How to Decipher a Chocolate Bar Label

©. Madécasse

When buying high-quality chocolate, there are many logos, seals, and terms that can make the process of selection rather complicated. Here's a quick look at the various terms and what they all mean.

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, chances are you’ll find yourself in front of a fancy chocolate display at some point this weekend, wondering what to choose. The options can be overwhelming, as chocolate has evolved well beyond the candy rack at the supermarket into a full-blown artisanal frenzy, complete with a host of attractive yet confusing logos, seals, and descriptions. Here’s a quick look at the various terms you’ll see on higher-end chocolate bars and what they all mean.


This term refers to how the cocoa for the chocolate bar (and perhaps other ingredients, too) has been traded. Direct trade means the producer and grower have a deal, with no middleman taking a cut of the profits. Fair trade means the deal is certified by an organization that ensures fair prices to growers and usually allocates an additional percentage toward community development. You may also see a little green-frog logo from the Rainforest Alliance, an organization that helps small-scale cacao producers to conserve natural resources, increase productivity, and secure decent living conditions.


The cacao bean, from which cocoa solids and cocoa butter are extracted to make chocolate, is grown in many equatorial countries, such as Ivory Coast, Ghana, Indonesia, Ecuador, Brazil, Madagascar, Nigeria, and Peru. Some chocolate makers mix cacao from different sources, but some opt for single-origin or pure origin, meaning that all the cacao in that particular bar comes from the same location. Chocolate connoisseurs say that where the bean is grown makes more of a difference to flavor than the variety of bean.


This term (which can also be called tree-to-bar) refers to chocolate makers who do everything from scratch – roasting, cracking, and grinding into a smooth paste (aka chocolate liquor), which is then transformed into edible chocolate with the addition of ingredients such as sugar. Most chocolate makers, by contrast, buy premade liquor.


This means that the chocolate has been produced in small batches, usually homemade with no assembly-line process. The chocolatiers are the ones in the kitchen, mixing and assembling themselves, and often coming up with unusual flavor combinations.

Cocoa or Cacao Percentage:

All high-end chocolate bars will list a cocoa percentage, which explains how much cocoa (or processed liquor) is contained in the final chocolate product. The higher the percentage, the darker and stronger the taste will be.


With a certified organic logo or seal, you’ll know that the cacao beans have been grown without the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Organic agriculture is kinder not only to the soil but also the growers and harvesters who work the trees. Organic chocolate contains a minimum of 95 percent naturally grown and certified raw materials.

Raw Cacao:

When printed on a chocolate bar label, this means that the cacao beans have not been heated beyond 118°F in order to maintain the raw flavor of the beans (and satisfy the requirements of raw foodists). It is thought to preserve the nutrients better. No dairy is used either.

Heirloom Cocoa:

Some cacao trees are indigenous to a specific region, which gives them “terroir” – a characteristic taste or quality that comes from the place in which it is grown. Some growers are on a mission to protect that genetic heritage, which goes along with unique historical, cultural, botanical, and geographical qualities. They can apply for Heirloom Cocoa status through the Fine Chocolate Industry Association.


A few chocolatiers make their products by grinding the cacao between granite millstones. The result is an artisanal, old-fashioned-style chocolate that’s got more texture than conventionally produced chocolate. Taza Chocolate describes it as “bold, rustic, and satisfyingly gritty -- unlike any other chocolate you’ve tasted.”