What Makes 'Industrial Chocolate' Different from 'Craft Chocolate,' Part II

It's the same substance… but not the same essence.

I recently asked The Latest Batch (TLB) chocolate maker, Jay, about chocolate that is made by mixing cocoa powder with some form of fat or oil.

Jay calls this "industrial chocolate." And as he noted in the quote above, it's not like the "craft chocolate" we make at TLB.

In Part I of "What Makes 'Industrial Chocolate' Different From 'Craft Chocolate'," we looked at how industrial chocolate is made. The short version is, it's processed heavily to create a consistent product...

"The process is the product," Jay explained. "No human skill is required." No matter the origin, variety, or quality of the ingredients, the mass market will recognize the same exact chocolatey taste, every time. (Follow the link above for more details.)

Today, in Part II, we'll look at some of the drawbacks of industrial chocolate. They may not be easily visible. But they do exist... especially for folks who enjoy chocolate for its flavors or health benefits. (Yes, we mean you!)

We'll also show you one of the simplest ways to tell whether or not that chocolate bar on the shelf is "industrial chocolate."

Let's start with the drawbacks...

In Part I, we explained that after the cacao beans are roasted at high temperatures, the cocoa butter is separated from the cocoa mass. Then, for multiple reasons, the cocoa mass is often treated with an alkaline solution…

Unfortunately, a lot of the nutritional compounds in cacao - including flavonoids and other polyphenols - are sensitive to changes in pH and temperature. And between roasting, alkalizing, and intense grinding, industrial processes involve major pH and temperature changes.

In other words, industrial processes degrade or destroy some of the most valuable nutrients in cacao. (You can learn more about the health benefits of dark chocolate and flavonoids on our website, right here.)

The cocoa powder is added back in as an ingredient in the chocolate. But some of the cocoa butter - which is the most valuable byproduct of processing cacao - is often replaced with other fats.

About two-thirds of the fat in cocoa butter comes in the forms of stearic acid and oleic acid. Stearic acid has been shown to improve cholesterol levels. And oleic acid - the main fatty acid in olive oil - may benefit cardiovascular health and reduce inflammation.

Replacing cocoa butter with other fats will almost always mean your chocolate has fewer health benefits.

Along with the health drawbacks, chocolate lovers won't be surprised to hear that industrial processing kills flavor, too. For industrial chocolate, though, that's not an issue…

Large-scale chocolate makers rarely use fine-flavor cacao in their chocolate. Or if they do, it's by accident. And it's mixed in with a lot of other, less flavorful cacao.

Industrial chocolate makers aim to remove all of the unique (often unpleasant) flavors in their cacao. They aim to make it less bad.

As craft chocolate makers, we aim to process the cacao as little as possible… while still creating an enjoyable chocolate. We want to retain as much of the cacao's original, unique flavor properties as possible. And that means, if we want to make delicious chocolate, we can use only the best ingredients we can find.

Jay explained to me that he loves chocolate because he can engage with the whole process. He likes getting the best ingredients… and working with those ingredients in the country of origin. (With TLB, that means in Costa Rica.)

That's because, as he said, "Chocolate is really made on the farm." Growing, fermenting, and drying cacao account for the vast majority of a finished chocolate's flavors.

The more Jay partakes in the process - and the more influence he has on it - the more joy he has in making, eating, and sharing The Latest Batch chocolate.

Finally, a tip for how you can spot industrial chocolate on the shelf…

Emulsifiers like "soy lecithin" or "sunflower lecithin" reduce chocolate's viscosity. They make chocolate flow better through machines... which makes everything cheaper and more efficient. They're a fail-safe. And they're essential for large-scale chocolate makers.

Craft chocolate makers are often so committed to and involved with their chocolate that using emulsifiers isn't necessary. Or if they need to make the chocolate flow better, they'll add cocoa butter.

Not all companies that use emulsifiers do the things we talked about above. But there's a good chance these companies are more interested in cost and efficiency than they are in flavor.

At TLB, we use only cocoa beans, lightly processed, unrefined cane sugar, and cocoa butter in our dark chocolate. (That is, unless we flavor it with ingredients like whole vanilla beans or cardamom.)

All our high-quality ingredients come from farmers we know by name, in Costa Rica. And we press our own cocoa butter with the same cacao beans we use to make the chocolate. This maximizes the flavor potential. And it means all our chocolate is uniquely Costa Rican.

Industrial chocolate may have a lot of the same substance. But it is not the same.

As always, you can find our Latest Batch of fresh chocolate, right here.

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

Ben Morris