The Modern Paleo blog’s been doing chocolate reviews recently, which struck me as a novel but totally understandable practice for a blog called Modern Paleo. In my mind, good dark chocolate – high cacao content, high fat, low-ish sugar stuff – makes any downsides to living in this modern world well worth it. Good dark chocolate really is that good. And one of the best parts about going Primal has been the way my heightened sensitivity to the slightest dash of sugar enables true appreciation of the bean’s slightly sweet product.
I’ve eaten a lot of chocolate in my day. Cheap American milk chocolate with an absurdly low cacao content was regularly gobbled up in my endurance days, but I’ve since moved on to more bitter pastures. About five years ago, I could enjoy your standard mid-grade bittersweet dark chocolate without worrying about the cacao content percentage. Now, I find the sweetness of anything lower than 72% cloyingly overpowering. That’s not to say I don’t like being overpowered by intense flavor, because I do – but only when that flavor is based on the bean. So, yeah, 72% is too low, and even the late 70s are generally pushing too much sugar. I try to stick to the 80s and even 90s.
You might notice that my picks are not inexpensive. They aren’t throwaway bars to be wolfed down in between mouthfuls of movie popcorn in a single sitting. In fact, throughout the composition of this post (the tasting, the writing, the sampling), I probably ate almost an entire bar’s worth of really high-quality, super dark chocolate. It wasn’t easy. It was probably too much. Normally, I’ll eat a square, maybe two, after dinner a few times a week, so I’m preparing myself for an impending stomachache. We’ll see. My point is this: good dark chocolate is self-limiting. You won’t go crazy and pig out on it because it isn’t pleasant to do so. The quality stuff always lasts longer than the cheap stuff. Quality dark chocolate is definitely worth the extra expenditure.
Of course, what actually constitutes the best dark chocolate in the world is subjective. These happen to be some of my favorites, at least for now. My top picks are always changing as I never fail to try whatever high-quality, low-sugar dark chocolate wanders into my life or appears in the checkout line.
In no particular order, the list:
Valrhona Noir Extra Amer – 85% Cacao
2.5 servings per bar
20g fat (12g saturated)
15g carbs (6g fiber; 5g sugar)
This bar looks fantastic: sleek, smooth, and dark, almost black, with a hint of red. A single square, if given sufficient mouth time, will slowly, smoothly melt, revealing floral, nutty, and coffee notes. If you try real hard, you may notice cinnamon, too. I think the biggest draw is the texture, which is silky (gosh, I sound like a chocolate advertisement using words like “silky”). That single square will resonate for several minutes, provided you don’t just chomp down without allowing it to melt.
The Noir Extra Amer goes well in a pot of spicy chili, right at the end just before serving. I get mine at Trader Joe’s for $2.99 a bar.
Chocolove XOXOX Extra Strong Dark – 77% Cacao
3 servings per bar
13g fat (8g saturated)
11g carbs (3g fiber; 6g sugar)
The Chocolove XOXOX may have a ridiculously cheesy name and a slightly higher sugar content, but if you want a non-abrasive, introductory dark chocolate for beginners, this is it. If you’re trying to wean your significant other off of milk chocolate, go with the Chocolove XOXOX. You get the unmistakable flavor and light sugar content of a high-cacao bar with the creaminess and accessibility of a lesser-cacao bar. I keep these on hand for those times where I just want a bit of sweetness without the commitment required by the heavy darks. It tastes a bit like coconut.
You can find this bar at Whole Foods, Target, or Cost Plus.
Another brilliantly dark bar with glimpses of red, the Green and Black’s Dark is similar to the Valrhona in its mouthfeel. It’s creamy, silky, smooth, and melts very well, but it’s not quite so bitter. Oh, the bitterness is there, lurking and noticeable, but it isn’t overpowering. You almost have to look for it (although beginners might notice it right away). Sometimes I like the bitterness to dominate. When I don’t want that kind of bitterness, I reach for a Green and Black’s, which strikes an impressive balance between robustness and delicateness.
Dagoba is an odd one. I like it, nay, love it, but it’s definitely not an everyday sort of chocolate bar. If it’s the only thing in the house, I can probably work my way through it in two weeks – with dedication – and yet it’s the most intriguing chocolate I’ve had. Complex flavors include fruit, clove, allspice, and other spice mixes. There’s even a bit of red wine in there, making actual wine pairing redundant or even antagonistic. No, this bar stands alone. The texture isn’t great, though, and instead of melting into smooth oblivion it gets rather dry toward the end, but this is accompanied by flavor intensification (if you can imagine such a thing). There’s a tradeoff that’s worth exploring.
Figs and red wine, honey and spice(y). There’s even a bit of esperesso lurking in there. It’s not just the cacao that’s bitter; there’s a bite that lingers minutes after you’ve taken it. That acidic bite effectively staves off the worst of the (let’s face it – sometimes too much) bitterness, where a lesser manufacturer would have loaded a bar up with sugar to dull it. I’m glad Scharffen Berger did not do so.
Give this to daring beginners.
One of my new personal favorites that didn’t make the cut is the 85% Ecuador dark chocolate out of the Santa Barbara Chocolate Company. We had the 72% at PrimalCon, but the 85% is even better. Definitely keep your eyes out for it. If I had it on hand to sample, this list woulda been six-deep.
Lindt 85% is another good option, especially if you can’t find any of the above choices. Lindt is available in most standard grocery stores and Walmart.
One last thing: remember that the serving size listed on the back of dark chocolate bars is usually quite high, often around half a bar per serving. Depending on the bar, I get 6-12 or more servings per bar. Consider this when calculating the carb values per serving above.
What are your favorites? Have I missed anything? What should I try next? Let me know in the comment section!
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.