Is White Chocolate Actually Chocolate?

It’s a question that can stump even your most intellectual friends: Is white chocolate really chocolate?

Given that the term “white chocolate” literally contains the word “chocolate,” anyone could be forgiven for thinking the answer is “yes”. But the dark chocolate purists in your midst will probably be quick to tell you that white chocolate is nothing like their preferred treats.

If you’re a white chocolate lover, brace yourself for what’s about to follow: Unfortunately, the (purists/sticklers) win this round. White chocolate is not, in fact, actual chocolate. Here’s why.

What’s the Deal with White Chocolate?

In order to qualify as chocolate, a product must contain cocoa solids. And white chocolate does no such thing. Instead, it’s usually made from a combination of cocoa butter, lecithin (a fatty emulsifier), milk products, sugar, and vanilla.

“But wait!,” the white chocolate lovers might say. “Doesn’t the cocoa butter count as chocolate?”

The answer is once again, “nope”. Cocoa butter is derived from cocoa beans, but it doesn’t contain the cocoa solids that define chocolate. Here’s how it works: When cocoa beans are harvested, they’re extracted from their pods and then put through a fairly lengthy process that involves being fermented, dried, roasted, opened, and shelled. Inside of that shell is the chocolate nib, which then gets ground into a paste to form chocolate liquor. That liquor then gets divided into cocoa solids (which are responsible for providing the chocolatey flavor and brown color found in dark and milk chocolates) and cocoa butter (which is essentially just fat without much flavor).

Only cocoa butter (not cocoa solids) is used in the process of making white chocolate. Because the cocoa butter doesn’t really taste all that great on its own, it gets added to the other ingredients listed above in order to confer the smoothness and sweetness that you probably associate with white chocolate. In the U.S., the FDA mandates that white chocolate contains at least 20 percent cocoa butter, 14 percent milk solids, and 3.5 percent milk fat. Sugars and other sweeteners must be limited to no more than 55 percent of the product.

All of that is to say: It’s true that one of the primary ingredients in white chocolate is derived from cacao beans, which makes it a pretty close relative of dark and milk chocolate. But because white chocolate doesn’t contain any of the cocoa solids that confer chocolatey flavor, it simply can’t qualify as actual chocolate per current standards.

Of course, this doesn’t mean white chocolate isn’t a worthy treat in its own right. Many people prefer its flavor and texture over dark and milk chocolate, and it’s frequently used in a variety of baking projects.

Bottom line? White chocolate may not technically be chocolate, but it is delicious. And that alone is enough reason to embrace dark chocolate’s slightly offbeat cousin.