Is white chocolate a chocolate?

27th October 2023

By: Riaan de Lange


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Is there such a thing as white chocolate? I remember, while growing up, my grandmother, who owned a roadhouse and a café, telling me that there was no such thing. She told me that white chocolate was a combination of sweeteners and condensed milk; thus, it was a con for it to be called chocolate.

In her opinion, there was no such thing as white chocolate. Although she stocked it – grudgingly – it was hidden away. I always shuddered when a customer asked for a white chocolate bar, as the bars would have become aged commodities. This was long before expiry dates were a thing.

So, when I saw the International Trade Administration Commission of South Africa’s (Itac’s) Government Gazette notice of October 13 (Friday the 13th; how appropriate) in respect of the bulk importation of white chocolate, I had to employ my favourite search engine to put this matter to rest once and for all. I had to ask: Is white chocolate really chocolate?

The top result was from Warrell Creations, a chocolate contract manufacturer, which offered an answer to this exact question. Warrell Creations first explained that chocolate comes from the fruit of cacao trees, which grow in various parts of the world. The football-sized fruits are called pods, and one cacao tree produces about 30 pods. Each pod has 40 to 50 seeds inside.

Once the pods are ripe, they are carefully removed from the tree and taken to a processing facility, where the employees will extract, dry and roast the beans. The employees start by removing the outer shell of the cacao beans, leaving behind pure cocoa nibs – the key ingredient for making chocolate. The cocoa nibs are then ground into a paste called chocolate liquor. Just in case you are wondering, and want to search for this ‘beverage’, it is not actually alcoholic; rather, it is called liquor as it flows in liquid form. Chocolate liquor is further processed to produce cocoa butter, a fat that gives chocolate its luscious, smooth mouthfeel. Ultimately, chocolatiers blend various amounts of chocolate liquor and cocoa butter to make different kinds of chocolate: dark, milk and white.

Well, there is a reference to ‘white’, but the question is still not answered. Warrell Creations continues with its explanation, stating that white chocolate comes from the same cocoa beans as regular chocolate but – yes, there is always a ‘but’ – it bypasses several of the production steps. White chocolate does not have cocoa or chocolate liquor. It is, in fact, made of cocoa butter blended with a combination of sugar, cream, milk and vanilla flavouring.

So, my grandmother seems to have been correct in her assessment. Warrell Creation concludes that, while these ingredients make white chocolate sweet and creamy, they have also given rise to dissenting opinions on whether white chocolate is real chocolate. The absence of cacao components and the addition of fillers and excess sweeteners has made some wonder why white chocolate is even called chocolate. Well, that leaves the debate unsettled then. For my money, white chocolate is not chocolate, and neither are the commercial chocolate bars – the milk bars. My point of qualification is for a chocolate bar to have a cocoa content in excess of 50%.

Should you find yourself in the ‘white chocolate’ confection industry, you might be interested in Itac’s six-page notice on the “guidelines, rules and conditions pertaining to bulk white chocolate classifiable under tariff subheading 1 704.90 imported in terms of Rebate Item 460.04/1704.90/01.06, for the manufacture of white chocolate, in immediate packaging of a content of 25 kg or more, classifiable in tariff subheading in 1 704.90, for use in the manufacture of chocolate containing cocoa, in blocks, slabs or bars, classifiable in tariff subheading 1806.3, and other chocolates classified in tariff subheading 1806.90, in such quantities, at such times and subject to such conditions as Itac may allow by specific permit, provided the product is not available in the Southern African Customs Union market”.

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor



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