What Is White Chocolate, Exactly?

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Are the rumors that it's not really chocolate true?

The first modern chocolate bar was invented in 1847, but it wasn’t until 1930 that white chocolate appeared on the scene. Invented by Switzerland’s Nestlé corporation, white chocolate was unlike anything chocolatiers had ever seen before. Nearly a century later, chocolate lovers are still wondering: What is white chocolate?

Made from the same cacao beans as other chocolates, white chocolate production involves a little twist. Chocolatiers take the brown cocoa solids out of the original chocolate equation entirely, using only the cocoa butter. And here’s more food facts trivia you might not know: The flavor of white chocolate can vary wildly between brands. Some taste of rich cocoa butter. Some are aggressively sweet. And some have a subtle hint of vanilla flavoring.

Keep reading to find out what white chocolate is, how it tastes, and whether it’s as healthy as other types of chocolate.

Is white chocolate actually chocolate?

You may have heard that white chocolate isn’t really chocolate because it doesn’t contain chocolate solids. But if chocolate could talk, it’d tell you just the opposite. According to the technical definition, white chocolate most certainly qualifies.

So, what is chocolate, technically speaking? It’s defined as a food made from the roasted and ground pods of the cacao tree. After harvesting, the pods are cracked open, and the beans are removed and left out for several days to naturally ferment. Next, the beans are dried and roasted, and their shells are removed and discarded. What’s left is known as a cacao nib—the base element of all things chocolate.

The cacao nibs are ground into a thick, oily paste called chocolate liquor, which is then separated into two different products: cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Cocoa solids are brown, flavorful, and used to make dark and milk chocolate. Cocoa butter is pure fat and can be used to make white chocolate. Even though they’re made from different components, brown chocolate and white chocolate both come from the same cacao pod.

But just because white chocolate is technically chocolate doesn’t mean everyone recognizes it as such. Outside of its culinary definition, for reasons of taxation and regulation, chocolate also has legal definitions, which are different in every country. In the European Union, chocolate may not have any less than 35 percent dry cocoa solids. In America, chocolate that contains cocoa solids is defined as “sweet chocolate,” whereas white chocolate has its own distinct definition.

What is white chocolate made from?

White chocolate is made by blending cocoa butter with sugar, milk products, vanilla, and lecithin, which is a naturally derived fatty acid that’s used as an emulsifier. According to the Food and Drug Administration, white chocolate must be at least 20 percent cocoa butter and 14 percent milk solids by weight and may not consist of more than 55 percent sugar or any other sweeteners. Past those three mandatory ingredients, the FDA allows white chocolate to be made with any or all of the following ingredients:

  • Emulsifiers
  • Spices
  • Natural and/or artificial flavorings
  • Nuts
  • Coffee
  • Malt
  • Salt
  • Antioxidants

The most common flavoring used in white chocolate is vanilla, but manufacturers are allowed to use almost any sort of flavoring they wish. However the FDA does not allow white chocolate to be flavored with anything that tastes like chocolate, milk, or butter.

What does white chocolate taste like?

A high-quality white chocolate bar will taste rich and buttery, with notes of sweet cream and a luxurious, velvety mouthfeel. Many white chocolates have a hint of vanilla flavoring, which helps intensify the flavor of the cocoa butter. Lower-quality white chocolate is sweeter, as it contains more sugar, which is cheap, and less cocoa butter and dairy, which are more expensive.

White chocolate vs. milk chocolate

White chocolate contains milk and cocoa butter, just like milk chocolate does. But milk chocolate also contains at least 10 percent chocolate solids, whereas white chocolate has none. As for other types of chocolate, semisweet contains about 60 percent chocolate solids, while bittersweet and dark chocolate contain 70 percent or more.

Is white chocolate healthier?

While it’s true that chocolate does have some health benefits, it’s difficult to make the argument that white chocolate is a health food. Even though it contains cocoa butter—which is high in vitamin D2, potassium, phosphorus, iron, copper, and magnesium—the primary ingredient in white chocolate is sugar.

In other words, an alternate answer to the question “what is white chocolate?” is this: an occasional indulgence.

What is the healthiest chocolate?

Chocolate’s most substantial health benefits come from the flavonoids in cocoa solids, so as a rule, the darker the chocolate, the better. If you’re eating chocolate for your heath, stick to dark chocolate with a cocoa percentage of 70 percent or more.

Keep learning about all of your favorite sweet treats by reading up on the history of ice cream and learning about mochi, marshmallow recipes, and milk and cookies.

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Allison Robicelli
Allison Robicelli has nearly 20 years of professional experience in the worlds of food, lifestyle, and parenting. She is the author of three cookbooks, one travel/history book, and has written for a variety of national magazines, websites, and newspapers.