Semisweet chocolate chips are a standard ingredient in most bakers’ kitchens. They are the standard for baking chocolate chip cookies, one of the most popular homemade treats out there, as well as for many other baking applications. Semisweet chocolate is typically labeled as just that: semisweet chocolate. But as chocolate labeling gets more and more specific and consumers start to identify with cacao percentages rather than just names, that brings up the question of what exactly semisweet chocolate is.
Semisweet chocolate is dark chocolate, meaning that it is made with cocoa solids (cocoa butter and cocoa solids) and sugar, and typically includes vanilla and an emulsifier. There is no exact amount of sugar required to be called “semisweet,” but the name generally indicates that no more than 50% of the mass of the chocolate is sugar. This is opposed to “sweet” chocolates, where more than 50% of the mass of the product is sugar. “Sweet” chocolate is a pretty old fashioned term these days and only appears with a handful of products, such as German’s Sweet Chocolate.
The range of sweetness in semisweet chocolates is huge. Some brands are much sweeter than others, while some are much smoother. The same could be said of most dark chocolates. The thing that makes semisweet chocolate special is that it has a good balance of chocolate and sweetness that makes it exceptionally versatile and able to work well in just about all recipes, while milk chocolate can be too sweet and a very dark chocolate can overwhelm the more subtle flavors in a recipe.