Unarguably, today’s chocolate lovers and shoppers can only be grateful for the wide availability of food-related information online to better guide their decisions on their picks before a physical shelf at their local grocery store or the mobile screen of a virtual shop cart. Nonetheless, the overabundance of opinions and advice scrolled daily on our social media accounts and search engine results can be a huge flip side to the modern seamless empowerment on our food buying choices.
Authors writing online are so heterogeneous in their comprehension and competence in the food matter that not all content always accomplishes the intention of making the lay public better aware to discern among possibilities, when not further derails it into either novel or crystallized misconceptions regarding food. Into the latter type of risk conflates the perfunctory vilification of white chocolate.
White chocolate is a topic mercilessly associated with the image of a candy treat fit for the masses, dismissed with a total lack of nuance by the integralists of dark chocolate—who often happen to be adherents to strict and quasi-ideological views about food and expect their followers to move within the mirrors of their dogmas. One would think that this group of popularizers only features generalist lifestyle influencers or journalists incentivized by the short-lived perks of collaborating with a trendy food brand.
In truth, as a devoted explorer of the niche of premium and ultra-premium / fine chocolate, I must sadly confess that the most rooted misconceptions belittling white chocolate are, ironically, reinforced by other people who write in the chocolate industry and should better inform the public. Their closed-mindedness is such—and, too often, caused by incorrect or partial knowledge of how a food is produced, its intrinsic factors, and how it comes to us—that sets them free from the inability to dissect and present complex topics and ease them to manufacture only reasoning that confirms their personal biases. The dead end of this disservice is leaving people stuck in the conventional wisdom that dark chocolate must draw the line in the sand for their chocolate confidence.
Although certain arguments against white chocolate have been carved into people’s mind for some legitimate reasons—particularly because dark chocolate is the version containing less sugar and missing dairy ingredients (identified as food allergens for some consumers or avoided for dietary choices by others)—this outdated stance cannot hold ground today, thanks to an evolved share of creative artisans and attentive makers revisiting the full potential of white chocolate.
Zeroing in on an all-encompassing perspective, what is white chocolate? Following its definition, let’s delve closer into the three most common misconceptions downplaying white chocolate:
1) White chocolate is not chocolate.
While dark and milk chocolate can be considered chocolate for the presence of cocoa mass (the roasted and ground form of the cacao beans,) apparently the same concession cannot be granted to white chocolate. Yet, white chocolate also has cocoa, even if it’s limited to its integral and delicate fat component—which is known as cocoa butter. Naturally untreated cocoa mass contains about 53% cocoa butter.
Cocoa butter is not a less noble part than cocoa powder (the dry and residual brown component of chocolate made of proteins, fibers, minerals, and polyphenols) since cocoa butter is the soul that allows chocolate to typically exist as chocolate in its unique look and feel: its shiny appearance and plastic behavior from a physical point of view.
The modern era of chocolate making began in 1828 when Coenraad van Houten patented a method with the hydraulic press to efficiently create a defatted and more stable and standardized version of powdered hot chocolate—which was the only form chocolate was consumed in history until the first-ever creation of solid chocolate bars at the end of the 19th century. With the cocoa butter separated from the mass, chocolate makers started having an intriguing and malleable substance to develop different products later on, in the 20th century.
Regulations in place in the European Union (EU), the United Kingdom (UK), and the United States (US) define what white chocolate is made of and what is allowed in its formulation. For the EU, see Directive 2000/36/EC; the UK shares identical standards in their legislation. For the US, see §163.124 of Subpart B—Requirements for Specific Standardized Cacao Products in Part 163—Cacao Products. According to all regulations, white chocolate must contain at least 20% cocoa butter, 14% milk solids, 3.5% milkfat. Moreover, the American rule is even more stringent for giving a maximum amount of nutritive carbohydrate sweeteners—alias, added sugars—permitted (55%), optional ingredients that can be added as flavoring, and an explicit ban of coloring agents.
