Is Chocolate Candy? Settling the Discussion Once and for All

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Warning: reader discretion is advised. The information contained in this post may not be suitable for audiences under 18. But not because it’s inappropriate or anything like that- it’s because today’s topic is prime ammunition for any kid looking to justify eating sweets for dinner. We’re diving into a debate for the ages: Is chocolate candy?

Whether you’re in the middle of a debate with your in-laws or getting sidetracked at work googling the random questions that run through your brain, you’ll find the answer here. Come with me, and you’ll be in a world of candy explanation. 

What is Considered Candy?

The definition of “candy” comes to us from the source: confectioners. They’ve come to a consensus that, in order to be considered “candy”, a sweet treat must meet the following three criteria. 

1. At least one of its main ingredients is a sweetener. 

Soft candies or hard candies, the primary ingredient is the same: sweetener.

This rule is sometimes simplified as “Its main ingredient is sugar”, but that doesn’t accurately encompass everything that falls under the umbrella of candy. Candy can be made with all kinds of ingredients besides cane sugar: coconut sugar, honey, molasses, and xylitol, to name a few. 

That’s why it’s more helpful to think of this rule in terms of the proportion of sweetener to everything else in the candy. No matter the form of sugar or sweetener,

2. It does not contain flour. 

If you’ve ever wondered what distinguishes candy from, say, brownies, this is it!

Yes, candy and baked goods can both be the reason your dentist’s kids go to private school, but it’s flour (or the lack thereof) that divides them into two distinct types of after-dinner delights.

That means Petit Fours, which a lot of people lump in with Christmas candy, aren’t actually candy at all. They contain flour.

But hey, if someone brings a tin of Petit Fours to my house and calls them Christmas Candy, you won’t find me correcting them. Then they might get offended and take their Petit Fours back and that would just be….tragic. 

3. Candy cannot be set in the fridge.

If you read that last rule and thought, ‘So is cheesecake candy?’, hopefully this rule brought you back down to earth.  No, cheesecake is not candy, even though it doesn’t contain flour. 

Neither is Panna Cotta, Flan, Creme Brulee … you get the picture.

Dove chocolate candy next to chocolate chips.

What is Chocolate?

I figure if a definition is good enough for a regulatory body, it’s good enough for me and you. So, straight from the mouths of the FDA, here’s the standard a product needs to meet to be called chocolate.

“(A) solid or semiplastic food prepared by intimately mixing and grinding chocolate liquor with one or more optional nutritive carbohydrate sweeteners, and may contain one or more of (these) other optional ingredients:

  • Cacao fat
  • Nutritive carbohydrate sweeteners;
  • Spices, natural and artificial flavorings, ground whole nut meats, ground coffee, dried malted cereal extract, salt, and other seasonings that do not either singly or in combination impart a flavor that imitates the flavor of chocolate, milk, or butter;
  • Dairy ingredients;
  • Emulsifying agents, used singly or in combination, the total amount of which does not exceed 1.0 percent by weight.”

If the term “chocolate liquor” brought to mind a big tall Mudslide, you’re not alone. But it’s actually the same as cocoa for baking. You probably know it by one of its other names, like cocoa solids or baking chocolate.

The FDA definition applies to everything from milk chocolate to sweet chocolate to semisweet and bittersweet chocolate. Milk and Sweet chocolate need to contain at least 10 and 15% chocolate liquor by weight, respectively. For semisweet chocolate, the minimum jumps up to 35%.  

What is the Difference Between Chocolate and Candy?

The difference between chocolate and candy comes down to their primary ingredient.

If you were able to read between the lines of all that product labeling jargon above, you’ll notice that sweetening agents aren’t what makes chocolate chocolate. The level of chocolate liquor content by weight, and that alone, determines whether or not a substance can be called chocolate. Everything else is secondary.

For all types of candy, sweetener is the key ingredient. It can include other things, chocolate being one of them. However, whatever it’s sweetened with should rise to the top of the ingredient list. 

Dove chocolate candy next to chocolate chips.

So, is Chocolate a Candy…Yes or No?

I’m going to give you an answer that might make you bang your fist on the dinner table you’re debating across: there isn’t really a straightforward answer. 

Some chocolate, like semisweet chocolate chips or solid chocolate bars, wouldn’t fall under the definition of candy. They just don’t have enough sugar/sweetener in proportion to their weight to qualify. 

I can say with confidence that chocolate fudge, chocolate bars made with nougat or caramel fillings, or chocolate truffles with sweet fillings are candy, though. They contain a much higher concentration of sweetener. 

So if you’re thinking you can gorge yourself on all the snickers bars from your kids’ Halloween haul and be able to say “I didn’t eat your candy” earnestly, think again. Save for specialty/organic brands, most chocolate bars on the market are, in fact, candy.

Why is Chocolate not Candy?

Chocolate actually can be candy under certain circumstances. In fact, I’d say most chocolate you’d encounter walking through the sweet aisle at the supermarket fits the definition of candy.

However, there are some notable exceptions. If you’re looking at chocolate products at Whole Foods or Sprouts, you’ll probably see a lot more non-candy chocolate than if you were to do the same thing at a Kroger.

Lots of organic and gourmet chocolate bars are made from dark chocolate, and don’t contain much sweetener. Some brands even make unsweetened chocolate bars. In cases like these, chocolate is not candy for the simple fact that its proportion of sugar/sweetener to its other ingredients is very low. 

