What is Real White Chocolate?
If you are looking for real white chocolate, the first thing you need to know is that white chocolate is not actually chocolate. Chocolate is always a brown to black color. White chocolate is a white confection that is used extensively in candy and dessert making, however. Although it cannot be considered chocolate, because it does not contain any chocolate liqueur, it does contain cocoa butter, the fat portion of the chocolate bean, but not the cacao nibs.
The first white chocolate candy bar to be sold in America was the Nestle Alpine White, introduced in 1987, now discontinued. It is generally accepted that Nestles was the first to develop white chocolate for a commercial market, beginning in 1937.
Real chocolate contains both the bitter cocoa solids (cacao nibs) and the cocoa butter from chocolate. It is the cocoa solids that are responsible for the principle flavor of chocolate. But the fat from cacao can be mixed with other ingredients to make a solid white confection that has a very similar texture to chocolate, but a much different flavor. White chocolate is sweet and buttery, without the bitterness of chocolate. It is essentially, a sweetened fat mixed with dairy ingredients and solidified. But, why should we be concerned with whether white chocolate is real if it is not really chocolate?
Most White Chocolate Products Contain No Cocoa Butter
The truth is that most products that resemble white chocolate either contain very little cocoa butter or none at all. For example, the familiar Nestle brand of white ‘chocolate’ products does not contain cocoa butter but instead uses other fats, such as fractionated palm kernel oil. If you look closely at the label of such products, you’ll notice they are not called white chocolate, but ‘white morsels’ or ‘white baking bars.’ Be aware that most candy bars that use a “white chocolate” use these type of white coatings.
Real White Chocolate is Slightly Yellow, Not Bright White
Since the color of white chocolate comes mostly from the cocoa butter, you can sometimes tell real from fake by the color. Real white chocolate will have a slightly yellow color. It can also be normal to see a few tiny brown specks, which are cacao solids that remained in the fat. If the product is very white, it is more likely fake, or the cocoa butter has been bleached.
FDA White Chocolate Standard of Identity
It took many years for the FDA to establish a standard of identity for white chocolate, but in 2004, in response to petitions filed by the Hershey Company and the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, that identity was established. According to the FDA white chocolate is the solid or semiplastic food prepared by intimately mixing and grinding cacao fat (cocoa butter) with one or more optional dairy ingredients, and one or more optional sweeteners. Spices, nuts, and other ingredients can also be added.
White chocolate must contain not less than 20 percent by weight of cocoa butter, not less the 3.5 percent by weight of milkfat, not less than 14 percent by weight total milk solids, not more than 55 percent by weight sweetener, not more than 1.5 percent by weight emulsifier.
Allowed dairy products for white chocolate include
- Cream, milkfat, butter
- Milk, dry whole milk, concentrated milk, evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk
- Skim milk, concentrated skim milk, evaporated skim milk, sweetened condensed skim milk, nonfat dry milk
- Concentrated buttermilk, dried buttermilk
- Malted milk
It can also contain antioxidants (for preservation), and whey or whey products.
Let’s look at the ingredients in the Nestle products I mentioned.
Nestle Toll House Premeir White Morsels contain sugar, fractionated palm kernel oil, milk, nonfat milk, hydrogenated palm oil, soy lecithin, natural flavor.
Nestle Toll House Premeir White Baking Bar contains sugar, fractionated palm kernel oil, milk, nonfat milk, hydrogenated palm oil, soy lechitin, natural flavor.
Since neither of these products contains cocoa butter, they cannot be labeled white chocolate.
Real Is Not Always the Best Choice
Despite this, however, these may work just as well for baking and cooking as some products labeled white chocolate which do contain cocoa butter. Those products containing more cocoa butter can be more difficult to work with when melting than products containing refined fats. When reading the labels of white chocolate, look for those containing the fewest ingredients. As well, the fact that a product contains cocoa butter is not a guarantee of quality.
Cooks Illustrated rated a ‘fake’ white chocolate as the best for making a white chocolate mousse, which has long been a favorite white chocolate dessert in America. Guittard Choc-Au-Lait Chocolate Baking Chipswere easier to cook with and tasted creamy, butter, amd milky with a smooth and silky texture. They contain sugar, partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil and cocoa butter, nonfat milk, cream, whey, mono- and diglycerides and soya lecithin emulsifiers, vanilla.
Ghirardelli Classic White Baking Chips actually scored better than the real white chocolate products of the same brand, coming in second. They tied for second with E. Guittard 31% Cocoa White Chocolate Wafers, which contain pure cane sugar, cocoa butter, full cream milk, lactose, sunflower lecithin, and vanilla. The Guittard product was a bit more finicky, however.
White chocolate can be used for most anything chocolate can be used for, including brownies, sauces, cakes, cheesecake, and ice cream. It can also, of course, be used in white chocolate chip cookies. For all of these purposes, it will make little difference whether you use real or fake white chocolate, as long as you like the taste and texture of the product, and it performs the way you want during cooking. For something like a white chocolate chip cookie, the difference is not likely to be detectable.
And, for those who are less experienced, the products without cocoa butter will probably be more forgiving. Although it is probably true that alternative fats are used because of the expense of real cocoa butter, it melts faster than the fats used in ‘fake’ products, and can more easily break, becoming oily. It also solidifies at a lower temperature and can become grainy if cooled too quickly.
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