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Not So Sweet: Savory Cooking With Chocolate

The long-favored dessert can lend a dark, bitter and surprisingly earthy twist to savory dishes.

April 6, 2018

Most of us associate chocolate with warm cookies, fudgy brownies, decadent cakes and other sweet treats. And, while I love chocolate for dessert as much as the next person (maybe even more?), chocolate also has a special place in my savory cooking. Yes, that’s right: chocolate for dinner.

We all know that chocolate pairs great with fruit, nuts and caramel. However, it also goes great with the other end of the food spectrum — spices (fennel, wasabi, chili powder), cheese (ricotta, Parmesan, gouda), coffee and espresso (especially when mixed into rubs for meat), and beer (try a nice, dark stout and a bit of dark chocolate together). And, of course, chocolate is a classic ingredient in Mexican mole sauce.

Along with its mood-boosting benefits (who doesn’t want to chow down on a chocolate bar at the end of a stressful day?), cocoa is packed with antioxidants. One of these antioxidants, known as flavonoids, can help reduce the risk of heart disease. Chocolate is also believed to help control cholesterol, increase cognitive abilities and prevent cancer. The higher the cocoa content, the more you can reap from this sweet (or not-so-sweet) treat. Try to use chocolate with a 70 percent or higher cocoa level.

For even more health benefits, use a high-quality cocoa powder. You get all the health benefits of chocolate, but without the added sugar and fat. For savory dishes, don’t make the mistake of grabbing the hot cocoa mix. Instead, keep look for natural (non-alkalized) cocoa powder and Dutch process (alkalized) cocoa powder. For baking, when your recipe calls for a leavener (baking powder or baking soda), reach for the natural cocoa powder. However, with savory cooking, I recommend using Dutch process cocoa, which has a less bitter flavor.


Grab bars, not chips: Chocolate chips don’t blend or melt as well as chopped bars do (that’s their job after all – to keep their shape in cookies and other treats). When chopping chocolate bars, use a serrated knife to making cutting easier.

Use a water bath: Chocolate burns very easily, and once burnt it’s no good. Melt your chocolate in a water bath (a heatproof bowl placed over a skillet or saucepan of simmering water). Just be careful not to splash any water into your chocolate.

Some fat is ok: Try to find and buy cocoa powder with the highest fat content. This means more cocoa butter, which results in richer chocolate flavor.

Dark chocolate and parmesan grilled cheese

Just like hot sauce and peanut butter, or maple and bacon, some unlikely food matches can surprise your taste buds. Enter PCC Community Markets’ Dark Chocolate and Parmesan Grilled Cheese. Your kids will love that they get chocolate for lunch, and the fruity notes that dark chocolate draws out of Parmesan cheese will delight you.

Spicy dutch oven chili

Two types of chili powder, molasses, beer and Dutch process cocoa powder give this hearty chili a rich, complex and earthy flavor.’s Spicy Dutch Oven Chili is best cooked outdoors, where smoke from the campfire adds another savory note to this dish (but, it’s just as delicious cooked indoors on your stovetop).

Pear-apple salad with chocolate vinaigrette

Add even more healthy benefits to chocolate by using it in a vinaigrette for The Heritage Cook’s Pear and Apple Salad with Chocolate Vinaigrette. This gluten-free recipe combines semisweet chocolate and balsamic vinegar, drizzled over fresh, crisp greens, pears and toasted walnuts for the perfect starter salad.

Chocolate-dipped crackers and cheese

Savory chocolate dishes aren’t just for lunch or dinner. At My Life Runs On Food, you can find Chocolate Dipped Crackers and Cheese, a fun, easy and surprising appetizer or snack to serve at your next get together. Three types of homemade crackers (lemon, rosemary and cornmeal chili) are dipped in chocolate and served with soft, creamy cheese, for a snack that’s somewhere between sweet and savory.

Slow cooker chicken mole

One of the most classic uses of chocolate in savory dishes is in Mexican mole, a sweet, spicy and savory sauce that tops enchiladas, meat and many other dishes. Allrecipes’ Slow Cooker Chicken Mole is the perfect meal to “set and forget” while it simmers in the slow cooker during the day. Packed with spices, cocoa powder and peanut butter, you can serve this chicken piled on tortillas or rice.


Jackie Freeman

Recipe developer, food stylist and culinary tinkerer, Jackie Freeman has worked in the culinary field for over 20 years as a private chef, cheesemaker, culinary instructor, recipe editor and a radio and video personality.

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