Chocolate is a loved-by-many food product, some would say a candy. But have you ever paused to think what this rich, creamy, heavenly indulgence is made of?
What is chocolate made of?
Chocolate is made from cocoa beans, the seeds of the cacao tree, also known as Theobroma cacao.
The cacao seed undergoes a long way to become chocolate. After the cacao pods, the fruit of the Theobroma tree, are harvested, the seeds within are fermented for about a week, and are then dried. The dry cacao beans are then processed by the chocolate maker: they are roasted, cracked and winnowed to get the cacao nibs, the inner part of the bean. The nibs are ground to a paste, and then refined with additional ingredients such as sugar. The refined mixture is conched (a process that involves gentle refining and heating, giving the mixture another “massage”), tempered, and then molded and cooled down to get the desired chocolate bar.
At this point you may ask yourself- what’s the difference between ‘cacao’ and ‘cocoa’?
My answer to you is – there is none. Some use ‘cacao’ when talking about the beans before they are roasted and ‘cocoa’ afterwards. Others use ‘cacao’ only until the fermentation stage and ‘cocoa’ afterwards. I, like many others, use ‘cocoa’ and ‘cacao’ interchangeably. For the sake of this article, they mean the same.
Many artisanal bean-to-bar chocolate makers make two ingredients chocolate. This means they add only sugar to their cocoa while making chocolate. These makers focus on expressing the natural diverse flavors of the cocoa. Though their chocolates are all similar in content- typically 70% dark chocolate, the flavors vary based on the chocolate origin and the craft of the chocolate maker.
The NCA (National Confectionary Association) approach is quite different. As they put it, chocolate is a natural product made of the following ingredients:
- Chocolate liquor
- Cocoa butter
- Vanilla or other flavors
Chocolate liquor, also known as unsweetened chocolate, cocoa liquor, or cocoa mass, is the ground cacao without any additional flavoring ingredient. It is a bitter and smooth unsweetened chocolate. It has the natural ingredient content of the cacao, which means about 50% fat and about 50% cocoa solids. The unsweetened chocolate could be farther processed to separate its fat from the cocoa solids. The cocoa fat is the cocoa butter, and the cocoa solids could be processed into cocoa powder.
Only the addition of the sugar makes the chocolate into a sweet candy. When you have only two ingredients chocolate, it is very easy to calculate the exact amount of sugar. If you have a 70% dark chocolate you can do the math and realize that it has 30% sugar, as these are the only ingredients.
Lecithin is an emulsifier that is added usually in very small quantities (a few percent or even less). Adding lecithin to chocolate makes it easier to blend the different ingredients together. It is a natural ingredient. However, it is usually produced from soy and could cause an allergic reaction to people allergic to soy.
Milk is also used in the preparation of milk chocolate and white chocolate. There are different types of milk used by different manufacturers, but they all use dry milk powder in making their chocolate.
Did you know? chocolate is a dry product
Chocolate is one of the driest food products. Many get confused when they see melted chocolate and think there is water inside, or even add water to melted chocolate. This is a very common mistake, but the truth is that the liquid we see in the melted chocolate is the cocoa’s fat, aka the melted cocoa butter.
How do you know what’s in your chocolate? you read the ingredient list
When you’re reading ingredient lists, note that the order of the ingredients is crucial. The ingredients are listed in a decreasing order from the major ingredient and down. This is true for all ingredient lists of all food and beverage products.
The ingredient list has to be displayed on the packaging. Usually, you can find it on the back of the packaging in really small letters.
Let’s see what it means for chocolate and take a look at the typical ingredient lists.
Milk chocolate – most popular chocolate
A typical ingredient list for a milk chocolate bar looks like this: “Sugar, milk powder, cocoa butter, unsweetened chocolate, soy lecithin, vanillin”
Wow. That means that the major ingredient in milk chocolate is sugar, the second abundant ingredient is milk, and cocoa butter and unsweetened chocolate, comes only in the third and fourth places. Lecithin is an emulsifier added in very small quantities, and vanillin is a flavoring, also added only a smidgen.
