Why are people sneaking it into my breakfast?
white chocolate bar
Credit: illustration by lauren kolm

Anyone who knows me is fully aware that I will eat almost anything as long as it is dipped, filled, covered, coated, or drowning in chocolate—even chocolate-covered bacon, which was unsurprisingly delicious. It may sound odd then that I vehemently detest white chocolate because you’re probably thinking, “Wait, but that’s chocolate, and you just sai…” Let me stop you right there.

White chocolate is not chocolate. There are no cocoa solids in white chocolate. It shouldn’t even be called chocolate. It’s just candy. Let me be clear when I say that I will not eat the imposter plain, and I will especially not eat it in my breakfast where it seems to frequently rear its ghostly head. Not in my pancakes, not in my scones, not in my mochas, not in my house.

So for your sake, and because I’ve been angry about this for 23 years, I’m going to tell you exactly what is in white chocolate. The main ingredient in white chocolate (I’m only calling it that for clarity’s sake) is actually cocoa butter. And before you go thinking that's chocolate, cocoa butter is just a part of the highly complex chocolate harvesting and production process.

Most of us know that chocolate starts its long journey in a cacao pod. When ripe, the seeds (you know them as beans) are harvested, fermented for up to a week, and dried. Once the seeds reach their destination, the chocolatiers roast them and begin the winnowing process. That’s when the thin, dry shells (similar to that of peanuts) are removed revealing the cocoa nibs. Depending on the chocolatier's taste and production preferences, they'll do the next step a little differently (ever heard of stone-ground chocolate?), but their purpose remains the same. The nibs go through particle reduction to break down the nibs and sugar into smaller bits called chocolate liquor.

Still with me? Here is where the cocoa butter comes in, and no it has nothing to do with stretch marks: The chocolate liquor can be separated into cocoa solids (the yummy flavor) and cocoa butter (the fat which is then re-added to give chocolate that melt-in-your-mouth goodness). Cocoa butter on its own does not taste like chocolate, and is not chocolate, because it doesn’t contain any chocolate solids. In fact the butter is pretty gross on its own, so to take the butter and turn it into white chocolate a whole bunch of sugary, non-chocolate ingredients must be added. So what you’re eating is just cocoa butter, milk solids, milk fats, sugar (lots of it), lecithin (a fatty emulsifier), and sometimes extracts or flavorings like vanilla. No thanks.

And while not all white chocolates are created equal—some people claim that there are artisan styles that are actually quite tasty—the FDA had to put a standard of identity in place for white chocolate in 2004 to prevent manufacturers from making the stuff even more fake with vegetable oils and other gross ingredients. So whether you get the crappy white stuff or the supposedly nicer ivory-colored stuff (you’ll never see me with either), it must contain at least 20 percent cocoa butter, 14 percent milk solids, 3.5 percent milk fat, and no more than 55 percent sugar or other sweeteners.

If you take anything away from this story, it should be that white chocolate is made from one byproduct of making actual chocolate. So for all of you cookies and cream candy bar-loving heathens, keep eating your non-chocolate garbage, but please just stop calling it chocolate.