We love finding great deals, but when you’re shopping, it’s important to check that what you’re buying is actually what you think it is, particularly when it comes to food products. There are many cheap substitutes out there that don’t measure up to the real thing.
This is especially true with chocolate. Every Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween, and Christmas, stores stock their seasonal aisles full of chocolates in thematic shapes and packaging. But if you look closely at some of the labels, you’ll see that many of the products that look like chocolate are actually labeled “chocolate flavored” or “chocolatey.” Is there a reason they stay away from the word “chocolate”?
Definition of Chocolate
True chocolate is made from finely ground cacao beans, which produces chocolate liquor. Chocolate liquor is comprised of cocoa powder, the solid bits, and cocoa butter, the fatty part. (Chocolate liquor is non-alcoholic. The name comes from an older meaning of the word, meaning liquid). According to the FDA, all products sold as chocolate in the United States must be made from chocolate liquor.
What some modern confectioners are doing is separating the cocoa powder from the cocoa butter and using the cocoa butter for other purposes, whether selling it off to cosmetics companies or other manufacturers, or using it to make white chocolate, which is made of cocoa butter without the cocoa solids.
Those confectioners then use the cocoa powder to make “compound chocolate,” a concoction of cocoa powder and vegetable fat, often in the form of partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Producing compound chocolate helps the manufacturer in two ways. First, vegetable oil is cheaper than cocoa butter, making compound chocolate cheaper to make. And partially hydrogenated vegetable oil stays solid at room temperature and is less likely to melt than regular chocolate.
Chocolate connoisseurs will quickly tell you that compound chocolate with vegetable fat has a less desirable texture than pure chocolate. But the worst aspect of compound chocolate, in our opinion, is the detrimental health effects of partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Created by artificially hydrogenating soybean oil to make it stay solid at room temperature, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil is known to cause arterial inflammation, leading to high cholesterol and heart disease.
According to FDA regulations, products labeled “chocolate” in the United States must be made with chocolate liquor. Below are a few examples we found at dollar stores of cocoa-flavored vegetable fat and food coloring using the words “chocolatey” and “chocolate-flavored” (click on an image to zoom):
The good news is that you can still find plenty of true chocolate options out there. We were able to find Russell Stover milk chocolate bunnies and other treats for the same low $1-$2 prices as the imitations.
In case the Russell Stover milk chocolate ingredients are hard to read, you can read them here. The number one ingredient is milk chocolate, which is composed of sugar, whole milk, cocoa butter, and chocolate. Sure, they contain a lot of sugar, but at least they’re made of real chocolate with cocoa butter. 😜
Remember to always check the nutrition facts label on every food product you buy. If you want real chocolate, look for cocoa butter or chocolate liquor among the ingredients!