Many decades in the future, when human nutrition is finally a reputable science, our current tendency to think of foods in categories like “good for you” or “bad for you,” will seem quaint. We will probably find not only that all foods have both helpful properties and less helpful properties, but that those properties are enhanced, dampened, or reversed depending on many, many factors like quantity, preparation, combination, microbiome ecology, genetics, epigenetics, other physiological factors, environmental factors, psychological factors, and who knows what else. I don’t say this to insult people who spend their time thinking about nutrition and diet, but to point out a useful fact. When science tackles any very complex topic, the knowledge it turns up, even if it was basically correct, always seems quaint 100 years later. That goes double for folk wisdom and other less-rigorous forms of collecting knowledge.

That is the caveat to the following explanation of how I am currently thinking about chocolate:

To the extent that such a category exists, it is looking like chocolate may be “good for you.” I won’t go into how or why, as there are a zillion articles about that, all waiting to be proven wrong or quaint, but there is a strong chance that eating chocolate is largely helpful.

The problem is that chocolate tastes terrible by itself, so it is almost always sold in combination with sugar, a food that is very, very likely “bad for you.” Sugar has the power to make chocolate and many other foods taste great, but also the power to screw you up in a bunch of ways; the Satan of food, if you will.

What is your minimal sugar requirement to make chocolate tolerable? How about pleasurable? It’s easy and fun to figure out. (Although while I was figuring it out in a grocery with my friends, Abbi and Matt, a woman said, “You are ruining chocolate for me. Make a choice and get out.” Clearly this is not fun for everyone.) It just takes a grocery with a decent chocolate selection, a little math, and some chocolate money.

Chocolate selection at the Kiva, Eugene. Site of ruining chocolate for one woman.

Here are the “nutrition facts” for a 41-gram bar of Hershey’s Special Dark dark chocolate:

The math here is easy, since the “serving size” is the whole bar. Just over half of this chocolate bar is pure sugar. Imagine the bar below with the ingredients separated, the chocolate on the right, the sugar on the left:

Hershey Special Dark dark chocolate bar, sugar mixed in.

The six squares on the left would be pure sugar. That’s a lot of sugar.

The lowest-sugar bar at the Kiva was Lindt Excellence 90% Cocoa Supreme Dark bar, at 7.5% sugar. That’s like almost one of one of the squares above. I found it taste tolerable–enjoyable, even, but more in the way wine can be enjoyable than in the way I normally expect chocolate to be enjoyable. Interesting rather than incredibly delicious. I also found that I did not eat it nearly as compulsively as I do sweeter chocolate.

The runners-up were E. Guittard’s Nocturne “pure extra dark chocolate” 91% cacao, at 8.8% sugar and Theo’s Venezuela 91% Cacao, at 9.5% sugar; each had the equivalent of a little more than a square of sugar out of the bar above, about 10 and 20% more sugar than the Lindt. These bars were easier to eat–less burned and bitter tasting, but still definitely in the enjoyable-like-wine category, a little smoother and maybe fruity or aromatic.

The rest of even heavy-duty dark chocolate bars were at 20% or more sugar. That’s at least almost three squares in the bar above. Green & Black’s Dark 85%, for example, is exactly 20% sugar. I haven’t tried it recently, but after eating these 3-10% bars, I expect it to taste quite sweet, with more than twice as much sugar as the runners-up and almost seven times as much as the Lindt Excellence.

Sometimes the nutritional facts numbers do not add up. I noticed that with the Green & Black 85% bar. It’s got 8 grams of sugar per 40 gram “serving” in a 100 gram bar. That’s 20 grams of sugar per 100 gram bar, thus the 20% sugar I calculated. How is it, then, that the bar is also 85% cocoa? Chocolate companies, please explain your math.

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