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4. What is your ideal ingredient list and what do you consider acceptable when you are referring to fine plain dark chocolate?

Candice Alstrom
I think it's all acceptable. If it delivers you the desired texture, flavor, or quality you are looking for, then why not? I am sick and tired of the chocolate snobs who disagree with anything you listed above. I have dealt with enough beer snobs and I won't put up with it in chocolate. Salt can be a little questionable in the fact that I have to decide if it's a flavored bar or not. A pinch of salt wouldn't do that but a salted bar with the explicit idea of making a salt bar would. Yes, I prefer a more simple bar of chocolate. The less enhancements the better. But not everyone is as skilled to make 2 ingredients come together so wonderfully. But it's certainly not a sin if you want to put lecithin in your chocolate. I will say I demand natural ingredients. I do not want GMO's in anything I eat. If you use lecithin, then it needs to be non-GMO's. I want more transparency on the ingredients used.

David Arnold
Cocoa beans, sugar, cocoa butter.

Salt is not acceptable in a plain bar unless labeled as salted or salty. I enjoy the kick salt can bring but state it clearly up front and not just in the ingredient list.

Plain dark bars made with cocoa butter substitutes should not be called fine chocolate. However, when making confections with chocolate I can imagine cases where different fats are used for flavor and texture along with other ingredients.

Using different sugars can work but is rarely done well. Other sugars  generally come with a taste. A particular sugar would need to compliment the cacao being used. Sugars behave differently. The texture, melt, mouth-feel and other properties also need to be carefully watched. What I don’t accept is a refined sugar alternative (or vanilla for that matter) being used to mask bad cacao.

I prefer as few ingredients as necessary but I’m somewhat neutral when it comes to lecithin. A lot of it is made from GMO soy and I understand anyone refusing to eat it. Some lecithins have a strong flavor that interferes with the chocolate. Although lecithin is not specifically added for increased shelf life, and I don’t recommend storing beyond an expiration date, I happen to keep some of my chocolate selection in cold storage for years and have noticed that while most chocolate holds up well the bars with lecithin sometimes do better.

Debbie Ceder
The ideal ingredient list is cacao and cane sugar, with added cocoa butter acceptable but unnecessary.  Beyond that, and the label “fine plain” starts getting muddy.  If you’re going to add fat, cocoa butter is the only acceptable type. Vegetable fat, butter oil or coconut oil are just wrong.  For sugar types, cane is the best. We have tasted exactly two bars using maple sugar (both from Sacred Chocolate) and neither bar fared better than a 5, whereas the 17 bars we tasted using beet sugar (all by Endangered Species, and all including other flavor ingredients that may have affected the overall rating) had a more mixed review, but still fared lower, in general, than our favorite bars.  I won’t even buy chocolate with Stevia in its ingredient list. Someone will have to give me a bar to try before I will.  Salt?  Whoever thought salt was a good idea to add to chocolate?  I realize many people enjoy the taste.  As a major ingredient, I find it completely distracting and unacceptable.  As a trace ingredient, it tends to bring the rating of good bars down. Any bar that gets an 8 or above that has salt in it is an outstanding chocolate, in my opinion. Vanilla and lecithin have their place in moderation.  Too much of either, and the “fine plain” dark chocolate starts to change character.  Vic is particularly put off by too much vanilla and can even smell its effects before tasting it.  I’m more tolerant.  But don’t even talk to me about coffee!  I can’t stand the smell or taste of it, and sometimes when the cacao beans have been over-roasted or the finish is reminiscent of coffee, I downgrade the chocolate accordingly. There’s precisely one chocolate bar in our database with coffee, and that’s solely because I bought it as a souvenir of my trip to the Galápagos.  (I couldn’t resist!)

Vic Ceder
Yes, we’ve bought some Zotter bars, thinking they were unadulterated, tasted them and discovered the salt and said “What the heck is this salt doing in here?”.  Salt is not acceptable. 

My ideal ingredient list consists of cacao and cane sugar. Two ingredients, that's all.  I will sometimes tolerate lecithin and/or vanilla.  Scharffen Berger made good use of whole vanilla beans in their chocolate.  However, I strongly believe that vanilla should rarely be used in a 'single source origin' bar.  I want to taste the unique nuances of the chocolate.  Any other ingredients in chocolate make me leery.  We do not like salt or coffee in our chocolate at all.   