According to the FDA, for a snack with cocoa and milk to be called chocolate it must contain at least 10% cocoa solids. This is where you’ll find the cheaper milk chocolate bars, while the high-quality dairy milk chocolate bars contain around 30% cocoa.
It is safe to say that milk chocolate is a candy, a sweet indulgence favored by young and old.
Dark chocolate – the healthy choice
Dark chocolate contains higher percentage of cocoa, and it ranges from 35% to even 100%, when no sweetener is used.
70% dark chocolate ingredients list typically looks like this: “Unsweetened chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanillin”
So, we can see there is more “chocolate” in dark chocolate than in milk chocolate. This is the reason dark chocolate is considered healthy, as we get more of the healthy nutrients of the cacao and less sugar.
White chocolate – is it truly a chocolate?
To answer this deep and controversial question we need to backtrack to the cocoa bean and its products. We know that to be called chocolate a confectionery should contain cocoa. White chocolate is made with cocoa butter, the white fat of the cocoa bean, but no brown cocoa solids.
Only in 2002 the FDA approved white chocolate as a chocolate and not a mere confectionery, if it contains at least 20% cocoa butter, at least 14% milk solids, and no more than 55% carbohydrate sweetener, aka sugar.
Ingredients list of white chocolate should look like this: “Sugar, cocoa butter, milk powder, soy lecithin, vanillin”
Ruby chocolate – the new kid on the block
On late 2017 Barry Callebaut introduced the ruby chocolate. This is a pink chocolate that got its color not from a food coloring or a flavoring such strawberries, but from a unique cacao processing that keeps the natural color of the purple cocoa beans.
So far, the FDA have not updated chocolate definition to include it as a new type of chocolate. This is its ingredient list: “Sugar, cocoa butter, skimmed milk powder, whole milk powder, cocoa mass, emulsifier; soya lecithin, citric acid, natural vanilla flavoring.”
Based on this ingredient list, the ruby chocolate is a type of milk chocolate where the cocoa was processed differently. A big difference that pops is the addition of citric acid to the ruby chocolate. This is a weak acid that naturally occurs in citrus fruits. It is commonly used in many food products for its sour acidic flavor. I’m wondering if it was added to the ruby chocolate to accentuate or disguise the acidic flavor of the purple cacao.
What about homemade chocolate?
If you’re not happy with the ingredients of the commercially available chocolate bars, you can always make your own chocolate at home. It’s very easy to make chocolate at home if you know how and have the ingredients. You can find in most health food stores cocoa liquor and cocoa butter.
The big question is what type of sweetener to use.
If you melt the cocoa ingredients and mix in regular sugar the result will be very crunchy, not exactly what most of us look for when eating chocolate.
Another option is to use a liquid sweetener such as maple or agave syrup. If you’ll make chocolate with such a sweetener the result will be soft and creamy chocolate. Too soft if you ask me. The liquid sweeteners contain a lot of water. If you paid attention (or if you quickly scroll up to check) chocolate is a dry product that doesn’t contain water. Furthermore, since most of the chocolate is the cocoa fat (butter), it doesn’t mix well with water. When we push water into the chocolate by adding water-based sweetener, we break the inner structure of the chocolate, the specific connections between the fat molecules. It means that this chocolate won’t stay solid in room temperature, nor in our hand. It means that this chocolate will be more of a fudge than a chocolate bar, and must be kept in the fridge.
A new option to make home made chocolate is with Home Chocolat’s DIY Chocolate Kits. In these kits you get everything you need for chocolate making at home- the cocoa AND the unique patent pending sweetener units (sugar or zero-calories sweetener, your choice). Our ingredient units are pre-measured and pre-processed so they are easy to mix when melted. They maintain the smooth texture of fine chocolate, as they contain no water, and the resulting chocolate is stable in room temperature. You can do with it everything you’re used to do with commercially made chocolate bar.
Want to make your own chocolate too? Check out our DIY Chocolat Kits!