We’ve all come across substances in chocolate that we couldn’t identify, much alone desire to consume in our bodies: E492, vanillin, cocoa butter replacement, artificial flavor, and so on. I’m not even talking about chocolate inclusions, which are a completely separate matter (which I cover here).
Nevertheless we continue to consume these mystery chocolates, mostly because we are unaware that there are better choices available. As a starting point, these are the essential elements in chocolate:
- Cacao beans
- Cocoa Butter
- Milk Powder (in milk and white chocolates)
A high-quality chocolate will typically include just two components in a dark chocolate, three in a white chocolate, and four in a milk chocolate, with certain exceptions for flavored chocolates (see below). There are other components in your chocolate bar that aren’t odd or hazardous, but we’ll get to them in a minute. So, if you chose wisely, the 9.5 pounds of chocolate consumed by the typical American will provide you with the numerous touted advantages of eating chocolate.
High-quality chocolate contains magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, and manganese, as well as antioxidants and heart-healthy flavanols. Chocolate has been shown to produce serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin, which are all recognized as feel-good neurotransmitters. Yet, it has been demonstrated to enhance your immune system and lower overall inflammation when ingested on a regular basis. Therefore, let’s see which chocolate compounds have the greatest beneficial effects!
- 1 Cocoa Beans (Cocoa)
- 2 Chocolate Butter (Cacao Butter)
- 3 Sugar (Cane & Otherwise) (Cane & Otherwise)
- 4 Milks (Powdered) (Powdered)
- 5 Lecithin (Soy, Sunflower, Etc) (Soy, Sunflower, Etc.)
- 6 Additional Chocolate Ingredients
- 7 Questions about Chocolate Ingredients
Cocoa Beans (Cocoa)
There is no chocolate without cacao beans. Cacao beans, often known as cacao or cocoa, are the fruit of the tropical tree Theobroma cacao. These are the plant’s seeds, and they go through a lengthy procedure before being used to make chocolate.
After harvest, they are promptly fermented, dried, packed, exported, sorted, roasted, peeled, and crushed into chocolate liquor. Cacao beans exported across seas must be fumigated before being inspected and unloaded into the nation, even if they are organic. The other chocolate components are frequently added after that (see below).
When chocolate liquor is processed on its own, the end product is known as cacao mass or 100% chocolate. It may be used for seasoning, baking, and a variety of other gastronomic purposes. Cacao is naturally around 50% fat, hence this cacao mass is occasionally pressed for its fat (called cocoa butter). This method results in a cacao cake, which is processed into cocoa powder and occasionally alkalized or dutched (both words mean that it was chemically treated to standardize the & flatten the flavor).
Cacao is beneficial to your health. As a result, chocolate is healthful as long as there isn’t too much sugar or other bad elements. Cacao is inherently healthful since it is abundant in magnesium and potassium, as well as heart-protective antioxidants.
Several years ago, it was even fashionable to eat 70% dark chocolates for their health advantages. Nevertheless, over time, we’ve realized two things: 1) not all 70% chocolate is made equal, and 2) you can receive these cacao advantages at any proportion; they may simply be negated by the other elements in the chocolate.
Cacao is also known as cocoa beans, cacao beans, cocoa nibs, cacao nibs, cocoa liquor, cacao liquor, chocolate liquor, cocoa solids, cacao solids, cocoa mass, cacao mass, baking chocolate, bakers chocolate, unsweetened chocolate, or simply chocolate in ingredient lists.
Chocolate Butter (Cacao Butter)
While there is a wealth of information available on cocoa butter (also known as cacao butter), it remains a mystery to many. If you’re like me, you grew up hearing about cocoa butter since it was thought to be good for stretch marks and dry skin; there was even a small yellow tube of it you could purchase at the drugstore. So what exactly is cocoa butter, and what does it have to do with the cocoa bean?
Cacao butter is the fat extracted from the seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree, a South American tropical plant. It accounts for about half of each cacao bean, and humans have been using its special properties ever since they discovered how to extract it. The Aztecs used to froth up cacao drinks by pouring them between vessels, with the cacao beans cocoa butter thickening the liquid and retaining its hot chocolate foaminess.
Several decades later, chocolate producers discovered how to extract cocoa butter from the seeds, and people started to use it topically. Cacao butter melts at body temperature and is believed to aid in skin healing and moisture retention, as well as being a fragrant addition to any body care regimen.
Palmitic, linoleic, stearic, and oleic fats account for 99% of cocoa butter. Just one of these four is detrimental for your heart (palmitic acid), with the other three being either neutral or actively beneficial to heart health. Cocoa butter is irreplaceable in the plant world since it is completely unique, yet it doesn’t stop firms from attempting.
Sugar (Cane & Otherwise) (Cane & Otherwise)
Although sugar is often reviled, it is a necessary evil in the case of chocolate. Chocolate’s fundamental component, cacao, may be rather bitter and lacks any natural sweetness, therefore it’s important to balance out the alkaloids that make it bitter while also making it healthful. But don’t worry, contemporary taste miracles have made it possible to have a milk chocolate with a greater cacao content and less sugar than your regular dark chocolate. The secret to chocolate sugar is balance.
