Artisan makers are turning their attention to the once-dismissed confection, with delicious results.
For years, connoisseurs dismissed white chocolate — a confection made with cocoa butter, milk solids and sugar, but with none of the cocoa solids that give darker chocolate its recognizable flavor and color. “White chocolate or white lie?” one online video asks. The host opens with: “If you love white chocolate, I hate to break it to you. You’re not eating chocolate.”
Besides the absence of cocoa solids, the reputation stems from the fact that white-chocolate products often contain such additives as palm oil and other fillers, plus an excess of sweeteners. But a growing number of specialty-chocolate companies are now giving the same attention to white chocolate as dark or milk chocolate, and trying to highlight the ways it can showcase flavor.
A cocoa bean is made up of roughly equal parts cocoa butter and cacao nibs. Cocoa butter is what gives chocolate its rich mouthfeel, and the nibs hold most of the distinctive smell and taste. Absent of nibs, “white chocolate is basically just sweet fat,” says Clay Gordon, creator of the Chocolate Life website, “with a melt that is unencumbered by the nonfat cocoa solids, or cocoa powder.” For a chocolate to be labeled as chocolate, as opposed to candy, the Food and Drug Administration requires that the bar be made up of at least 10 percent cocoa mass (nibs plus the cocoa fat inherent to the bean), with no specifications about cocoa butter. White chocolate, on the other hand, has to have a cocoa butter content of at least 20 percent and does not require the inclusion of nibs. The FDA established these standards in 2004 in response to petitions filed by the Hershey Company and the Chocolate Manufacturers Association (now part of the National Confectioners Association).
Pastry chef and cookbook author David Lebovitz, an avowed white-chocolate fan, disputes the idea that it’s not really chocolate. “Bickering over the nomenclature becomes tiring,” he said in an email. “We still call hamburgers by that name, even though they are not made of ham, and milkshakes actually aren’t shaken these days, but blended. So I think it’s OK to group white chocolate in with the rest of the variety of things made from cacao beans, since they all have the same base.”
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