In case it hasn’t been apparent from the last couple of weeks where we’ve talked about beef with chocolate sauce and made a layer cake where all the layers are chocolate, this month has got a bit of a theme and that theme is chocolate. So, stick around for the rest of July to read a whole host of different thoughts about cooking with chocolate. Before using as many different types of chocolate as possible this month, though, I wanted to ask the question – what about white chocolate? Does that even count as a real chocolate?
White chocolate is actually a fairly recent concept in the lengthy history of chocolate, being first developed during the 1930s for using waste product from the rest of chocolate production, is essentially a fix of fat, milk solids and sugar. Quite often you will hear people claim that “white chocolate is not chocolate, because there’s no chocolate in it“. Is this true? Well, it kind of depends on how you define “chocolate”. The beans inside the cacao pods have two principle constituent parts – cocoa solids and cocoa butter. The latter, the plant’s fatty element, gives the creamy, smooth texture to chocolate but lacks the strong alkaloid theobromine that gives the distinct chocolate flavour. Chocolate production involves grinding these two elements into a creamy paste called chocolate liquor from which most chocolate is made. By pressing this liquor it is possible to separate out the fat, the cocoa butter, and use it separately. It is this fat that is used in white chocolate. So, if you define chocolate as something with the presence of cocoa solids, then white chocolate is not a true chocolate, but, if you define chocolate as something produced in part from a cocoa bean, then it is.
Naturally, this has been the subject of some legal debate, especially because it is possible to make a cheaper white chocolate type product from sugar, milk solids and any other vegetable fat (although it is inaccurate to assume that cocoa butter does not have any distinct chocolate flavour to it). This is often felt to be the case, for example, with Milkybar, which in some countries contains no chocolate produce at all. “Chocolate” like this is usually defined as “confectionery” or “coating”. Defining what legally constitutes chocolate is obviously a regional thing. The European Union does accept that white chocolate that contains real cocoa fat can officially be called chocolate, as does America’s Food and Drug Administration. For us here in Europe, you can call your product white chocolate so long as it has at least 20% cocoa butter and 14% milk solids.
Officially, then, in answer to the question “is white chocolate a real chocolate?” the answer is “yes, as long as it’s got over 20% cocoa butter”. So the white chocolate I used in my cake this week (22% cocoa butter, 23% milk solids) was, pretty definitely, a real type of chocolate.