Chocolate

February 16, 2005

כי תשב ללחום מושל, בין תבין את אשר לפניך (משלי כ“ג א’ ). The Mefarshim explain this posuk to mean that when one sits down to a meal, one should understand the factors at work. Few foods inflame gastronomic or kosher related emotions as passionately as chocolate, and the halachic issues relating to the cocoa בין are quite worthy of our analysis. Enjoyed by the Aztec and Inca for thousands of years, chocolate was enjoyed by Cortez in the court of Montezuma, brought to Europe by the Spaniards and improved upon by the intrepid Dutch. Processes and components have increased over the centuries, affording us new halachic issues and problems with which to contend. The purpose of this article is to clarify the terms used relating to chocolate and to highlight some interesting halachic considerations. In the world of chocolate, “butter” is not milchig, “liquor” is non-alcoholic, “chocolate” may contain meat, and it should have a temper.

The various types of cacao trees, from which the cocoa bean is derived, are collectively known by the name theobrama (food of the gods) and grow in tropical areas of the Americas and Africa. The pods, which grow on the tree, are allowed to ferment naturally after harvesting. The beans are then removed, roasted, and the “meats” inside the bean are broken into small pieces called nibs. These nibs are then ground to yield a viscous liquid called chocolate liquor. The Aztecs mixed this liquor with hot water to create a much prized, if bitter, beverage-hence the term chocolate from the Mexican Indian choco (foam) and atl (water). When Cortez introduced the beverage to Europe, his market surveys indicated that Europeans preferred a sweeter beverage, and by 1580 hot chocolate flavored with sugar and vanilla was in common use in Spain. Interestingly, it is claimed that Jewish traders brought the drink to France, from where its use spread throughout Europe. While the history of chocolate as a hot beverage may seem pedantic, its halachic implications are quite significant. The שערי תשובה סימן ר“ב ס“ק י“ט discusses the appropriate bracha that one should make on chocolate, and quotes several sources that it is a shehakol (עיין שם בשם הדברי יוסף סימן י“ד וז“ל וכן עמא דבר, ובשם שו“ת שמש צדקה). However, Dayan Gavriel Kraus in his Sefer Mekor HaBracha (סימן כ“א) argues that the correct bracha for chocolate which we eat today should be borei pri ha’eitz. As we will see, eating chocolate is a relatively recent innovation, first appearing in 1845. In contradistinction to the chocolate beverage available for the previous 200 years, which is predominantly water, eating chocolate is predominantly chocolate liquor with sugar and additional fat added. Since the cocoa beans were grown for the purpose of making chocolate, such chocolate should retain its חשיבות – and bracha – as a fruit. Rabbi Kraus argues that the sources mentioned by the Sha’arei Teshuva for a shehakol related only to the chocolate beverage available at the time, and the current practice of making a shehakol on eating chocolate is an inappropriate “גזירה שוה” between the historic chocolate beverage and modern eating chocolate. Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, however, in his Iggeros Moshe O.C. III:31 discusses the appropriate bracha that one should make on chocolate covered raisins, and clearly assumes that the chocolate itself is subject to a shehakol.

Chocolate liquor, also known as chocolate mass, is too intense to be eaten by itself and as discussed above had historically been used as a base for hot cocoa drinks. However, in 1825 Conrad Van Houten developed a press that could separate cocoa butter and cocoa powder, or cocoa. Although it is impossible to remove all of the cocoa butter from cocoa using this process, all of the chocolate flavor is concentrated in the cocoa powder. [Cocoa powder is categorized by the amount of cocoa butter that remains after pressing, and if a very low fat cocoa powder is desired, the powder can be solvent extracted with a process similar to that used to decaffeinate coffee.] Dutched cocoa powder is treated with an alkalizing agent (such as calcium carbonate) to modify the flavor and darken the color. Cocoa butter is an insipid fat; it imparts no flavor to chocolate. Its importance, however, stems from the fact that it melts at and below body temperature, allowing chocolate to have that “melt in your mouth” sensation. If additional cocoa butter, as well as sugar, are added to chocolate liquor, a new confection called eating chocolate could be produced. The actual inventor of “chocolate for eating” is unknown, but in 1847 a product called chocolate delicieux a manger was sold in England. It is credited by some as the progenitor of this basic food group.

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration establishes a “Standard of Identity” for many foods. In order to be called “chocolate”, the product must contain the following ingredients-cocoa, cocoa butter, sugar, lecithin, and vanillin-and nothing else. Milk chocolate also contains whole milk solids. These definitions are iron clad; no deviations are tolerated. If, for example, another type of fat is used in place of or in addition to cocoa butter, the product may be called compound chocolate, but never plain chocolate. [Many chocolate products, however, use alternative fat blends. Such blends are typically less expensive than cocoa butter and allow the manufacturer to adjust the melting temperature and other characteristics of its product. Pure chocolate does not do well in the summer!] The definition of chocolate in various European countries, on the other hand, is quite a bit broader. Fats other than cocoa butter may be used in European chocolates. Indeed, the Belgians are fond of using animal fat in their chocolate because of the softer texture it imparts. Clearly, one person’s chocolate is another person’s nightmare.

Nightmares are indeed the stuff of which hashgachos are made. While it is now clear that “chocolate” can contain obviously non-kosher material, many other kosher problems can lurk beneath the surface. For example, lecithin (a soy derivative) would seem harmless-were it not for the fact that it may contain animal-based fatty acids. Whey, the kosher status of which has been the subject of much discussion in these pages, is often used in European chocolate as a replacement for non-fat dry milk. Various types of fat-based emulsifiers can be used in chocolate and compound chocolate, and even butter oil can pose a kosher concern (see Is it Butter, or is it-Something Else, Daf Hakashrus, Daf Hashana Vol. V, pg. 1 – A-13). These ingredient concerns relate to chocolate itself, to say nothing of chocolate coated products, which may contain any number of questionable ingredients. Even if a chocolate contains no questionable ingredients in and of itself, it may still be processed on equipment that is used for non-kosher products.

