Real chocolate can be hunted out easily enough – it is mostly a question of learning to read and interpret the wrappers. Look out for high cocoa content but there’s no need to exaggerate; 50–70% cocoa solids are usually a good sign. I don’t know anyone who drinks wine who would select a bottle using the alcohol content as a guide to quality. Normally the deciding factors would be the grape variety, appellation, vintage year, country of origin, as well as the colour.
A reliable indicator in recognizing real chocolate is the use of natural vanilla over vanillin (an artificial flavouring derived from pine trees). It is not that I am so against vanillin in itself, but it does seem to be a good marker to differentiate the sheep from the goats. The price of vanillin is almost negligible and hence it is used injudiciously, often with a view to masking the true nature of the cocoa beans in an inferior product. In spite of this general rule, there are plenty of examples of excellent chocolate where vanillin is used. Probably the best way of spotting a really fine chocolate is to find out about the origin and variety of the cocoa beans.
I have often heard people say, ‘I don’t like dark chocolate – it’s bitter’. There are very few who, having tasted the real thing, still protest. The reality is that low-quality dark chocolate is often bitter, in spite of the high sugar content, because the cocoa beans used have been over-roasted and then, to compensate for their poor flavour, are padded out with sugar and (usually hydrogenated) fat. Real-chocolate makers select their cocoa beans very carefully; indeed, the similarity to wine making or coffee roasting comes to mind. Fine-flavoured varieties are carefully roasted to enhance the flavour. The process of refining the chocolate is a slow one, and extra cocoa butter is usually added to give the most sensuous silken texture when melting in the mouth.
I don’t wish to dwell on the negative aspects of ‘fast’ chocolate, but it is essential you are able to differentiate between the two. This understanding might help to wean you off the sugar-high so commonly induced by this kind of confectionery. Once you have been initiated into the joys of really satisfying dark chocolate which hits the spot, the temptation to eat the ‘fast’ chocolate might just evaporate. Good dark chocolate contains 512 calories per 100g, so a 5g square (the perfect size I think) would have less than 26 calories. A small apple weighs 100g and has 46 calories.