A minimum requirement for cocoa butter in white chocolate is an aspect to praise in the EU, the UK, and the US, as cocoa butter is a nourishing and expensive edible fat that’s used in the cosmetic industry. Curiously, Australia and New Zealand don’t regulate any definition for white chocolate, so substituting cocoa butter entirely for cheaper and potentially harmful vegetable fats, like palm oil or shea butter, is a possibility in those countries. However, the compound effect of globalization, market competition, and increased consumer awareness in recent years has pushed chocolate companies even in non-regulated markets to harmonize the standards of their products indirectly, adapting to and leveling up the quality expectations of the buyer.
In any case, the definitions of white chocolate in a regulated market today allow specialty brands enough creative margins to stretch their craftsmanship and produce a different and exquisite array of high-quality white chocolate.
So, even if some naysayers keep rebutting, “Is white chocolate chocolate?” because white chocolate is not brown, white chocolate is legally recognized as white chocolate for having an unassailable identity on the market.
2) White chocolate is not healthy.
If you google “dark chocolate,” you’ll get buried by countless headlines featuring a list of health benefits associated with the exclusive consumption of dark chocolate. Do the same research with “white chocolate” and you’ll immediately realize the pointless discussions set on the unyielding premise that white chocolate can’t really be considered good chocolate—which on average make my blood boil up in the veins. In the best case scenario, white chocolate occupies a shrunk corner of suggestions for baking and frosting. Being so meager the amicability lent, hardly is a word spent on the health benefits of (high-quality) white chocolate.
The good news is that actually white chocolate may enclose a few underestimated health perks, provided that good-quality white chocolate (made up of 32-45% cocoa butter and no other types of vegetable fat added) is carefully selected, more easily done online on specialized e-shops than in your large retail store.
[Licensed under Creative Commons. See attribution requirements HERE.]
Studies suggest that potential heart benefits are only partly linked to the flavanol (antioxidant) content mostly retained in dark chocolate. In fact, white chocolate, despite not reporting the same content in flavanols, still provides cardiovascular benefits, as platelet enhancement and regulation of bad cholesterol. Furthermore, cocoa butter has anti-aging and thickening properties for skin and protective effects on the sheath of nerves.
Moreover, as both milk and dark chocolate contain variable stimulant alkaloids like theobromine and caffeine, white chocolate is more indicated for those needing to avoid any trace of mood-triggering substances for particular medical recommendations.
3) White chocolate is not for true chocolate connoisseurs.
Many “experts” think white chocolate has no flavor complexity to deserve further attention and investigation. So, white chocolate is more often than not relegated to unholy stuff to be received as equal as dark or milk chocolate by chocolate connoisseurs. But the question is, would we normally not mind calling someone a sommelier if the sommelier narrowly required to taste and train his skills based on his personal preferences for red and rosé wines only?
Under a fairer magnifier, good white chocolate has enough sensory diversity to make it appealing even to the palate of the most convinced dark chocolate absolutist.
Some studies speculate that the reason some chocolate lovers are sympathetic to white chocolate better than others is because white chocolate recalls the nutrient ratio composition of mammal milk, the most ancestral food for life. To expand historical context to this intuition, the first white chocolate bar was patented in 1936 by the Swiss-German luminary Henri Nestlé because of a powdered milk surplus after World War I.
Before merging his business with the British chocolate maker Daniel Peter and becoming a confectioner and founder of the largest food company in the world, Nestlé was a trained chemist and pharmacy assistant—with a diversified knowledge spanning from botany through food science—who initially produced powdered and condensed infant formulas for the upper classes, working with milk ingredients and malt flours.
In 1936, Nestlé patented Nestrovit, a children’s supplement. The product was a vitamin-enriched condensed milk, developed to help kids get more of the vitamins they needed at the time. Using the same technology Henri and Daniel employed to create milk chocolate, Nestlé added cocoa butter to Nestrovit in order to make a solid tablet form of the milk. In doing so, they accidentally invented white chocolate.