Chocolate chips on a granite countertop.

Is Chocolate a Fruit?

Chocolate comes from a fruit, but chocolate itself is not a fruit any more than pumpkin seeds are fruits. 

Chocolate is processed from the large seeds of the cacao fruit. The cacao fruit is similar to a pomegranate: it has a hard outer shell, with seeds encased in a fleshy pulp inside.

Side note: fresh cacao is absolutely delicious! I’d compare its flavor to a plum or apricot. If you ever get a chance to try it, I’d highly recommend it. If nothing else, you’ll see how far away the cacao fruit is from chocolate, and walk away with a new appreciation for the ingenuity of humans.

After all, it’s pretty amazing that someone centuries ago figured out how to turn those giant seeds into the world’s most beloved flavor. I’m sending all the good vibes and gratitude to them.

Is a Chocolate Bar a Candy Bar?

The differences between chocolate bars and candy bars aren’t super well-established, since the terms are used interchangeably by most people. However, if we’re going off the technical definition, sometimes yes, sometimes no.  Different kinds of chocolate bars have different answers.

Almost all of the top-selling chocolate bars fall in line with the definition of candy: Three Musketeers, Milky Way, Mounds, Snickers, etc.

Solid milk chocolate bars and mostly milk chocolate bars (e.g. Crunch, Mr. Goodbar) could also have enough sugar to be considered candy. You’d have to look at their proportion of sugar to other ingredients to be absolutely certain, though. 

Even some semi-sweet dark chocolate bars could be candy bars, if they contain caramel or other inclusions with high sugar content. 

The only chocolate bars that I wouldn’t call candy bars would be darker chocolate bars without any sugary inclusions. 

Is Dark Chocolate Candy?

Whether or not dark chocolate is candy depends less on the concentration of chocolate itself and more on its other ingredients. 

Solid milk chocolate could be considered candy simply because it might have enough sugar to push it over the threshold. Its ingredient additions don’t matter as much, because it would be candy with or without them.

In contrast, dark chocolate is candy only if it has marshmallow, caramel, toffee, or other sweet inclusions. In its purest form, dark chocolate doesn’t have enough sweetener to make it candy, so whatever it’s paired with, plus the amount of said pairings, makes all the difference. 

Dark chocolate stacked on a countertop.

Is White Chocolate Considered Candy?

Finally, a simple “yes or no” answer! Yes, white chocolate is inarguably candy. 

Unlike milk, sweet, semisweet, and bittersweet chocolate, which all contain considerable amounts of chocolate liquor and cocoa butter above anything else, white chocolate has no chocolate liquor.

With no chocolate liquor, white chocolate needs to get flavor from something else. So you know what that means: sugar has entered the chat. 

Almond Bark, a common white chocolate substitute, is also a candy – even more of one than white chocolate. With its vegetable oils in place of cocoa butter, there’s really nothing carrying Almond Bark’s flavor besides sugar. 

White chocolate stacked on a countertop.

What is Cocoa Butter?

Remember that yummy-sounding-but-probably-anything-but chocolate liquor we talked about earlier? Well, cocoa butter is its fatty cousin. It’s an essential component of chocolate products, and it’s also highly valued for its skin and hair benefits. 

Collecting the fat of cocoa beans is a lot like making coffee in a french press. Chocolate liquor is the coffee grounds, and cocoa butter is the resulting cup of joe.

After collecting cocoa nibs from roasted cocoa beans, processors grind them into chocolate liquor. Then, they press this substance to extract the fat. And voila: cocoa butter. 

What is Cocoa Powder?

Nobody talks about it, but realizing cocoa powder isn’t the same thing as chocolate is one of those classic childhood learning experiences. I remember seeing the Hershey’s label on the can, getting excited that we had sweets in the house after all … and then being sorely disappointed that my “chocolate milk” turned out to be bitter as all get out. 

Cocoa powder is a fine dust made from dried chocolate liquor. It’s the starting point for a lot of chocolate-based sweets, but on its own, it has a similar flavor to coffee.

There are actually two types of unsweetened cocoa powder, neither of them sweet. The first is natural cocoa powder. That’s what you’d find in that Hershey’s can I mentioned.

Then, there’s Dutch-process cocoa powder, which is milder and darker in color. When chocolate truffles come dusted with cocoa powder, it’s usually this variety. 

Cocoa powder on a granite countertop.

Is Chocolate Considered Candy? My Final Answer

Looks like you’ll have to call a truce – this is one epic controversy with no clear answer.

Whether or not chocolate is candy depends on the chocolate in question and the context of the word candy.

Is it candy going by the most technical definition of the word? No, not always. 

But is it candy a lot of the time? Yes!

So if you’re in a spirited debate with a relative right now, put the phone/tablet down and hug each other for both being right. 

About Author

Tia Goodnight

Hey! I'm Tia, and I started this site to bring you the best information on all things kitchen so you can enjoy and elevate your everyday life.

I love trying new techniques and tools, living for the thrill of pulling off a new skill. On weekends you'll find me at the local farmer's markets or hosting friends and family for an evening of yard or card games and delicious food.

If you're looking for honest, real-world advice on all things kitchen and cooking, you're in the right place!