In my world, there are two types of people: those who like white chocolate and those who don’t. It’s worth noting that the latter tend to be insane.
I’ll be the first to admit that I used to hate white chocolate. In my young and naïve mind, white chocolate paled in comparison—not just in color—to its milk and dark cousins. I’d eat chocolate with nuts, caramel or practically anything—it didn’t matter. If it were chocolate, I would eat it. But white chocolate would never pass my lips.
The thing was I had never actually tried white chocolate. I just thought it looked weird. Apparently my younger self didn’t get the memo on the whole, “Don’t judge a book by its cover?” adage.
The first time I ate white chocolate, it was a Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Cream candy bar (the cookies part was the main selling point). It wasn’t the most graceful entrance into the world of white chocolate, it was Hershey’s after all, but it was the push I needed.
Taking the first bite of white chocolate was unlike anything I had ever tasted. It was creamy and rich, but without any of the bitter aftertaste darker chocolate has. The chocolate tasted like caramel and intensely of vanilla. It was cloyingly sweet, but for my sugar-obsessed self, it was perfect and addictive.
As the years passed and I fell deeper into the splendid world of white chocolate, I realized something: a lot of people passionately hated white chocolate. These people had tried it and absolutely hated it. They didn’t even think it was legally chocolate. But why?
Chocolate comes from cocoa beans, which are harvested, removed from the pods, fermented, dried and roasted. After all of this, they’re cracked open in a process called winnowing. The process produces cocoa nibs, pure unground chocolate with no sugar added.
To go from nibs to chocolate, the nibs are ground into a paste, called chocolate liquor. The chocolate liquor is separated into cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Cocoa solids (the ground beans) make chocolate—real chocolate. However, white chocolate, as Bon Appétit magazine explains, doesn’t contain cocoa solids and therefore isn’t technically categorized as chocolate.
But don’t go screaming, “I told you it’s not chocolate!” quite yet. White chocolate is just a different kind of chocolate. Instead of adding cocoa solids, chocolate makers add milk solids and often powered milk. Along with the rich cocoa butter, this gives white chocolate its luscious and silky taste in addition to its creamy white color.
It’s possible the addition of powdered milk is how white chocolate was created. Nestle is often credited with inventing white chocolate, although its origins are ambiguous. During World War I, there was a high demand for powdered milk and Nestle, wanting to cash in on this need, acquired companies that manufactured powdered milk. When the war ended and fresh milk became available again, Nestle had massive amounts of powdered milk on their hands. So they put it in their chocolate, making one of the first white chocolate bars.
White chocolate isn’t just great for snacking; it’s a baker’s paradise. White chocolate’s smooth and delicate taste adds sweetness and complexity to ice cream, brownies, ganaches and hot chocolate. Its less aggressive taste pairs wonderfully with flavors like cardamom, citrus and ginger. When matched with dark chocolate, white chocolate’s subtle richness mellows out that of the dark, making for a heavenly combination.
I know despite the amount of white chocolate knowledge I just threw down, haters are going to hate. There’s even a Facebook page called, “I HATE WHITE CHOCOLATE!!!” [sic]. The group’s description says, “White chocolate makes me sick.” But white chocolate haters are clearly crazy because it says the page was created in 1999, even though Facebook started in 2005.
Perhaps one of the issues with white chocolate is that it’s difficult to cook with. White chocolate is comprised of two fats: milk solids and cocoa butter. These fats melt at two different temperatures, which means melted white chocolate can turn out lumpy and gross. To avoid this Saveurmagazine offers a simple solution: chop the white chocolate into tiny pieces and stir constantly “in a bowl over a hot water bath, or in the microwave for 30-second increments,” which allows the chocolate to melt evenly.
Another problem is that most stores don’t sell quality white chocolate. In fact, most of the stuff in your average supermarket isn’t really white chocolate at all. In a lot of mass-produced white chocolate, cocoa butter is swapped out for cheaper fats, like vegetable oil. Additives like extra vanilla and sugar are added to compensate for the lack of cocoa butter, which worsens the quality of the chocolate.
Fortunately, good white chocolate production is on the rise. In 2002 the Food and Drug Administration created standards for the amount of milk solids, fat and cocoa butter needed for chocolate to be classified as “white chocolate.” Artisanal producers are also taking up white chocolate, which is making quality white chocolate more available than ever.
Despite this, there’s still a lot of poor-quality white chocolate on the market. If you want to sort the good from bad, look at the ingredient list. Real white chocolate has four principal ingredients: cocoa butter, sugar, milk (milk solids) and vanilla. If these ingredients aren’t there, it’s not the real stuff.
The bottom line is that, assuming a certain quality, every chocolate has its merit. David Lebovitz, sweet guru and author of The Sweet Life in Paris and The Perfect Scoop, explains the importance of remaining chocolate objective: “There’s nothing odder to me than people who say, ‘I don’t like white chocolate because it’s not chocolate!’ Which is like saying, ‘I don’t like white wine…because it’s not champagne!’” We have to appreciate white chocolate for what it is. Eat it up. Because even the haters know, it’s pretty dang delicious.