What Makes 'Industrial Chocolate' Different from 'Craft Chocolate'

It looks like chocolate. It says "chocolate" on the label. 

But is it chocolate?

That depends on who you ask.

I recently asked The Latest Batch chocolate maker, Jay, about a topic I wanted to understand better. I had heard that some companies make their chocolate by mixing cocoa powder with some form of fat or oil.

It sounded strange. (Why not grind the whole beans, like we do?) But it's true.

Jay calls this "industrial chocolate." And to put it simply, he doesn't approve.

Today, I want to share why. (A hint: It's not just because of flavor.) 

For those of you who are new to the chocolate world, "craft chocolate" makers start with whole, fermented and dried cacao beans. They typically roast these beans, "winnow" them to remove the outer husks, then grind them and mix in the other ingredients, like sugar. (You can learn about our full chocolate-making process, right here.)

With industrial chocolate, a lot more is going on. Big chocolate makers often get cacao of varying degrees of quality. Some may be moldy. Some may be under-fermented, extremely bitter, or overly acidic. For all kinds of reasons, the cacao they use often has all kinds of "off" flavors.

Costa rican cacao 

For them, the key to success becomes processing cacao in a way that neutralizes those off flavors. The end result has to be consistent. And it has to be palatable to the mass market. 

In other words, it has to taste less bad. 

How do they do it? 

They start by roasting the beans at high temperatures - a dark roast. Then, they...

Divide and Conquer

Cacao beans are approximately half fat (what we call cocoa butter) and half "cocoa mass." By pressing the roasted, partially ground beans, you can separate the two. 

The cocoa mass may still have as much as 10% fat. It still carries most of its original flavors. And its acidic. For the industrial chocolate maker, this is a problem.

Acidic fats don't dissolve easily. They don't flow through the machines well. And we already talked about those off flavors. So they treat it with an alkaline solution, like lye. And they kill lots of birds with a single stone... 

Gone is the acidity. Gone are the bitterness and off flavors. And unfortunately, gone too are a lot of the nutritional properties.

What you're left with is a stable alkalized cocoa powder with a consistently flat flavor. It can be used in commercial hot chocolate mixes, candy coatings, or as an ingredient in chocolate bars.

At the other end, you have cocoa butter - the most valuable byproduct of processing cacao. 

The cocoa butter carries a lot of flavor from the original beans, too. So for industrial uses, it's usually clarified (or filtered) in its liquid form. Then it's bleached to stabilize it and neutralize off flavors. 

Because cocoa butter is valuable, it's not always added back to the cocoa powder to make chocolate. It's used in coatings and glazes… It's used in cosmetics, balms, and conditioners… And interestingly, it's used in suppositories.

Of course, chocolate needs some fat. So industrial chocolate makers can do a few things to mimic cocoa butter.

I'll share what I learned from Jay on that front - along with more of the cons of the industrial process - next week in Part II. As a bonus, Jay also explains one of the simplest, quickest ways tell whether or not the chocolate bar you see on the shelf is "industrial chocolate."

Until next time, as we say in Costa Rica, pura vida, 

Ben Morris