous people of Kuna living on the San Blas Islands of Panama drink an average of 3 (10 oz.) cups of a raw cocoa beverage every day.
They have very low cardiovascular disease and cancer. Over time, some of these people have migrated to the main cities of Panama.
There they adopt a Western diet and drink less of the traditional beverage. As a result, they see an increase in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. Just like the average city citizen.
Reverting to drinking the traditional cocoa beverage helps reverse some of these health challenges. So, the health benefits of cocoa’s polyphenols and flavonoids are real.
If you want to experience these positive effects, do this.
Grind raw cacao beans into powder. Then boil them with a banana. Finally, pour it all through a strainer and drink the liquid. It will be bitter, but do not add sugar or fat.
Only then will you get some of the oft-toted benefits of chocolate.
Best Uses for White vs. Dark Chocolate
There are limitless ways to consume chocolate. You can drink it or eat it as a bar. You can melt, drizzle, bake, or decorate with it.
Every kind of chocolate can be consumed in these ways.
However, different types of chocolate are better suited for certain things than others. Let’s break it down.
Fact #9: The Best Uses for White Chocolate are Coating, Drizzling, and Decorating
White chocolate is sweeter and softer without the chocolatey taste. These are its bests uses.
- Coating foods (pretzels, strawberries, etc.). Temper first so the coating will dry hard.
- Drizzling. A white chocolate drizzle over fruit, cake, or cinnamon rolls is delicious.
- Decorating. Make white modeling chocolate to use for decoration. You can mold 3-D shapes or cut out shapes.
Real white chocolate is expensive. It may not be economical to make expensive decorations that won’t be eaten. This is where artificial white chocolate becomes the best option.
White almond bark, candy melts, or other confectionery coatings make excellent substitutes for real white chocolate. They are easier to work with and cost less. Their taste can be remarkably similar to white chocolate.
It is more difficult to use white chocolate to flavor foods. The absence of cocoa solids means the lack of chocolate flavor.
White chocolate’s undiluted sweet taste may be too cloying for you. Unless you pick up an artesian white chocolate bar with a tasty add-in.
Fact #10: The Best Uses for Dark Chocolate are Baking, Cooking, Making Ganache, and Drinking
Dark chocolate has an intense chocolate flavor because of the higher cocoa content. It can be incredibly bitter or can be sweetened.
Here are the best ways to use it.
- Eating. You may love the taste of a lightly sweetened pure dark chocolate bar, undiluted by add-ins. I know I do. Depending on how the cacao bean was grown and processed, you can taste hints of fruit, espresso, and caramel.
Make it into fudge and you will be in heaven.
- Baking. Dark chocolate flavors cakes, cupcakes, brownies, pudding, and ice cream. Use cocoa powder or melted dark chocolate.
- Cooking. Use dark chocolate in sauces and chili. It adds richness and flavor without making a savory dish sweet.
- Making ganache. Dark chocolate is better as a ganache than white chocolate, although both can be used. Darker chocolate is richer and thicker.
- Cake Frosting. It is easier to flavor frosting with dark chocolate.
- Drinking in hot cocoa. Forget white chocolate when it comes to hot chocolate. Dark chocolate is better. You will get an intense chocolatey hot chocolate.
More Fun Facts About Chocolate
- Did you know white chocolate was developed in 1930 by Nestlé in Switzerland? It’s a relatively recent invention, and it is only possible thanks to the creation of powdered milk.
- Cocoa butter is one of the most stable fats in the world. It has a high melting point, allowing chocolate to stay solid at room temperature.
- Some people believe white chocolate is not chocolate, but most experts recognize it as such. White chocolate must contain at least 20% cocoa butter, and if it’s made with cacao beans, then it’s chocolate.
- Pre-Hispanic civilizations used cocoa beans to make an enticing drink. The word chocolate comes from the Aztec world "xocoatl", which means bitter water.
- It takes almost four hundred cacao beans to make a pound of chocolate. That’s ten cacao pods. Every cacao tree only produces around two or three pounds of chocolate every year.
- Cocoa butter is the most expensive and vital component of chocolate.
- Responsible chocolate makers get their cacao through “Fair Trade” routes, and you should too. Sadly, there’s a great deal of child labor in the cacao industry.
Get Your Chocolate Education
Craving more chocolate information? Check out all of these resources.
- Almond bark vs. white chocolate: Get the scoop on the similarities, differences, and uses of almond bark vs white chocolate. Always know which one to use to bake, drip, drizzle, and decorate.
- Candy melts vs. white chocolate: Ready for the ultimate candy melts vs white chocolate showdown? Compare the appearance, flavor, and ingredients of each and learn which one is best for eating, dipping, molding, and creating edible decorations.
- Learn how to melt chocolate chips on the stove. All kinds of chocolate covered.
- Going beyond the stove? Learn how to melt regular chocolate chips in the microwave. It is different than melting chocolate on the stove.
- Melting any kind of white chocolate in the microwave is the easiest melting method. Give it a try.
- Not sure about using the microwave? Learn all the ways to melt white chocolate chips.
- One of the best ways to improve chocolate baking is to learn how to measure chocolate chips correctly. It can be a little tricky.
- Learn some useful trivia too, like how many chocolate chips in an ounce, a tablespoon, and a cup.
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