White Chocolate Isn’t Really Chocolate

It’s September 22nd and that means it’s National White Chocolate Day! But did you know that white chocolate isn’t actually chocolate at all? After fermentation, cacao beans are dried, cleaned, and roasted (much like coffee beans) and the shell is removed so confectioners are left with the cacao nibs, which are then ground to cocoa mass. The cocoa mass is then liquefied into chocolate liquor so it can be molded into whatever final shape the chocolatier wants. That chocolate liquor can then be processed into two components: cocoa solids and cocoa butter. The main ingredient in white chocolate is that cocoa butter, a pale yellow vegetable fat. And yes, that cocoa butter is the same as what you find in many lotions and lip balms to help moisturize your skin!

Cocoa butter on its own doesn’t taste very good, so it’s mixed with milk solids, milk fat, sugar, and vanilla to create white chocolate as we know in. In the United States, the FDA says that in order to be labeled as such, white chocolate must be (by weight) at least 20% cocoa butter, 14% total milk solids, and 3.5% milk fat, and no more than 55% sugar or other sweeteners. The FDA requirements were put in place partly in response to petitions from Hershey Foods (yup, the chocolate bar king!) and the Chocolate Manufacturers Association of America, who wanted to stop other commercial manufacturers from making “imposter” white chocolate that used cheaper vegetable oil instead of cocoa butter. The whiter your white chocolate is, the more vegetable oil was used in the mixture. Good white chocolate will actually be more ivory colored. Different chocolatiers use different amount of cocoa butter in their white chocolate recipes depending on what final flavor they are going for.

Although white chocolate had been used by bakers, confectioners, and chocolatiers in Europe for many years (it’s really a blank canvas for colors and other flavors), Saveur reported that“…it wasn’t until 1979 that the dining critic Gael Greene, describing “a pristine oval of mousse sitting in a pool of dark chocolate” for New York magazine, was able to declare, “White chocolate is the season’s new whimsy.”

Here’s one more fun fact! The melting point of cocoa butter is high enough to keep white chocolate solid at room temperature, but still allow it to melt in your mouth. However, because the fats in white chocolate melt at different temperatures, molten white chocolate can turn out lumpy and frustrate man at-home white chocolate users when trying to decorate their dessert.