Several manufacturers are now using sugar-free substitutes or just other sweeteners, such as coconut sugar. The most common sugar used in chocolate is still white sugar, which is sourced from beets or sugarcane, although other forms and kinds of sweeteners are fast gaining favor. Among the most often used sweeteners are:
- White Sugar (Refined Sugar)
- Raw Sugar (Unrefined Sugar, Evaporated Cane Juice)
- Coconut Sugar (similar to Palm Sugar)
- Maple Sugar
- Honey (*only used in high-moisture products)
- Erythritol or Xylitol
- Monk Fruit or Stevia (usually in conjunction with Erythritol)
Milks (Powdered) (Powdered)
However, adding milk or heavy cream to chocolate is only used to make truffles, not milk chocolate. Chocolate cannot absorb liquids like milk due to its high fat content, hence powdered milk must be used. Typically, a chocolate maker would use just one milk powder in their chocolates, but in recent years, several chocolatiers have began to prefer using milk substitutes in order to manufacture vegan-friendly milk or white chocolates. In these circumstances, the macronutrient profile of the powdered milk replacement is critical, and appropriate (powdered) alternatives for powdered milk include:
- Coconut Milk
- Oat Milk
- Rice Milk
- Soy Milk
- Almond Milk
Lecithin (Soy, Sunflower, Etc) (Soy, Sunflower, Etc.)
Even in the world of handmade chocolate, this is a very ubiquitous chocolate component. Lecithin is a brownish-yellow liquid composed of phospholipids coupled to choline molecules. It may be present in both animal tissues (including eggs) and several plants, most notably soy, sunflower, cottonseed, and rapeseed. It is used in trace quantities to reduce the viscosity of chocolate, and I created a whole essay on the many lecithins in chocolate. Although I think the method by which lecithins are extracted to be problematic (it requires hexane and occasionally bleach), they are used therapeutically to stabilize cholesterol, thus a little lecithin is unlikely to hurt you.
Additional Chocolate Ingredients
Oils from Vegetables
Chocolate contains a variety of vegetable oils, including palm oil, palm kernel oil, coconut oil, sunflower oil, shea oil, and safflower oil. Apart for coconut oil and a few palm oils, all of these are liquid at room temperature and should not be in your chocolate. When there is vegetable oil in chocolate, it is used to substitute part or all of the cocoa butter, which is a considerably more costly and valuable component when sold to cosmetics businesses. When you read vegetable oil on an ingredient list, it is invariably coupled with TBHQ, a preservative that will be explored more below.
Vanilla is one of the most prevalent chocolate additions, and it is one of the originals: Aztecs utilized vanilla seeds to flavor their ancient cacao drinks. The vanilla plant’s seeds, or beans, are native to modern-day Mexico, but are now used as a flavour all over the globe. Since vanilla cannot be naturally pollinated outside of its native Mexico, it must be hand-pollinated when produced commercially, a costly undertaking that explains why it is one of the world’s most expensive commodities.
Vanilla extract differs from vanilla beans in that its intensity varies depending on the producer. Real vanilla beans vary significantly from natural vanilla taste or vanillin, which is derived from tree bark (natural, of course, but definitely not vanilla). If you taste vanilla directly, you will find that it has a little flowery aroma as well as a bitter flavor, which is why it is typically kept out of handmade chocolate bars so that it does not add to the bitterness of the bar.
Flavors, both natural and artificial
It is difficult to identify natural and artificial tastes since there are so many possible sources. While the difference is dependent on the source, the phrase is actually used as a catch-all for any flavoring ingredient manufactured in a lab. Natural flavorings can only be produced from technically edible materials (including animals), but artificial flavorings may be created from anything, including petroleum and mud.
According to this article, unless the ingredients contain a common allergy such as milk, egg, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts, or soy, the FDA does not require food labels to state what is in their natural flavor.
When flavoring compounds are utilized but the origin of such flavors is not mentioned, this might be a possible cause of allergic responses to chocolate. Some frequent artificial tastes include raspberry, vanilla, and even coconut, which we would suppose are simple to purchase but may not be cost-effective for a corporation to employ directly. The point is that natural and artificial tastes may be a minefield if you have a sensitive stomach or follow a strict diet.
TBHQ, or tert-Butylhydroquinone, is a food preservative that is often used to increase the shelf life of unsaturated fats, such as the vegetable oils that are commonly found on the ingredient lists of low-cost chocolates. TBHQ is considered an irritant and an environmental concern at higher concentrations. Yet, in the comparatively modest levels used in a chocolate bar, it is regarded as an antioxidant since it serves to protect unsaturated fats from rancidity. These vegetable fats are used in lieu of additional cocoa butter, which has a longer shelf life but is much more costly than vegetable oils.
This is another another ingredient used to minimize the quantity of cocoa butter required in chocolate. PGPR is generated from castor bean or soybean with polyglycerol and is often used in combination with lecithin to enhance viscosity. It is widely used in compound chocolate (chocolate produced without the addition of cocoa butter), since the mixture would not come together as readily otherwise.
Questions about Chocolate Ingredients
The term chocolate suggests that someone is talking about chocolate in general, while chocolate means that they are talking about chocolate truffles or bonbons (filled chocolate).
Growing and collecting cacao pods, breaking them and extracting the seeds, fermenting the seeds, drying them, packaging and exporting them, washing and sorting the cacao, roasting the cocoa beans, peeling them, and finally grinding them into a paste are all phases in the chocolate producing process. With the addition of sugar and any additional ingredients, the mass is refined and conched for 24-72 hours before being tempered and molded for packing.
Cacao beans are the most significant and sole needed component in chocolate, while sugar is the second most important.
Is there anything more I should know about chocolate? Leave a comment and I’ll look them up!
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