Choco-rific! Choco-licious! Choco-kosher?

OU Kosher Staff

There are few foods that arouse excitement and stir emotions as passionately as chocolate. Chocolate has been enjoyed for centuries, though developments in the chocolate industry over the years have brought with them unique kosher (and kosher-for-Passover) challenges and opportunities.

The chocolate industry is divided into two basic segments: chocolate makers and confectioners. Chocolate makers are the industrial processors of chocolate from its essential raw materials; confectioners prepare the industrial chocolate for retail sale. Confectioners are the dream makers—to quote Willy Wonka, they take the processed chocolate and make it into the finished products our children (and we, ourselves) beg for in the store.

To fully appreciate the finished retail chocolate product we enjoy, we have to understand the multiple stages of processing through which chocolate travels as it makes its way to our grocer’s shelves.

Chocolate Makers
Chocolate makers process the raw beans received from growers and add various additions to determine the flavor and richness of the finished product.

Raw cacao beans are cleaned and sorted before moving into large roasters. Once roasted, the beans are transferred to de-shelling units and crushing systems to extract cocoa mass or, in its heated state, chocolate liquor. This bitter chocolate is composed of 50-60% cocoa butter and 40-50% cocoa solids; it is sometimes referred to as unsweetened baking chocolate. This is unadulterated chocolate: pure, ground, roasted cocoa beans that impart a strong, deep chocolate flavor.

With the addition of more cocoa butter, sugar, lecithin, and vanillin, the product is called dark chocolate—or, sometimes, plain chocolate.

Semi-sweet chocolate is also a form of dark chocolate but with higher sugar content and often a lower cocoa content than true dark chocolate.

Bittersweet chocolate is chocolate liquor to which sugar and more cocoa butter, lecithin, and vanillin have been added. This form has less sugar and more liquor than semi-sweet chocolate.

Milk chocolate has added milk powder or condensed milk.

White Chocolate is somewhat of a misnomer, as it does not actually contain any cocoa solids at all. So what is it? White chocolate is essentially fat (usually cocoa butter, but sometimes the cocoa butter is further diluted being mixed with vegetable oil) sweetened with sugar.

Couverture is a term used for cocoa butter-rich chocolates of the highest quality. These chocolates contain high percentages of chocolate liquor-sometimes 70 percent or more, in addition to the cocoa butter. At least 30 to 40 percent are very fluid when melted and they are generally regarded as having an excellent flavor.

Compound Chocolate is the classification for chocolate into which another type of fat or emulsifier has been used in place of or in addition to cocoa butter. This product must be called compound chocolate, never plain chocolate.

The next two steps constitute “the art of chocolate making,” which 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 98 hours at temperatures in excess of 150° F to give it its final smoothness and creaminess, and to remove any residual moisture. [The term “conch” is derived from the Latin concha, meaning a 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.

Chocolate, the seemingly simple confection that literally melts in one’s mouth, achieves its characteristic mouth feel from cocoa butter, which melts at around body temperature. Many chocolate products, however, use alternative fat blends. Such blends are usually less expensive than cocoa butter and allow the manufacturer to change the melting temperature and other characteristics of its product. On the other hand, the definition of chocolate in some European countries is quite broader. Fats and emulsifiers other than cocoa butter may be used in European chocolate. Some European countries choose to use animal fat in their chocolate because of the soft texture that this creates.

While it is now clear that chocolate can possibly contain outright non-kosher material, many of the kosher problems actually lie beneath the surface. For example, vegetable oil-based lecithin would seem to be safe but it may actually contain animal-based additives. For Passover-approved chocolate, lecithin—typically derived from kitniyot-based oils—needs to be replaced. Whey (a cheese by-product) is commonly used in European chocolate as a replacement for non-fat dry milk. Lactose sometimes is added as a sweetener alongside sugar.

Various types of fat-based emulsifiers may be found in chocolate and compound chocolate. These ingredient concerns relate to the chocolate itself. However, even if a chocolate contains no questionable ingredients, it may still be processed on equipment that is used for non-kosher products. For example, compound chocolate items are often made on the same equipment as real chocolate products. Compound chocolates often contain kosher-sensitive ingredients that can render questionable equipment that may subsequently be used for real chocolate production.

One of the issues relating to chocolate production that necessitates strict kosher supervision is the proper separation and dedication of equipment used to produce milk chocolate and non-dairy parve chocolate. The refiners and conchers used reach temperatures that require the equipment to be designated for either dairy or parve production.

This is the second branch of the chocolate industry. These companies take the finished bulk liquid or solid chocolate and make it into various forms of chocolate for retail sale. Boxed-chocolate centers are made from a supersaturated solution of sucrose and corn syrup that is blended with other ingredients such as colors or flavors to add diversity.

First, solid chocolate is melted down and heated to reach its proper consistency. Then, tempering units prepare the product for depositing into chocolate molds. 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 or cooled below 88° F. As liquid chocolate cools and solidifies, the cocoa butter forms crystals and exactly how those crystals are formed and attach themselves to one another best determines the hardened chocolate’s sheen, snap and taste. 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.

After the tempering process, the chocolate travels onto enrobers, the depositors or molding areas. Enrobers and depositors may not reach temperatures that require designated equipment for dairy and parve. The challenge is to remove the layers of built up residue that remains on them after repeated use. It may be possible to clean these enrobers, though it requires an especially rigorous cleaning.

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 seize and become a hard, brittle mass. Although the taste of chocolate could be improved by mixing it with milk, fluid milk is over 90% water, so incorporating it into chocolate imposed a serious challenge.

Practical Swiss manufacturers were particularly keen on finding a way around this “water-content” obstacle as a means of using their surplus milk. 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 utilize 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 chalav Yisrael may have a significant reason to rejoice. Milk chocolate made with powdered milk would be subject to this heter. [This joy should be tempered, however, by the realization that caramels and other fillings used by confectioners often use fluid milk.]

There is, however, some discussion among contemporary poskim as to whether milk chocolate produced with milk crumb is similarly advantaged.

The inability of chocolate production to tolerate water has another halachic implication. Many chocolate production systems are used for both milk chocolate and dark (i.e., non-dairy) products. Since water is detrimental to the manufacture of chocolate, kashering equipment from dairy to parve (or from chalav akum to chalav Yisrael) poses a formidable challenge. In general, chocolate manufacturers will not allow water on their equipment. Although some rabbinical authorities do allow for non-water kashering of chocolate equipment (i.e. using heated chocolate or cocoa butter), OU policy generally does not permit kashering except with boiling water

(or as an alternative heating with an open flame). Consequently, dark chocolate made on equipment used for milk chocolate is marked OU-D.

The second area of these plants is the candy kitchen. Candy coatings and caramel or other ingredients that form the center of enrobed products are cooked in this area. Candy kitchens usually house equipment such as kettles and tables that involve temperatures that would require dedication of equipment to either dairy or parve. If this is not the case, “kosherization” with boiling water is required.

Even with all we’ve outlined above, there is no need for feelings of kosher deprivation. The world’s favorite confection, chocolate, is readily available to kosher consumers as dairy (OU-D), parve (OU) and even for Passover (OU-P). Wishing you a choco-licious Pesach.

By Rabbi Kalman Scheiner


Wonder why chocolate is permitted on Passover? Read more in Cocoa – No Beans About It


OU Kosher Staff

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