As Chocolatiers, we’re used to being asked all manner of questions about our favourite type of confectionary in all its different shapes and forms. But one of the most asked questions concerns colour. And then it’s usually closely followed up with another question about content. Guessed it yet? Yes, people often ask us: 'What is white chocolate made of?'
First shown 1961, Nestle’s fair faced, whiter than white Milky Bar Kid was a familiar face on our tv screens for over two decades. Riding into the Wild West, he sang of ‘the creamiest milk, the whitest bars, that’s the goodness that’s in milky bars.’ Many of us grew up with the catchphrase ‘the milky bars are on me’ ringing in our ears.
My goodness, that memory takes me back. But just how much goodness is there in white chocolate?
What exactly is white chocolate and what’s it made of?
During the chocolate making process, cocoa butter becomes a by-product of the cocoa bean. To create white chocolate, the cocoa butter is combined with milk, sugar, and other flavoring ingredients, but none of the cocoa bean is included.
So white chocolate is primarily made of cocoa butter, sugar and milk solids. Technically it’s not real chocolate as it doesn't contain any cocoa solids or chocolate liquor. Cocoa butter is the fat removed from chocolate liquor after it is pressed. White chocolate must contain at least 14% milk solids, including 3.5% milk fat.
What exactly is milkfat? Well, both white and dark chocolates are emulsions. Adding small amounts of liquid, like water or milk, will cause the emulsion to break or seize. Therefore, any milk that’s added to white chocolate must be first either dried into a powder or cooked to a paste, removing the water, before it’s used. Hence, you’ll often find the ingredient ‘milkfat’ on the label.
White chocolate in many places does contain cocoa butter which is a type of yellowish-white vegetable fat, but other vegetable oils are often substituted such as coconut or palm kernel oil.
Again, colour is important. Good quality white chocolate that contains cocoa butter is an ivory, off white colour. Pure white chocolate is likely to made from vegetable oil or another type of fat, rather than cocoa butter. That is, if artificial colouring hasn’t been added. More things to check!
Good quality quite chocolate will have a cacao percentage marked on the packaging, just as other chocolate bars will. This percentage indicates the amount of cocoa solids – cocoa powder and cocoa butter – in a chocolate product. For white chocolate, it simply indicates the amount of pure cocoa butter in the bar. A higher cocoa butter percentage generally means that the bar will be firmer, smoother and will often be slightly less sweet than other white chocolates.
At this point you might be checking your own taste buds and thinking that white chocolate often has a vanilla flavour. Right ? That’s because cocoa butter itself doesn’t have a very pleasant flavour, so vanilla is often used as a sweetener.
Already got white chocolate on your hands? Probably. The cocoa butter used to make white is also used in cosmetic ointments to soften and protect chapped hands As cocoa butter has the perfect melting point, it’s often used in lipstick, so ladies, you might already have it in on your mouth as well!
As for the rest of us, white chocolate can taste great in desserts – think of the whipped topping on cakes with lemon and lime and fruit. Hmmm.
So, what have we learnt?
White chocolate contains cocoa butter, milk solids, sugar, lecithin and flavourings (usually including vanilla). White chocolate originates from the cocoa (cacao) plant but lacks the flavour we associate with chocolate due to the absence of the chocolate liquor which is what gives dark and milk chocolate their intense, bitter flavour and colour.
White chocolate should never be pure white. This is because cocoa butter is ivory-coloured, so real white chocolate should be off-white as well.
I’ll leave others to judge if the Milky Bar kid was telling little white lies, but small kids usually don’t read the small print. And maybe nostalgia should always leave us with a sweet feeling, after all...
So, sometimes I don't really care what is white chocolate made of, I just eat some and life is much nicer for it!
Untill next time
Nick (the one with the Milky Bar in his hands...)