Yes, plain dark chocolate--without added flavorings and ingredients--can taste fruity. If this fact comes as news to you, I’m thrilled to be the messenger, because this kind of chocolate is some of the most beautiful and surprising you’ll ever taste.
In this post, we’ll look at where that fruitiness comes from, and how to track down chocolate that delivers it. If you already have fruity chocolate on hand and are looking for tips on how to get the most out of it, visit my guide to enjoying fruit-forward dark chocolate.
How can plain chocolate be fruity?
It bears mentioning that cacao is the seed of a tropical fruit--having spent its life surrounded by fruit, small wonder, then, that it can contain fruit flavors.
Cacao beans grow inside these pods, the fruit of the cacao tree.
But there are also processing techniques to consider. At origin, different fermentation styles can increase or decrease fruitiness. During chocolate making, different roasts and flavor development techniques can do the same.
Plant genetics cannot be forgotten, either. Some varieties of cacao have the potential to yield fruity chocolate; others, less so.
And if all that’s not enough, fruitiness can even be influenced by “terroir”--the microclimate around the cacao--and the weather patterns of a given growing season.
How do I find fruit-forward chocolate?
While the factors behind fruitiness in chocolate are interesting, finding fruity chocolate on the shelf has little to do with understanding them. Instead, you'll need to understand how to decode chocolate packaging and pricing. This can be a challenge, so here are some tips.
Tip #1: Look for specialty, rather than mass-market, chocolate bars
With rare exception, you can ignore mass-produced chocolate bars. Fruitiness can be processed out of chocolate, and in a mass-market context, if natural fruit flavors are there in the first place, they will be deliberately removed or diluted in favor of the uniform, “chocolatey” flavor most of us grew up with.
Instead, you’ll need look for specialty chocolate bars. As a general rule, if the price is under $6 for a standard-size bar, it’s a mass-market rather than a specialty bar--and it’s not going to be fruity.
Printing the cacao's origin somewhere on the packaging, or using words like "bean to bar," "artisan," or "handcrafted" are also signs of specialty bars. But ultimately the price tag is your clearest evidence.
Tip #2: Scan the packaging for flavor cues
Once you have a selection of specialty bars in front of you, your best bet is to look for information on the packaging that indicates fruity flavors. For example, search for bars whose tasting notes mention fruits, or carry a description to that effect.
Tip #3: Look for origins known to produce fruit-forward cacao
If you don’t see any such flavor descriptions, and are met instead with origin names or blend names, it’s hard to be sure--but don’t lose hope just yet. When in doubt, a Madagascar bar is probably the most likely origin to be fruity, if you can find one. Skip West Africa this time, which tends to be very chocolatey and less fruity. Central and South America are often fruity, but there are too many variables to be sure. If possible, ask store staff for guidance.
Tip #4: Stay in the 60-80% dark zone
Very dark chocolates (80%+) are rarely going to taste as fruity as sweeter chocolates. Sweetness helps bring out the fruit. For maximum fruitiness, I recommend staying in the 60-80% dark zone.
Tip #5: Taste, taste, taste
In the end, regardless of what you’ve read or been told, tasting is the only way to confirm that the fruity flavors you’re seeking are really there. Attend an event where samples are available, and if that’s not possible, roll the dice and buy a couple different bars.
Once you’ve found fruit-forward chocolate, make the most of it: browse my guide to enjoying fruit-forward dark chocolate for a list of helpful tips and ideas.