I don't care if it’s some fancy "ancient Himalayan pink sea salt".  It doesn't belong in my chocolate. Dolfin is one of few companies that successfully adds ingredients to chocolate. They start with good (not excellent) chocolate, and their combinations are tasty.  Vegetable fats, coconut oil, and such are inexcusable additions to chocolate.  Maple sugar, stevia are also not desirable, and tend to give an odd flavor or texture to the chocolate.  I've emailed a few companies suggesting that, to improve their chocolate, they remove an ingredient (often salt or vanilla).  If a bar contains salt, I taste the salt and not chocolate.  If a bar contains vanilla, I usually surmise it’s there to mask the off-flavors of bad beans or bad processing.  Single source origin bars should never contain salt or vanilla. 

I do not like to have chocolate labeled as dark chocolate, when it's not.  Lesser brands sometimes label their product as dark chocolate, meaning there's no milk in it. The label ‘dark chocolate’ has nothing to do with the percent cacao.  To these brands, there are only two kinds of chocolate: with milk and without.

I prefer chocolate with only 2 ingredients: cacao and sugar. I think that this is the best way to allow the true flavor of the cacao to be most powerfully experienced. I don’t like any salt with chocolate, and I definitely will not eat a bar with cocoa butter substitutes. I don’t prefer any sweeteners other than cane sugar, not even brown sugar. I also find vanilla distracting since it covers over the cacao flavor, and I’d rather not have any soy lecithin because it dulls the taste.

Mark Xian
Chocolate is an unnatural compound with respect to its being unfound in nature. It is, therefore, a human invention. Arguably among the greatest human inventions. To transform an otherwise bitter seed & create a sumptuous treat w’all call ‘chocolate’ was no mean feat thanks in large part to the Mayan civilization responsible for bringing this invention to fruition. 

Cacáo seeds are bitter for a reason: as an evolutionary device so that predators like monkeys, birds & micro-organisms attracted to cacáo for its sweet pulp surrounding those seeds will suck on them, then spit ‘em out & thus assist in propagating the species. Very clever of cacáo (& in concert with the aforementioned gaia hypothesis). It consequently became jungle trash ingeniously re-cycled by man & re-purposed for human consumption. 

Just about all of chocolate’s history has run on a dual or even triple track due to this seminal fact.  

So a) pre-Columbian Mesoamericans for over 1,500 years cultivated to the highest degree what are now classic heirloom varietals, naturally selected & bred for traits they prized. Then b) modern technical engineering that incorporates their ancient processing methods deep within its machinery — as well as some new ones — elaborated upon their original chocolate manufacturing.  

Even so, here’s the 3rd track: flavorings were added to either mask or improve the invention, most of them, again, rooted in Mesoamerica: the twin powers vanilla & pepper, as well as achiote, corn, honey & later a decidedly European inclusion -- the grand catalyst of them all — cane sugar. 
Let’s face it: to those activists campaigning on “Don’t Mess With My Chocolate”, you’ve been messing with it every time you add a teaspoon of the white stuff, let alone half a bar’s worth. Distinctions between cocoa butter & vegetable oil, though not entirely trivial, sound like childish rants when viewed from this larger perspective. Besides, heavily adulterated candy allows for premium chocolate to differentiate itself & provides a marketing advantage. 

If someone feels that added cocoa butter, vanilla, & lecithin (what the C-spot® dubs the theatrical make-up kit of chocolate) improves the end flavor or enhances it in any fashion, we accept that just as much as we do exorbitant spending on attractive packaging / wrappers to lure customers with dazzling visuals. It may or may not always work, it might even be tatty or in poor taste but those are the choices any artist is entitled to make. The last thing we want to encourage is some cocoa-mafia operating as formula police. Ya know, politically-correct censorship councils that deem vanilla a hate-crime & “thou shalt not use lecithin” piety. Tyrannical regimes typically are driven by either ignorance or ideology or intuition, & occasionally a mix of all 3.  

