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Dark Milk Chocolate – a low-sugar alternative

By Cocoa Runners  ·  17th May 2020  ·  The Science of Chocolate

100% Cacao (No Added Sugar) Gifts | Cocoa Runners

“Everything in moderation”.  Epicurus had it right.  A little sugar in chocolate is to be welcomed.  And a little milk can add creaminess and the impression of sweetness too.

In craft chocolate, sugar is added to bring out the flavour of the bean. In the words of the esteemed Mrs Beeton (she of Victorian cooking book fame), adding a little sugar to chocolate is what “salt is to meat and vegetables”.  

Pure granulated sugar is just a taste (sweet).  It doesn’t have any odour or flavour.  Try the “holding your nose” experiment, firstly with sugar, and then separately with chocolate, to see what we mean; both are sweet-tasting but only the chocolate develops flavour and aromas when you release your nose.  Sugar offsets and balances the cocoa beans’ natural astringency and bitterness.  By adding small amounts of sugar, the chocolate maker can transform cocoa beans into fine craft chocolate bars with mind-bending flavours, textures and tastes. But you don’t need a lot of sugar.  Everything in moderation.

By contrast, mass-produced bars are all about sugar and added flavourings, fats and preservatives.  Sugar is added because it creates a “sugar-hit” (and it can be addictive). And because it is inexpensive.  It isn’t used to develop the flavour of the cocoa bean. Rather sugar, along with additives and flavouring, conceals the flavour and taste of what little cocoa there is in a mass-produced bar.

In the UK there is currently a series of TV ads running for mass-produced Dark Milk Chocolate.  Arguably this mass market “dark milk chocolate” confuses the links between sugar, health, creaminess, mouthfeel and sweetness. 

Mass-produced “dark milks” still list their first (i.e. largest) ingredient as sugar.  For example, the first ingredient on Cadburys new Dark Dairy Milk is sugar.  And the bar only contains 40% cocoa / chocolate.  This is less than almost all our “Classic Milk” chocolates, and far less than “Dark Milk” craft chocolate Bars.

In the world of craft chocolate, we believe that Dark Milks should contain at least 50% chocolate (and the International Chocolate Awards have a category of awards to showcase them).  And more and more makers, led by Duffy, Friis Holm, Dormouse, Fjak, Sirene, Zotter and more, are leading the Craft Dark Milk charge.

“Dark Milk” craft chocolate is a wonderful way to explore how milk can sweeten chocolate.  Indeed Zotter crafts a Dark Milk 70% bar that has no added sugar — it relies on the caramelization of the milk and a wonderfully creamy mouthfeel to sweeten the bar. You can try it for yourself here.

It’s the creamy, smooth mouthfeel of dark milks that explains why the likes of Friis Holm’s and Sirene’s dark milks taste so sweet.

Here’s why. Let’s start with two questions:  Which tastes sweeter — milk or cream?  Which contains more sugar – milk or cream? Many people will answer cream to both questions.  But cream actually has less sugar in it than milk per fluid ounce. As Professor Barry Smith notes: “Creaminess as a mouthfeel creates a sensation we perceive as sweet”. Hence the “creamy” magic that craft makers can achieve in their dark milks.

Wishing you a safe, sane, sweet and hopefully creamy Craft Dark Milk Chocolate filled weekend

Spencer, Simon, Lizzie and Harmony