Chocolate Covered In Halacha & Kashrus

Perhaps one of the most exciting food treats for children and adults alike is chocolate. Incredibly popular, it has been consumed for generations as a tasty snack or an important component of a delicious dessert. To the delight of many, medical researchers have begun extolling possible health benefits of moderate chocolate consumption. Known to contain various stimulants, it can provide quick bursts of energy and suppress sad feelings. Moreover, some researchers have recently publicized the presence of polyphenolic antioxidants in chocolate that can aid preventing cardiovascular disease. However, the potential benefits of chocolate are not only limited to one’s gashmius. In the world of Halacha, discussions relating to chocolate production and consumption are just as sweet, if not more.

Chocolate is a food that originates from cacao (“cocoa”) beans.  The initial stages of manufacturing requires the ground roasting and grinding of cocoa beans, followed by pressing in specialized equipment. Cocoa butter and chocolate liquor are by-products of manufacturing during these stages, and are pareve. The cocoa butter and chocolate liquor are integral components of the final product, chocolate. However, a portion of the butter and liquor can be extracted during the manufacturing process, and be used as basic raw materials in other products. The cocoa butter and chocolate liquor along with other ingredients, typically sugar, milk powder, lecithin, and lactose, are transported to an interesting piece of machinery known as a conch, which is a mixing vessel. Inside the conch, the mixture of ingredients is blended at an exceptionally high speed, and gets very hot. This process is known in the industry as “conching”. Once the thick liquid mass is created it is heated and cooled at a controlled temperature, which keeps it uniform by preventing the fat from rising to the top and turning white. The chocolate mass will be filled into molds, and soon thereafter the tasty treats that consumers enjoy will be created.

There are different types of chocolate. Baking chocolate is a term that describes solid chocolate formed from pure chocolate liquor. It does not contain other additives, including sugar, and is pareve. Milk chocolate is a mixture of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, milk, sugar and flavorings. In the United States, all milk chocolate must contain 10% chocolate liquor and 12% whole milk. Sweet dark chocolate contains 15-35% chocolate liquor, and less than 12% milk solids. The darkest eating chocolates are known as bittersweet and semisweet chocolates, which contain at least 35% chocolate liquor.

Dutch chocolate is an additional, common variety. Dutch chocolate is chocolate liquor or cocoa powder that has undergone treatment with approved alkalizing agents, primarily to modify color and flavor. The alkalizing agents used in this process are not dairy. This unique treatment of chocolate originated from the Dutch, hence the name. Dutch chocolate has a deep color, and is often used for manufacture of baked goods, ice cream, or beverages.

What is white chocolate, and how does it differ from conventional chocolate? White chocolate is composed of cocoa butter or other fats, milk, sugar, and flavors. It does not contain cocoa solids, hence its white color. Technically, it should not be considered chocolate since it lacks the presence of cocoa. It is interesting to note that until very recently the Food and Drug Administration did not recognize white chocolate as a chocolate type.

There are several interesting halachic issues with regards to the manufacture of chocolate. The manufacture of cholov yisroel, pareve, or even cholov stam chocolate might occur under special supervision runs at plants that typically do not manufacture these varieties, and may even process treif chocolate. Companies are very hesitant to introduce water into their equipment for the purpose of kashering. The presence of water in equipment that manufactures chocolate, even in minute amounts, can potentially contaminate the mixture and ruin the product.

An acceptable alternative from a manufacturing perspective is to kasher with a day’s first run of chocolate. There is dispute amongst the rishonim whether it is acceptable to kasher with liquids other than water. The lenient opinion of the Rashba is quoted by the Rema (Orach Chaim 452) as acceptable bedieved. There are some kashrus agencies, particularly in Europe, who maintain that under exceptional circumstances, it is permissible to apply this position of the Rama to kashering equipment used for chocolate manufacture. However, it is also quoted in the name of Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l that due to the high viscosity of chocolate mass, it can not be considered a liquid for the purpose of kashering. When chocolate equipment is kashered with water, the machinery must undergo an extensive drying procedure before the run can begin.

Since equipment used for chocolate manufacture is highly sensitive to water, companies are loathe to use fluid milk in processing because it is primarily composed of water. Instead, chocolate companies will use milk that is in some sort of powdered form. The use of powdered milk allows companies to incorporate milk into the formula, without damaging product. This interesting tidbit of information is very relevant to cholov yisroel consumers as to whether cholov yisroel milk is required for chocolate manufacture. There is a discussion amongst poskim whether powdered milk must be cholov yisroel. Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, based upon a psak of the Chasam Sofer (see shut Yoreh Deah 107), was of the opinion that milk in a powdered form was not included in the gezeira of cholov akum (see Har Tzvi Yoreh Deah 103 and 104). However, the Chazon Ish was of a dissenting opinion and assumed that dried milk remains prohibited (see Chazon Ish Yoreh Deah 41:4). There are varying practices today amongst kashrus agencies who otherwise would require cholov yisroel, whether powdered milk falls under the rubric of the gezeira of cholov akum.

Does production require bishul yisroel? For snack chocolates, this question is irrelevant since they are not oleh al shulchan melachim (“fit for a king’s table” ), and would not require bishul yisroel (see Avodah Zarah 38a). However, fancy chocolates that could be served at an elegant meal would certainly qualify. The prevalent opinion is that it does not require bishul yisroel. The cocoa beans used for chocolate manufacture are not oleh al shulchan melachim after they are ground roasted, and heat from the conches are generated from the friction of the rollers, without another heating element. “Conching” would not be considered bishul with regards to bishul akum the same way alternate methods of cooking, such as ishun (smoking), are exempt from the prohibition (see Yoreh Deah 113:13).

There is discussion amongst the poskim what bracha is recited over chocolate. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach entertains the possibility that the proper bracha is ha’eitz, since the usual method of consuming cocoa beans is only once it has been processed into chocolate (see Minchas Shlomo 1:91). However, the widespread practice is to recite shehakol  (see Sha’arei Teshuva Orach Chaim 202:19). Since many other primary shehakol ingredients, such as sugar, must be combined with the processed cocoa bean in order to make the chocolate palatable (see Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:187), the appropriate bracha would be shehakol. With regards to chocolate-covered raisins or nuts, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l was of the opinion that both components are primary, and two brachos would be required. In such instances, it is best to recite ha’eitz or ha’adama on something else first, followed by shehakol on the chocolate snack (see Igros Moshe Orach Chaim 3:31).

Next time you bite into that tasty treat, remember that there is more to the sweetness of chocolate than what meets the mouth!