Some crafty barsmiths explicitly call attention to additives & we’re OK with it. Like their compatriot Gianluca Franzoni (aka Mack Domori), Elvira of Italy understands that vanilla is an additive just as, say, nuts or raisins or the taboo of the “Don’t-Mess-with-My-Chocolate” children – vegetable oil. Both released bars titled “Vanilla” as a counterpoint to bars they produce without it. 

Vanilla, when deftly rather than clumsily employed as a mask or cover up, can bridge gaps in a chocolate blend utilizing cocoas from several origins. Or even within a single-origin it can span the high & low notes, unifying a flavor profile that could otherwise be disparate. 

Beyond vanilla, tongue tricks such as Scharffen-Berger’s Milk Almond Bar enriched with safflower oil - a killer vegetable fat that cocoa gurus assail for adultery – can be quite gratifying. 

Sometimes such ‘tongue tricks’ even work miracles. 

That dead tissue found in The Mast Bros Madagascar 72% was re-animated in their version of an Almond bar with salt & -- gasp!! -- the childish taboo of the “Don’t-Mess-with-My-Chocolate” crusaders – vegetable oil. Not just any old Crisco either, but olive oil. The Masts excelling at what the Bros do best: combos

Granted this is an example of a flavored confection but instructive nonetheless. 

For this reason, the C-spot® covers more than just plain classic dark chocolate bars.  

And there too vanilla has its place. 

Take Naïve’s plain Dark Grenada bar. Pretty tame / generally subdued, dappled with mild fruit notes. Nowhere near the rambunctious character of other bars from this island. Additional cocoa butter contributes to that (helps cool the embers of a fairly good roasting). And too vanilla, which mediates the highs & lows into a middle spectrum. Quite the judicious use of it; even brave really, in this era of incipient neo-spartan taste when purists eschew additives.  

But the real difference with Naïve’s use of it: nothing feels extraneous (save for Texture which might've benefitted from yet another heresy -- such as a drop of lecithin). Just the opposite: the elements integrate & meld rather seamlessly, despite the Textural grain, as if intrinsic to one another. Hence, its classicism in flavor: a studied poise to defy naiveté, especially next to many erupting Grenadas that scrape the tongue out

A cogent argument can be made that lowly Milk Chocolate is more elaborate than Dark Chocolate. It certainly contains more ingredients & the skill involved to align them harmoniously is multiple that of Dark Chocolate. A great Milk Chocolate bar is superior to janky Dark Chocolate bars any day. (Note the caveat of ‘janky’.) 

Same holds true with a boxed chocolate assortment which calls on a whole panoply of components, techniques, pairings & judgment. 

Neo-Spartans / Modern-Puritans -- those hardy types now championing bars formulated from cocoa seeds & sugar without any additives (except sugar, of course... but, hold it, ain't that a spice?) -- kid themselves if they think otherwise. 

Yes, sugar -- the one "legal" additive which “purists” among the cocoa-mafia deem acceptable to still qualify as "pure chocolate" after "banning" vanilla, lecithin, & even cocoa butter

If they were really true to their tenets, the only genuinely pure chocolate would be 100% unsweetened chocolate. How many succeed at that? How many even dare to attempt? 

Anyone worth their salt, ur… chocolate, acknowledges that the clearest window onto a barsmith is thru the quality of its unsweetened 100% Dark Chocolate (no sugar to catalyze cacáo’s myriad of compounds) – if it will man-up to make it – because in certain respects a 100% represents the parentage of the entire line. 

That said, the C-spot® sides with da Vinci (simplicity is the ultimate sophistication) & Einstein (everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler). We eagerly await the day of chocolate without any adulterants whatsoever, including no sugar. With advances in cacáo breeding & innovative barsmiths, that day may arrive sooner than later. 

Pralus’ Le 100
and Zotter’s Das 100 plus Domori’s Puro point beyond the possibility (their very release has already made it possible) & to the real promise that, thru genetic research & culinary technique, cacáo will regularly be able to stand alone & excel without the aid of “any additives whatsoever” – to quote Fray Bartolomé de Fuensalida’s take on a Mesoamerican chocolate he sipped in the year 1618 – & grant fresh credence to the cliché that everything old is new again (& hopefully improved too). 

