Americans love their chocolate. It’s the go-to sweet indulgence for many. And it comes in several forms. Chips, chunks and blocks. Dark, milk and white chocolate. Alkalized and natural cocoa powders. There’s a chocolate for every dessert.

But figuring out the best ways to use chocolate in formulations takes a deep understanding about the ins and outs of each format.

“I would say the challenge and advantage is that there are so many options,” says An Ho, director of research and development at IFPC. “There are fat levels, sweetness levels; they all have different textures and outcomes that perform perfectly with specific applications.” The topic is vast, but here are some things bakers should keep in mind when deciding which chocolate and chocolate-adjacent ingredients to dip into for their formulations.

Best practices for inclusions

Inclusions offer a simple way to add a chocolate indulgence in every bite of an application, says Gretchen Hadden, marketing manager, cocoa and chocolate, Cargill.

“Inclusions encompass items such as chips, chunks Determining the best format for an application takes a good grasp of the choices available. and pieces,” she says. “They are most often found inside baked goods such as cookies and muffins. They also make an appearance in many snack foods, such as granola bars or trail mixes.”

Choosing between chunks and chips depends upon the taste and visual appeal a baker is going for in an application.

“Traditionally chips would be used for cakes, muffins, cookies, brownies, any batter with a good suspension,” says Josiah Huelle, senior chocolate technician at Puratos. “Chunks traditionally are used for a more premium product to have a larger footprint. People see chunks, and they think that’s value added. But really it just takes up a larger footprint. And sometimes you can’t add as many chunks as you would chips.”

Bittersweet, semisweet and white chocolate pieces can be used for baking and cooking, Ho says.

“The smaller the chip, the less intense chocolate you will get in a bite,” she says. “Milk chocolate is better suited for just eating.”

One challenge with inclusions is finding a bakeable white chocolate because of the high amount of milk solids and sugar in it, which means it can caramelize or burn when baking. This isn’t much of a concern for white chocolate chips in a cookie that’s only in the oven for 10-16 minutes, but longer bake times can cause problems.

“If you put it in a bread that is going to bake for 20 to 30 minutes at a high temperature, it’s going to caramelize or burn,” Huelle says. “It’s not impossible, but it’s tough to have a white chocolate that’s bake stable.”

Chocolate coatings vs. compounds

Bakers have many options when coating or dipping baked goods. Chocolate coatings and compounds are sold in blocks, smaller pieces such as coins and in liquid form.

“Coatings are heavily used in the chocolate confectionery space for applications such as truffles, peanut butter cups and more,” Hadden says. “They are perfect for enrobing, dipping, bottoming, coating and drizzling applications. Whether it’s an ice cream bar enrobed in compound or a hearty nutrition bar bottomed with chocolate, coatings offer endless possibilities.

When working with chocolate coatings, manufacturers must have the proper equipment and expertise for handling the chocolate, which unlike inclusions, often requires melting and tempering.”

Chocolate contains cocoa butter, which requires careful temperature control. It needs to be crystallized properly to avoid fat and sugar bloom and ensure a nice shine and snap.

“You have to take the cocoa butter structure, break it down completely to where it’s not tempered, and then you have to bring it back to that solid state and make sure that all the crystals in the cocoa butter realign so you get a nice temper and you get the nice mouthfeel,” Huelle says.

Compounds contain cocoa powder and a different form of fat, so they don’t need tempering. This makes them easier to work with and more cost effective. However, products made with them cannot be called chocolate.

“For compound chocolate, usually the first ingredient is sugar, then cocoa powder and then the fat,” Huelle says. “Some people prefer the compound flavor profile for certain applications because it has more upfront robust cocoa notes.”

Compounds are applied at higher temperatures (110- 120°F vs. 80°F range for chocolate), which means the coating will be thinner, although compounds do have different viscosities, he added. Also, compounds are sweeter but won’t have the long-lasting flavor of real chocolate.

Compounds’ higher melting point provides an advantage for warmer climates, however, Huelle explains. A baker making dipped cookies in Minnesota might make different choices than one in Florida because of the climate. A chocolate-coated cookie will melt in a hot, humid climate faster than one that’s coated with a compound.

“It’s not a huge difference, but that 5 degrees can make a big impact,” he says.

Compounds offer other advantages as well.

“While a compound has some limitations, it also has many advantages, including flavor and color flexibility, opportunity to nutritionally enhance its profile, and even handling flexibility,” Hadden says.

Adding depth and variety

Cocoa powders come in a wide array of colors and flavors. Some are made with single-origin beans while others are mixes.

