Dark-chocolate lovers, pick your number.

The trend of labeling cocoa percentages on gourmet chocolate packaging has reached the baking aisle, with time to spare for the holidays.

Upscale chocolatiers have designated percentages on their packages for a while, but the trend is just hitting supermarket brands.

Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker, Schokinag and Valrhona, all artisan chocolate makers, designate cocoa content on their products, even when it’s not that high. Schokinag, for instance, lists 72 percent on its bittersweet bar, but its Semi-sweet Chocolate Baking Chunks also bear a 50 percent cocoa label and the Milk Chocolate Chunks are labeled 32 percent cocoa. Hershey’s makes Special Dark Chips but doesn’t list a cocoa percentage.

What does a cocoa percentage mean? In a nutshell, the higher the number, the more true chocolate flavor and the less sugar. For unsweetened chocolate, that really means nothing has changed. It’s just that now it’s wrapped in a new, trendy package that’s stamped "100 percent cocoa." And that rates a 10 on the foodies’ gotta-have-it scale.

Ghirardelli Chocolate now has both bars and chips labeled with cocoa percentages. The bars range from 60 percent cocoa (bittersweet) up to 100 percent. The Ghirardelli chips are 60 percent cocoa.

Baker’s Chocolate has just introduced Baker’s Reserve 225th Anniversary Bar, which is labeled with 70 percent cocoa. The 4-ounce bar is a limited edition.

Chocolate expert Alice Medrich, in her new book Chocolate Holidays, cautions against substituting high-percentage chocolates in recipes not written specifically for that style. "People are appreciating the complex properties that darker chocolate offers: subtle taste differences; deeper, richer flavors; and to a lesser degree, possible health benefits," says Lisa Henry, a spokeswoman for Ghirardelli. "They enjoy experimenting, and dark chocolate, with its varied intensities, is the perfect way – whether enjoyed with other foods in fondue, substituting in recipes or simply indulging in alone as a wonderful end to a meal."

CHOCOLATE TIPS Be aware that not all chocolate is created equal. The same holds true for chips. That said: – You can generally substitute one type of chip – and even some bars that you’ve chunked up – for another in your favorite recipe. Chips are formulated to hold their shape during baking; bars aren’t.

– Taste the chocolate before adding it to the dough or batter to make sure the flavors are compatible, especially if you’re adding a new flavor component such as mint or peanut butter or going from milk chocolate to bittersweet.

– If one brand has both a semi-sweet and a bittersweet, semi-sweet is sweeter. Both are still dark chocolate. – Store chocolate in its original wrapping or in foil somewhere cool, dark and dry, not in the refrigerator or freezer. Stored like this, dark chocolate will keep for several years. Milk and white chocolates will keep for several months. © 2005, The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.