What is white chocolate anyway? It is really chocolate? Is it even worth eating? We’ve got answers from a chocolate expert.
White chocolate might just be the most polarizing sweet in the universe, maybe next to black licorice and candy corn. “That’s not really chocolate!” is a sentiment I often hear when the light-colored candy makes an appearance at one of the guided chocolate tastings I often host in New York.
And it makes sense. For years it’s been considered super saccharine, low-quality chocolate. Across the board, we’re used to eating industrial chocolate, with its subpar ingredients and preservatives, and nowhere do these things taste worse than in white chocolate. Plus, white chocolate does contain much more sugar than dark chocolate or even milk chocolate, and in these wellness-obsessed times, that means it’s often denigrated.
And yet, white chocolate is redeeming itself, in part because French company Valrhona started selling caramelized white chocolate in 2006. Now artisans are making higher-end versions of the stuff that might change your opinion when reaching for a bar.
But First: What Is White Chocolate? And What Ingredients Are in It?
Let’s start with what we know: dark and milk chocolate. Both consist of cocoa solids (the brown stuff, aka cocoa powder) and cocoa butter (the fat). White chocolate, on the other hand, doesn’t have any brown stuff; it just has the fat. Add sugar and milk powder or cream powder and you’re in business. Hey, while you’re there, throw in some cardamom, avocado, or broccoli (yes, that’s a real thing!) for good measure.
Valrhona Chocolate Dulcey Feves, 2 pounds for $33.43 on Amazon
Make desserts with it or eat it straight out of the bag.
Why Is White Chocolate Real Chocolate?
As I write in “Bean-to-Bar Chocolate: America’s Craft Chocolate Revolution,” “in the early 2000s the Hershey Corporation and the Chocolate Manufacturers Association of the United States of America lobbied the FDA successfully. Since 2004 ‘white chocolate’ has been considered chocolate, as long as it contains at least 20 percent cocoa butter, a minimum of 14 percent total milk solids and 3.5 percent milk fat, and a maximum of 55 percent sugar or other sweeteners.”
To make cocoa butter, the central ingredient in white chocolate, you have to separate this fat from the cocoa mass (or chocolate liquor, though there’s no alcohol in it) found naturally in cocoa beans. First cocoa beans are roasted, shelled, and ground into a paste. That paste is then put into a cocoa butter press, which exerts several tons of pressure on it until the fat is essentially squeezed out and all that’s left is defatted chocolate, which looks like the dry cakes my quirky Aunt Shirley makes when she’s on a health kick. If you break up the dry cakes, you get cocoa powder; if you collect the squeezed-out fat, you have cocoa butter.
Most cocoa butter leaves the factory at this stage and goes into our favorite skincare products like Burt’s Bees body lotion. But some of it sticks around and is recombined with cocoa powder and other ingredients to make industrial chocolate.
Bean-to-bar chocolate, on the other hand, is made differently. First the cocoa beans are roasted, shelled, and ground into a paste, then refined further, combined with a little sugar, tempered, and formed into bars. Many bean-to-bar makers don’t make white chocolate bars because they don’t have a cocoa butter press, and when they do, they often use cocoa butter bought from a third party.
And yet, we are living in the golden age of good white chocolate, where bean-to-bar and other artisan makers are turning out delicious, less-sugary versions of this much maligned treat.
What Is the Best White Chocolate to Buy?
After Valrhona premiered its Dulcey chocolate in the naughts, chocolatiers had something more full-flavored to work with (you really can’t beat caramel).
Plus, neutral white chocolate is the perfect backdrop to showcase high-end ingredients, like in Castronovo’s white chocolate infused with lemon oil and lemon salt.
Maison Boissier Parisian Yuzu Infused Chocolate Petals, $39 on Food52
A similar pairing of bright citrus and creamy white chocolate
Chocolat Moderne Passion Fruit Caramel Bar, $10.50 on Mouth
This gorgeous white chocolate bar is filled with tangy passion fruit caramel.
With the recent matcha craze, bars like Eclat’s dark-white-swirled Green Tea and Roasted Rice bar are reminding us chocolate lovers why those toasty flavors mesh so well.
And the proliferation of vegan white chocolate (made with coconut milk) like Map’s Third Snowflake from the Left (vegan ginger white chocolate with dark chocolate chunks) means regardless of dietary restrictions, we can all enjoy the latest trend.
A Word on White Baking Chips
These bags of so-called white chocolate chips are not actually white chocolate (which is why the labels will say “white baking chips,” “white baking morsels,” and the like), because they don’t contain any cocoa butter. Instead, they’re made from palm kernel oil (or similar oils), sugar, powdered dry milk, vanilla, and other ingredients.
Ghirardelli Classic White Chocolate Premium Baking Chips, $3.28 at Walmart
One of the highest rated brands of white baking chips.
While it might seem like a better option to use a white chocolate bar instead, it depends on the effect you’re going for. If you’re mixing white chips into blondies or other baked goods, by all means, use a chopped white chocolate bar instead. But if you’re melting them for a cake pop coating, you’ll get a better texture with the chips. Cook’s Illustrated explains a bit more.
White Chocolate Recipes
Try your hand at these white chocolate recipes (and see which ones call for bars versus “white baking chips”).
You’ll definitely want a good-quality white chocolate bar for this airy, ivory mousse; vanilla intensifies its flavor, and the tart blackberry compote adds a welcome contrast to the sweet, creamy treat (and looks gorgeous too). Get our White Chocolate Mousse with Blackberry Compote recipe.
You’ve seen them in the pastry case, but have you tried making macarons at home? It’s easier than you might think, and definitely worth it. This vanilla version features a white chocolate ganache filling, for which you’ll want to use chopped white chocolate. Get our White Chocolate Macarons recipe.
We call for white chocolate chips (or white baking chips) in this recipe, but you can use chopped white chocolate if you prefer—even blonde chocolate for meta blondies with an extra butterscotch-y flavor. Get our White Chocolate Blondies recipe.
A little odd, we’ll grant you, but surprisingly delicious (and not only in an altered state!) The ramen noodles are cooked and crisped up in the oven, and you’ll want to use melted white baking chips for the drizzle so the coating hardens properly on top. Get our White Chocolate Ramen Bark recipe.
Here’s a proper bark recipe for purists. You can buy higher-quality white chocolate callets or wafers for this confection, but honestly, it’s another instance where you could get away with white baking chips too, because the tart cranberries and citrusy orange zest cut through the sweetness so it’s never cloying. Get our White Chocolate Cranberry Bark recipe.
Header image courtesy of Shutterstock.