Because while seemingly vogue, this modern approach toward additives is old news. Prior to 1800, vanilla was scarce & hardly ever used in the American colonies. When it finally appeared in chocolate around the turn of that century, makers introduced it with clear labels reading “vanilla chocolate”, “chocolate a la Vanille” or in the case of Baker’s Chocolate Company “No. 1 with vanilla”, as opposed to the chocolate standard made without vanilla which was labeled “plain chocolate”.  
So in addition to Cacáo, Chocolate, Community, Collaboration, Connections, & tongue-in-cheek Connotations, the ‘C’ in the C-spot® also symbolizes the Roman Numeral ‘100’. (Roman numerals? Ergo yet one more reason for the C-spot’s® motto: Welcome to the Retro-revolution of Chocolate.) 

As in 100% unadulterated, pure-play chocolate. Nothing says chocolate more.

Scott of Dallas Food
Though I'm not dogmatic about it, I'm partial to the minimalist approach exemplified by DeVries, Domori, Rogue, Ritual, et al.--cacao mass and sugar only. Vanilla, added cocoa butter, and lecithin are acceptable in fine chocolate (though all can be abused), while CBEs and artificial sweeteners are not.  Natural sweeteners other than refined sugar may be acceptable, in principle.  (In practice, I've only seen one such bar--the 2011 Valrhona El Pedregal, using brown sugar--that was worth half a damn.)  As for salt, if there's just enough to accentuate the flavor of the cacao, I wouldn't balk; if you can taste the salt, it's a flavored bar.

Chloe Doutre-Roussel
SUGAR:  Anything that adds aromas to a chocolate besides the cacao contribution should be called “added aroma”- sugar that is not neutral in aromas, like brown sugar, vergeoise, panela, coconut sugar, etc. all bring an aroma thus do not make “plain “ chocolate – So (to call it) plain chocolate it needs a neutral sweetener.

FATS:  As for the fats other than cacao butter, I dislike them for 2 reasons:  1. Most of them are less good for health than cacao butter.   2. They do not have the same melting point so the chocolate melts in a weird, not homogeneous way, and for me, this sensation is frustrating and unpleasant.

SALT:  It is close to sugar, as it usually does not bring aromas but rather creates a “flavor”, opens the aromas if not overpowering. This is my head speaking but my body thinks salt changes the experience of the aromas, as much as an added flavor , it is not pure . A change strong enough to put salt bars in the same category as flavored bars.

George Gensler
My ideal ingredient list is cacao beans and sugar.  I believe that salt and vanilla are flavorings and consider any bar with either to be a flavored bar.  Cane sugar alternatives are also flavorings.  I think the flavors that are produced can be interesting, but I wouldn’t consider those bars to be plain dark chocolate (or even plain milk chocolate) once they’re added.  Cocoa butter substitutes don’t belong in fine chocolate, but I don’t object to mass market chocolate makers using them.

Maricel Presilla
Vanilla has been demonized. I think that vanilla traditionally has had a very important role in flavoring chocolate. Judicious use of vanilla is fine so I think we should not think of vanilla in a chocolate as an abomination. Salt is another intangible. I do not have a problem with salt as long as it is used discretely. If you allow vanilla as a normal flavoring for chocolate, you also have to allow salt. These are flavor enhancers that play an important part in chocolate making. You could use a little salt and I have no problem with it. But if the bar is salty and plays a prominent role, then the chocolate belongs in the flavored bar category. If it is negligible like the pinch of salt in a custard, then I don't see a problem with it. But it should be added to the list of ingredients, with vanilla, the type of sugar used, or lecithin. There is a trend towards using different types of sugar in chocolate We were discussing this with other Grand Jury members during rounds of the International Chocolate Awards. When these sugars have very assertive flavors and define the flavor of a chocolate this should be listed as a flavored bar.