“Cocoa powder is an incredibly versatile ingredient that has the ability to bring chocolatey taste, aroma and color appeal to categories such as bakery, ice cream, beverages and more,” Hadden says.

Powders can pack a bold chocolate punch for applications.

“For the most impactful cocoa flavor, I prefer to recommend cocoa powders that deliver cocoa flavor in a wide range of color without added sugar and no major allergens,” says Wouter Stomph, head of ingredient development and innovation for North America, Olam Cocoa.

Cocoa powders that have not received any alkali treatment are natural, slightly acidic and have a sharper flavor than Dutch-process varieties, according to Baking Science & Technology by E.J. Pyler and L.A. Gorton.

“Dutch processing, which we call alkalized, gives you a pH that allows it to mix easily,” says Marie Kennel, director of business development, Ciranda. “There are plenty of different colors you can choose, and you can play on the pH of your application with this Dutch-process cocoa.”

The alkalized treatment can darken the cocoa’s color and improves its stability in a formulation, according to Baking Science & Technology.

“Alkalized cocoa powders tend to be darker than the natural cocoa powders that are produced without an alkali,” says Tonya Lofgren, marketing manager, Ciranda.

“You will see different colors as well from factors like variety, fermentation and roasting of the beans.”

Premium chocolate, which often comes from single origin cacao, is higher in cocoa butter content and is generally more finely ground.

“If you have a chocolate with particles smaller than 30 microns, you normally don’t taste any particle or sandiness,” says Mark Adriaenssens, vice president of research and development, Barry Callebaut. “Certain origins of cocoa beans or origin of production — such as Belgian or Swiss — can also define a premium chocolate.”

Single-origin cacao often have unique flavor notes. For instance, Huelle says that cacao grown on an old mango farm might have an earthy, fruity flavor.

“Premium is a more long-lasting and well-rounded flavor,” he said. “It’s not like this burst of flavor. It will slowly cover your tastebuds. It’s kind of like tasting a good wine versus a bad one. You get all the different fruity aspects and where it was grown.”

The idea of what constitutes a premium chocolate has evolved over the last 10 years, Hadden says.

“To some consumers, premium may mean that the chocolate holds attributes such as non-GMO, organic or made with real ingredients, especially as consumers place greater value on health and well-being,” she says. “We’re also seeing a rising interest in high-cacao chocolate, provenance declaration, sustainability and greater transparency as to where the cocoa beans came from.”

Choosing white to dark

The decision about whether to add white, milk or dark chocolate is usually dependent on consumer preference. White chocolate is creamy, smooth and sweet, milk chocolate is sweet and milky, and dark chocolate has more bitter notes. However, dark chocolate has a healthy halo that appeals to health-conscious consumers, so it’s a good fit in the better-for-you (BFY) categories.

“The challenges are that they melt differently, and they all don’t set up quite the same due to the varying ratio of fat, cocoa solids and sugar,” Ho says. “If you need to substitute one for another, then your whole formula will need to be adjusted to offset the differences in fat and sugar.”

Depending upon your formulation, the chocolate you choose can help balance out flavors, Hadden says.

“If your application includes a sweet ingredient such as caramel, opting for a dark chocolate that holds a more bitter profile could help balance out the sweetness,” she notes. “If you’re looking to create a classic salty-and-sweet combo, milk or white chocolate — both of which are inherently sweeter — would be a great choice.”

Appearance is another factor in choosing the right chocolate for an application.

“A combination of dark and white chocolate can, for example, create a nice visual effect,” Adriaenssens says. “If chocolate has to be baked, then dark chocolate resists the baking best whereas white chocolate can color/caramelize a bit due to the baking process.”

Chocolate is often used to mask bitter flavors in BFY products that are high in fiber or protein.

“Good masking doesn’t necessarily mean ‘hiding,’” Stomph says. “Some of the best successes in working with off and/or strong flavors are when we find synergies. For example, high intensity sweeteners can have bitter and lingering aftertastes. Cocoa powders have a natural bitterness that can mute the bitterness coming from the sweetener.”

Chocolate’s strong flavor can make a variety of ingredients more palatable.

“Chocolate can pair well with high proteins and also with higher fibers,” Adriaenssens says. “Though it has limitations because if you use too much protein, the taste will become too cardboard-like or dry; the same is true for fiber content that is too high.”

Whether bakers are looking for smooth and sweet white or milk chocolate or the kick of a bitter dark chocolate, they have dozens of ways to incorporate it into their baked foods. Whatever they are trying to accomplish, there’s a chocolate for that.