Why is American Chocolate different to European Chocolate?

As experts in American food and drink we get asked all sorts of questions. So, we’ve decided to post some of the most common ones, plus our answers, which we hope you’ll find useful.

This may seem like an easy question to answer, but it’s actually not as straight forward as it may appear. For this question we are assuming that most people are referring to Milk Chocolate, and probably comparing bars such as Cadbury’s Dairy Milk (for European Chocolate) and brands such as Hershey’s as an example of American Chocolate.

Starting with the ingredients, the main ones are cocoa, milk and sugar. These are common to all milk chocolate; however, the flavour of the finished product can be affected by:

  • The proportion of these ingredients, such as the amount of cocoa
  • The way in which they are mixed, and how long for
  • The flavour of the milk, which can vary from country to country
  • The addition of any other ingredients



The Cocoa

 Many people don’t realise that there are minimum standards for chocolate. In the UK it must contain a minimum of 30% cocoa. However, in the US it needs to only contain 10%. Problem solved! American chocolate has less, er, chocolate! Well, no. The EU requirement of 30% refers to both cocoa powder and cocoa butter, whereas in the US the 10% refers to just the cocoa powder. To elaborate: a ground up cocoa bean is made up of cocoa butter and non-fat cocoa powder - or cocoa mass as it’s often also called. Together, these can also be referred to as dry cocoa solids, or chocolate liquor. This means that the overall amount of cocoa in US chocolate is often higher than the 10% minimum. Then we come specifically to milk chocolate, which in the UK need only contain 20% cocoa (butter and powder combined together, as above), and 20% milk solids. A little research shows that a regular bar of Hershey’s actually contains around 30% dry cocoa solids – more than a bar of Dairy Milk.


the mixing

The Mixing

Frustratingly we can’t find out exactly how long each manufacturer mixes their chocolate for, but it is widely known that the longer you mix the ingredients for, the smoother and ‘creamier’ the chocolate will be. It’s possible that European chocolate is mixed for longer, but there are too many other variables for this to be conclusive.


the milk

The Milk

Although it’s perfectly possible, and even likely, for milk to taste different from different cows, it’s not widely thought that this alone could explain why American chocolate in general tastes so different. It would mean that all American chocolate producers would have to source milk from cows that are fed and farmed in the same way, and that this process would have to differ wildly enough from how all British or European dairy farms operate.

However, if we look at Hershey’s in isolation, we discover an interesting point of difference. They put their milk through a process called lipolysis. This partially turns the milk sour and creates butyric acid. It is this ‘sourness’ that often generates the questions:


  • Why does American Chocolate taste sour?
  • Why does American Chocolate taste like vomit?
  • Is American Chocolate made with spoiled milk?
  • Is American Chocolate bad?


Butyric acid is found in parmesan cheese, hence the ‘tanginess’ as some politely call it, and helps extend the shelf life of chocolate without it affecting the taste. Given the popularity of Hershey’s as a brand, and the length of time they’ve been around, the vast majority of Americans have now got used to this sour-like flavour and therefore associate it with chocolate in general.


The sugar 

It’s often also cited that American chocolate contains more sugar, as it’s regularly listed as the first ingredient. Whereas here in the UK, milk chocolate tends to list milk first. Whilst that may be true, the milk in British chocolate is measured in liquid form, while in the US they measure it in the far lighter evaporated form. As ingredients have to be shown in weight order, this will place sugar first for most American chocolate.


Related questions:

  • How is American Chocolate made?
  • How is American Chocolate Different?
  • What is American Chocolate made of?

Exclusive American
Food and Drink

only at The American Pantry