[Until recently, a European delicacy known as white chocolate (a blend of cocoa butter and other fats, sugar, milk powder and vanillin) did not meet the Standard of Identity for milk chocolate and could not be sold in the United States under that name since it contains no cocoa. Early in 1997, however, the FDA received a petition to establish a Standard of Identity for white chocolate. Provisional approval has been granted to U.S. chocolate companies to use the term white chocolate in several of their new products, provided the white chocolate contains only cocoa butter.]

The art of chocolate making involves manipulating the crystal structure of the cocoa, fat, and sugar to provide a smooth melt in the mouth. The first step, refining, is where fat, cocoa, and sugar are milled to a very fine particle size. The mixture is then subjected to a process called conching, considered by chocolatiers to be the true art of the process of making chocolate. Conching involves kneading the chocolate mixture with additional cocoa butter for 24 to 96 hours at over 150˚ F to give it its final smoothness and creaminess and remove any residual moisture. [The term conch is derived from the Latin concha, meaning seashell. The original conche used to process chocolate consisted of a flat granite bed upon which heavy granite rollers attached to steel arms rolled back and forth over the chocolate. These old longitudinal conches looked like shells, hence the name.] Most modern conches vary in construction and use steel rollers, but the essential process of imparting smoothness to the product remains the same.

The final step in the manufacture of chocolate is tempering. As liquid chocolate cools and solidifies, the cocoa butter forms crystals. To temper chocolate, it is heated and cooled under controlled conditions so that a fine, even-grained texture is developed. Typically, chocolate at this stage is not heated above 115˚ F. Careful tempering also reduces the tendency of chocolate to bloom. Bloom is the fuzzy white haze that forms on the surface of chocolate as cocoa butter melts and recrystallizes. Lecithin, a natural emulsifier derived from soybeans, is added to chocolate to reduce this problem, which can appear on chocolate that has been stored or refrigerated for long periods of time.

One of the peculiarities of chocolate is that water interferes with the crystallization of the cocoa butter. During its processing, the fine particles of chocolate are aligned in a tight matrix with fat. If water is incorporated into chocolate, it will become a hard, brittle mass. Although the taste of chocolate could be improved by mixing it with milk, fluid milk is over 90% water, and incorporating it into chocolate imposed a serious challenge. The thrifty Swiss, in particular, were keen on finding a way to incorporate milk into chocolate as a means of using their surplus milk, and in 1875 a Swiss manufacturer named Daniel Peters discovered the key to a successful milk chocolate process. By using milk powder, he was able to produce a coarse, dry milk chocolate bar. By 1897, however, Mr. Peters had perfected a process using condensed milk to produce an intermediate product called milk crumb. Milk crumb is produced by cooking chocolate liquor with sweetened condensed milk, drying this mixture into a powder, and subsequently blending it with cocoa butter to produce chocolate. Today, most chocolate candy bars in the United States use the milk crumb process, while industrial manufacturers generally use powdered milk.

It is of halachic interest to note that since fluid milk cannot be used to make milk chocolate, those who follow the opinion of Har Tzvi Y.D. 103-104 that powdered milk need not be cholov yisroel may have a significant reason to rejoice. [This joy should be tempered, however, by the realization that caramels and fillings in chocolate often use fluid milk.] Milk chocolate made with powdered milk would be subject to this heter. There is, however, some discussion among contemporary Poskim as to whether milk chocolate produced with milk crumb is similarly advantaged. The Israeli Chief Rabbinate does not allow the use of non-cholov yisroel fluid milk. However, it does allow powdered milk to be used even if not cholov yisroel, according to the aforementioned ruling of Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank zt”l. The question of the status of milk crumb was posed to the former Chief Rabbi, Rav Shapira, shlita, who tentatively paskened that it is forbidden. However, the question was also asked to Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l, who felt that milk crumb was indeed subject to the ruling of Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank zt”l. [This is also the opinion of Dayan Osher Westheim shlita of the Manchester Beth Din, i.e., that the halachic status of chocolate crumb is identical to that of powdered milk. The issue revolves around whether a mixture such as milk crumb, which contains only a miut of milk, is subject to the heter of powdered milk.]

The inability of chocolate production to tolerate water has another halachic implication. Many chocolate production systems are used for both milk chocolate and dark (non-dairy) products. Since water is inimical to the manufacture of chocolate, kashering equipment from dairy to pareve (or from chalav akum to cholov yisroel), poses a formidable challenge. In general, chocolate manufacturers will never allow kashering with water. If libun kal is not practical, the only other solution would be to perform a hag’alah with chocolate or cocoa butter as mei peiros. Such as kashering is, again, the subject of discussion among contemporary Poskim. Aside from general concerns with the halachic implication of hag’alah with mei peiros, an additional concern stems from the fact that cocoa butter is not a liquid at room temperature and may therefore not even be considered mei peiros [see Iggeros Moshe Y.D. I:60]. [The latter concern could be addressed by using other vegetable oils that are liquid at room temperature.] The OU does not allow kashering with chocolate, cocoa butter, or other oils, and unless a proper kashering with water can be accomplished, dark chocolate made on equipment used for milk chocolate is marked OU-D.

Modern research has suggested a host of benefits to chocolate, ranging from an ability to calm the nerves to preventing tooth decay. It is also a vehicle for us to delve into important halachic analysis-affording us the opportunity for ובין את הדבר.