All chocolate lovers who read this will know that cocoa butter is a critical natural component of the cocoa bean. Some of you may have seen it also listed in the ingredients of inedible products such as cosmetics, and wondered if it’s a bioidentical product. Turns out, cocoa butter is enormously versatile. In addition to being super important in chocolate, it can be used in baking as well as in moisturizers, makeup, and health care products.
What is Cocoa Butter?
Simply put, cocoa butter is the fatty part of the cocoa bean. Despite the word “butter” being in its name, it actually does not contain any dairy; it’s a pure plant product. The amount of cocoa butter in cocoa beans varies depending on the origin, type of bean, and even weather during the time the cacao pod was growing, but it’s roughly half the weight of the bean. If one were to extract the cocoa butter from a bean, as is done for certain purposes, what would be left is cocoa powder like what you might buy to mix with milk and sugar to make hot chocolate. The cocoa butter, when in solid form, does look a bit like dairy butter because it’s pale yellow. When melted, it’s an oil like any other fat. One can buy it in its natural state, in which case it has a very mild cocoa scent and flavor, or in a “deodorized” state.
Cocoa Butter in Chocolate
All fine chocolate that is made from whole cocoa beans contains the cocoa butter that is naturally in the beans. There are a couple of reasons that a chocolate maker might add more cocoa butter to that naturally present in the beans they are using. Sometimes it’s because they prefer the mouthfeel and texture of chocolate that has more fat. Cocoa butter melts to oil at just below body temperature, which means it melts quickly and makes chocolate feel extra creamy in the mouth. Too much extra cocoa butter can feel unpleasant, so each maker works carefully to find the amount that they prefer. Another reason extra cocoa butter might be added to chocolate is to make a certain type of bean easier to work with, in the same way that you might add extra melted butter or oil to thin a pancake batter.
How Does Soy Lecithin Fit in this Conversation?
You may have also seen soy lecithin listed as an ingredient in chocolate. It does the same thing that added cocoa butter does, that is, making the chocolate seem creamier. Some makers use it instead of cocoa butter for a simple reason. Cocoa butter is expensive! It’s cheaper to add a little soy lecithin. In fact, some makers extract some cocoa butter from the beans they are using to make chocolate with, replace it with soy lecithin, and then sell the extracted cocoa butter for another use!
Does Added Cocoa Butter Change the Percentage of Cocoa in Chocolate?
The short answer to that question is no. Because cocoa butter is still technically part of a cocoa bean, food regulations in the US do not require that it be separated out as an ingredient when calculating the percentage of cacao in a type of chocolate. What that means is that there can be a great difference in the amount of cocoa solids that are in different chocolates even though they are all labeled 70%, for example. These different proportions affect the chocolate’s intensity. So a chocolate labeled 85% cacao that has a lot of added cocoa butter could taste as mild as a 70% cacao bar without any added cocoa butter. Chocolate connoisseurs know to check labels to see what they’re really getting in the percentage of cacao that is advertised on the front of the bar. Tangle Chocolate has no added cocoa butter.
A Note About White Chocolate
Simple good quality white chocolate consists of cocoa butter, sugar, and milk. Bad quality white chocolate uses other, cheaper fats to mix with sugar and milk. Check the labels.
Other Uses for Cocoa Butter
Because cocoa butter comes from a plant, it’s vegan. That means it’s a wonderful fat for vegan diets and can be used just as butter would be used in cooking and baking. It is a healthy saturated fat. Cocoa butter is also a common ingredient in high-quality skincare products: lip balms, lotions, moisturizers, and makeup. It offers numerous benefits, such as hydrating your skin, nourishing your skin with vitamins, and creating a protective layer to hold in moisture. It contains plant compounds called phytochemicals, which aid in improving blood flow and slowing the aging process that may come from the sun's UV rays. It can also help prevent skin diseases, and there is some research that supports cocoa butter being used to help minimize stretch marks during pregnancy.
How to Buy Cocoa Butter
If you’d like to try cocoa butter in your cooking or experiment with it as a simple moisturizer or lip balm, you can pick some up most likely at your natural food store. If they don’t sell it, there are a number of chocolate companies that offer it for sale, including this wonderful resource for chocolate lovers: https://chocolatealchemy.com/. Important: be sure you are buying food grade butter if you’re planning to use it for cooking or you care about purity.
Remember, read your labels, discover what you like by trying all kinds of chocolate that come your way, and enjoy!