Alex Rast
What is ideal depends to some extent on the source. Good chocolates will use some combination of the following 4:
Cacao beans
Cacao butter

but of these only the first is, technically, *necessary* and vanilla is completely optional. Cacao butter depends on the intrinsic amount in the bean and the sugar percentage, but generally, the more sugar, the higher the cacao butter you need to add, because a certain minimum fat content is needed to ensure good texture and obviously sugar dilutes the fat content, being itself fat-free. Zotter's use of salt is very much a borderline case. It's at the threshold of detectability, and the chocolate is good, but I still wonder whether he mightn't just as well do without. Certainly his intent isn't to create a salt bar.

I doubt you will find a serious chocolate person who isn't opposed to the use of vegetable fats other than cocoa butter; that UK manufacturers decided almost to impose this as permitted upon the rest of the EU caused a serious controversy at the time, and I think impoverishes the chocolate world. Lecithin used to be common, but ever since Michel Cluizel took the initiative, most fine chocolate manufacturers have started to come to the view that it shouldn't really be there. I personally wouldn't rule out a chocolate by virtue of its inclusion, but in the current era it suggests that the chocolatier may have other priorities in addition to fine chocolate flavour.

Richard Vaughan
For me (Richard), ideal ingredients are simply cacao for 100% chocolates plus added sweetener for lower percentages. One Golden Ticket reviews any dark chocolate with ingredients that include cacao beans, sweetener, cocoa butter, emulsifier, and/or minimal flavoring. Salt is potentially acceptable, but if the chocolate tastes salty from the added salt, we would consider that a flavored chocolate and not review it on our site. The few bars I’ve tasted with alternative added fats were not good, so we haven’t yet found any chocolate using added fat other than cocoa butter worth reviewing. Most of the best chocolate makers do not use an emulsifier, but among those that do, soy lecithin is standard. As for alternative sweeteners, we have found a few that worked fairly well in quality chocolate, including agave, beet, coconut, and honey.

Ian Whitaker
The World Chocolate Awards defines “fine” chocolate as one made with fine ingredients, in other words without substituting ingredients for the sake of economy. An example of a substitution would be using vanillin, natural vanilla extract, or natural vanilla flavour, instead of vanilla.

“Plain” dark chocolate contains only cocoa, cocoa butter and sugar. If you add another ingredient, such as vanilla, salt, hazelnut, it is no longer plain: it becomes a “flavoured” dark chocolate.

But it’s important to recognise that flavoured chocolate is a recipe in which the added ingredients can be used in three very different ways, which I will describe below. The first way, which you alluded to, may be of higher interest to lovers of plain chocolate than the latter two.

1. “Chocolate seasoned with the added ingredient.” The added ingredient can be used as relatively unobtrusive seasoning, intended to enhance the original flavours of the chocolate. The chocolate remains prominent and the focus of the recipe.

2. “A fusion of chocolate with the added ingredient.” The chocolate and the added ingredient can be used in equal, or near equal, strengths to create a fusion, or an approximate fusion of flavours.

3. “The added ingredient seasoned with chocolate.” Chocolate can be used as a relatively unobtrusive seasoning, intended to enhance the flavour of the added ingredient, which is prominent and the focus of the recipe.

So in the World Chocolate Awards guide book we take care not to stereotype chocolates that have added ingredients. The way we present information enables the reader to immediately recognise the particular composition of each flavoured chocolate so that they can decide if it is of interest to them.

"What about cocoa butter substitutes such as vegetable fat or coconut oil?"

If used as a substitute, the above answer would apply. Substitutes are not acceptable.

Adding oil from a nut or vegetable in order to contribute a flavour to fine dark chocolate would make it a flavoured fine dark chocolate. An added flavour is, by definition, self-evident, and I would also expect to see its use reflected in the brand’s description of their chocolate.

"What about alternatives to cane sugar?"

The chocolate maker should decide on the best way to sweeten their chocolate.

Because cane sugar is the generally accepted sweetener in our culture then I would expect to see the use of a different sweetener reflected in the maker’s description of their chocolate. The World Chocolate Awards evaluates chocolate based on their taste and without prejudice regarding the type of sugar used. We then present the information in such a way that the reader can search and read the book on their own terms.

"Vanilla for sure, and lecithin somewhat can alter/add to the flavor. Should either be used at all?"  

This should be left to the chocolate maker to decide.