Unsweetened or bitter chocolate is chocolate without any type of sweetener added. It is often used in baking and other projects in which the cook wants to personally adjust the level of sweetness. This type of chocolate is also the base for all over chocolate products, since it is chocolate in its pure and unadulterated form. As most people who have tried to nibble on a piece of baking chocolate know, this chocolate is indeed bitter, and highly unpalatable.
Chocolate making starts with harvesting the pods of the cacao plant, Theobroma cacao, native to South and Central America. The pods are split apart to yield the cacao nibs, which are in turn fermented and then ground into a paste called cocoa liquor. The cocoa liquor is processed to yield a wide assortment of chocolate products.
When processed properly, cocoa liquor yields approximately half cocoa butter and half solids. This is what is turned into bitter chocolate. Many nations have laws which dictate the composition of this type of chocolate, along with other chocolate products, so that consumers know what they are buying when they read a label. The cocoa liquor can also be treated in other ways, which include the separation of cocoa butter and cocoa solids for use in products such as cocoa and white chocolate.
To make semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chocolate producers add a small amount of a sweetener to bitter chocolate to temper the intensely bitter flavor. The addition of larger amounts of sugar results in sweetened chocolate. The unsweetened cocoa liquor can also be blended with milk to make milk chocolate, and other seasonings such as vanilla or chili powder can be added for specific desired flavors.
By using bitter chocolate as the basis of chocolate candies and other desserts, cooks can control the level of sweetness in the final product. This chocolate may also be of a higher quality, since the chocolate producer cannot hide shortcomings behind milk and additives. It is also highly shelf stable, and can keep for several years if tightly wrapped and stored in a cool dry place.
Several things can impact the flavor of bitter chocolate. Different types of cacao beans have different flavors, and the handling and processing of the beans can alter the flavor as well. Mishandling may cause any sort of chocolate to become rancid or soured, which is why it is important to buy bitter chocolate from a reputable source.