Semisweet and milk chocolate are two kinds of chocolate readily available in most grocery stores. Both varieties are derived from the cacao bean, which is harvested from cacao trees grown in tropical areas near the equator. The beans are fermented, dried and ground into cocoa powder, which is used to make chocolate. Semisweet and milk chocolate are both made by adding cocoa butter and sugar to cocoa powder. But varying amounts of cocoa powder and the addition of ingredients like milk set the two varieties apart.
The variation in cocoa content is one of the main differences between semisweet chocolate and milk chocolate. The cocoa content of semisweet chocolate is approximately 35 percent, while milk chocolate's cocoa content is between 10 to 15 percent. These levels may be higher depending on the quality of the chocolate. The higher the cocoa content, the darker, more bitter and less sweet the chocolate.
Semisweet and milk chocolate products, like candies or chocolate chips, contain cocoa butter and sugar. The amount of sugar and cocoa butter vary depending on the brand and quality of the chocolate, but semisweet chocolate generally contains less sugar than milk chocolate. In addition to these ingredients, milk chocolate contains milk or powdered milk. Milk lightens the flavor and makes the chocolate extra creamy.
Semisweet chocolate is more akin to dark chocolate and is slightly bitter because of its high cocoa content. It tastes darker, deeper and richer than milk chocolate. On the other hand, milk chocolate has a lighter, sweeter flavor. Milk chocolate also has a more creamy, smoother texture than semisweet chocolate because of the added milk fats.
Semisweet chocolate is great to use in desserts that are already very sweet, such as chocolate chip cookies. In addition, the darker, richer flavor of semisweet chocolate stands up well when paired with bold flavors like coffee or concentrated fruit flavors like mango or raspberry. If you don’t like the slightly bitter flavor of semisweet chocolate, opt for milk chocolate. Milk chocolate is often paired with peanut butter, caramel or toffee. Bold flavors tend to overwhelm the light sweetness in milk chocolate, so pair with milder flavors. When cooking with chocolate, be sure to use the correct chocolate called for by the recipe. Using a different chocolate may affect the outcome and taste of your candy or dessert.
Sara Volmering started writing in 2007. She has contributed film reviews and human-interest stories to the "Western Herald," her university newspaper. Volmering holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Western Michigan University.