Shortly after, Nestlé realized they could make non-medicinal versions of Nestrovit, and Milkybar® was born (known as Galak® in continental Europe.)
Far away from the days of the first white chocolate bars, smaller companies today are increasingly innovating the premium white chocolate market and placing better tasting and healthier alternatives.
When it’s non-commercial white chocolate made with a higher than average amount of cocoa butter without undergoing deodorization, it renders subtle floral and vanilla flavors, while the different dairy ingredients add structure to a subtle melody of cream/butter/yoghurt hints, impossible to find so gently in harmony in other types of chocolate.
Specifically, upmarket or premium (also called “specialty” or “fine”) white chocolate is made of:
* Non-deodorized cocoa butter.
Almost all white chocolate is made from deodorized cocoa butter; that is, high-heat steam-treated cocoa butter (the steam being used as a distilling liquid retaining the odors), and then filtered to make it a neutral, flat base suitable for cosmetic and cleansing use and, in the case of commercial chocolate brands, useful to standardize the flavor of the product. In other words, deodorizing cocoa butter tames the chocolate flavor considerably. Interestingly, natural non-deodorized cocoa butter resists oxidation longer than deodorized cocoa butter for containing natural vitamin E (a fat-soluble micronutrient) which doesn’t get degraded at the high temperatures of deodorization. So, in addition to making a better-tasting white chocolate featuring a flavor profile so characteristic to represent the hallmark of the product, non-deodorized cocoa butter is also more beneficial for our nutrition.
* Various types of milk.
The importance of milk and additional dairy ingredients used, such as whey or buttermilk, is crucial too, as it adds flavor complexity to the product through the Maillard reactions. Other brands accomodate the growing vegan trend of substituting milks with plant-based “mylks” from nuts and cereals, but the final products made with these novelty ingredients cannot technically be labeled “white chocolate” for missing the required dairy.
* Intriguing inclusions.
Traditional inclusions like nuts or sophisticated pairings like dried flowers and cocoa nibs find maximum potential in white chocolate, which acts like the perfect “suspension” for the subtlest aromatic and textural tensions possible in chocolate.
Being only composed of the fat part of cacao and the subtler flavor canva that natural non-deodorized cocoa butter entails without the overwhelming interference of the dark cocoa solids, white chocolate is like the perfect edible version of an unfinished symphony, it’s like “tasting” an open Gestalt (an imaginary circle in our consciousness) leaving an inexplicable tension of pleasing sensations in our appreciation for chocolate. What does that mean for our understanding of such a gentle complexity?
According to the holism of Gestalt psychology, the human mind tends to remember and give greater dedication and attention to an unfinished task, a relational situation left hanging, or, more generally, to any incomplete visual configuration or sensory perception rather than to something that tastes like it’s already integral and that doesn’t leave a feeling of tension in our unconscious. This theory was proved in practice in 1927 by the systematic observations of a Gestalt counselor, Bluma Zeigarnik, as she observed in a crowded Viennese restaurant the waiters recalling in a highly lucid way all the customers’ orders still to be served compared to those already placed.
It goes without saying that, framed in this more transcendental than purely material context, a special appreciation for white chocolate cannot easily be gotten by the exclusive proponents of dark chocolate, as it would imply bearing a type of tension that is difficult to manage and amplify for those inclined to enjoy sensations of immediate gratification and the sensorial bombardment typical of dark chocolate.
Paradoxically, I have discovered that the rare people who adore the charm and sensation of great white chocolate as much as I do are also the ones prone to evaluate dark chocolate with more focused discernment! We white chocolate lovers tend to be free from prejudices and love to grasp all nuances in the form and substance of chocolate products–and beyond.
The core message of my experiences with the finest white chocolate products I could taste is that we can learn to recognize, identify, and feel grateful that we all have not only a biological or sensorial way of interacting with a delicious food that nourishes us but also a personal way of receiving it and “accepting” it through our unconscious. White chocolate can teach that.