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What’s in my chocolate?

Updated: Nov 25, 2019

Munching chocolate is quite common, I know I do it regularly. But have you ever stopped to think what this rich, creamy, some would say even heavenly (yes, me again) indulgence is made of?

Milk chocolate – popular favorite

Let’s take a look at a typical ingredient list for a milk chocolate bar:

“Sugar, milk powder, cocoa butter, unsweetened chocolate, soy lecithin, vanillin”

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.

Wow. That means that the major ingredient in milk chocolate is sugar, the second abundant ingredient is milk, and cocoa solids, aka cocoa butter and unsweetened chocolate, comes only in the third and fourth places. Lecithin is an emulsifier that is added usually in very small quantities (a few percent or even less), 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 milk bars contain around 30% cocoa solids. This means that in the best-case scenario a milk chocolate bar contains about two thirds sugar and milk together, and the sugar is more than one third as it is listed in the first place.

Dark chocolate – the healthy choice

Dark chocolate contains higher percentage of cocoa solids, and it ranges from 35% to even 100% when no sweetener is used. There are dark milk chocolate bars where the ingredients list is similar to the above, only with a higher percentage of unsweetened chocolate. In this case the unsweetened chocolate will usually be at the second place on the list.

A 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.

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. To make any kind of chocolate, cocoa beans are processed into a brown, bitter and smooth unsweetened chocolate, also known as chocolate liquor or cocoa mass. 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.

Back to the question of white chocolate, is it really a chocolate. 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, like 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

We heard last year about a new chocolate, the ruby chocolate, developed by Barry Callebaut.

So far, the FDA have not updated chocolate definition to include it as a new type of chocolate. As I understand it, the ruby chocolate is a type of milk chocolate where the cocoa was processed differently.

Do I have a choice?

Now that you understand the ingredients list, you can check it before purchase and see that you’re satisfied with the composition of the chocolate.

If you want more control on your chocolate composition, you can check out our products for making chocolate at home.

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