Cocoa Loco

I don't want "chocolate flavor." I want chocolate, dammit.


Where's the love?

Likewise, I would happily rub out any of the new-fangled Hershey’s products that wear the wrappers and take the shapes of chocolate, but are in actuality the terrible bastard children of chocolate and corporate frugality. Yup, that’s right: If you weren’t already aware, there’s a good chance that the “chocolate” you’re buying from Hershey’s isn’t chocolate at all. See, back in 2008, Hershey’s started replacing some of the cocoa butter in its products with a combination of cocoa butter and other vegetable oils. Using other vegetable oils is cheaper for companies, which explains why a bag of the aforementioned Palmer’s always costs a dollar or two less than actual chocolate. But those “chocolate” products taste cheaper, too, as do most foods when unnecessary ingredients complicate their simple recipes. See, the process of making a good chocolate only requires a few steps: Cacao pods are roasted, ground, and made into chocolate liquor (which, if desired, can then be separated into dry cocoa solids and cocoa butter). Then you add in vanilla, sugar, and often lechtin (an emulsifier), and you’ve got some good eatin’.

It might seem simple to just replace that cocoa butter with another fat — it doesn’t make the ingredient list much longer — but as any baker who has replaced butter with shortening or margarine can tell you, all fats are not created equal. Part of what makes chocolate such an amazing treat is that cocoa butter’s melting point is just a couple of degrees lower than the average person’s body temperature, providing that melt-in-you-mouth quality (long-touted by M&M’s, which unfortunately, despite what the advertisements say, will also melt in your hand if you keep them there long enough). And mouth feel aside, damn it, cocoa butter tastes like chocolate. It’s part of the cacao pod! Taking the cocoa butter out of chocolate feels like watching an episode of Mad Men without Don Draper in it. Sure, you recognize that it’s the same show, and there are still things to love, but it’s just not right.

Thankfully, for the moment, Hershey’s isn’t able to call their shadow chocolate “chocolate.” Instead, they’re forced to label it things like “chocolate flavored.” This, however, could change. In 2007, industry groups sent the FDA a petition asking the body to define chocolate as a product that can include fats other than cocoa butter. Purists cried foul. The FDA took public comments on the issue and hasn’t said much since. And it’s likely to stay that way for a while — a similar petition about white chocolate from 1993 didn’t result in FDA guidelines for the product until 2004.

I do hope, though, that the FDA will vote for defining chocolate as that made with only cocoa butter. I know that the majority of consumers might not notice that much of a difference — since it’s full of fat and sugar, I think we tend to write chocolate off as unhealthy and not think about it further. But if the FDA votes to let companies use cheap fats for chocolate instead of the fat that grows naturally in cocoa beans? Well, FDA employees, I hope all your kids get for Halloween is Palmer’s. • 9 October 2009

Screw You, Hershey’s! Cup,
Screw You, Hershey's! CupIt’s not sensible to make a chocolate bar from scratch in your home kitchen, unless you have an extra $500 or so of cash to drop on all the supplies needed to properly mill the beans. But what you can make is what I am dubbing a Screw You, Hershey’s! Cup. This super-smooth chocolate has added cocoa butter meaning, yes, it’s really high in fat, but every now and then we need to get straight up Dionysian.

Food-grade cocoa butter is often difficult to find — if you have a local co-op, try rooting around in there, especially if the store caters to raw foodists. I searched at several grocery, spice, and natural foods stores in Philadelphia before finally ordering my cocoa butter from that beacon of all things baking, the King Arthur catalog. I had to chuckle when, after I finally found the stuff on their Web site, the write-up said “Hey, you’ve found it.”

2 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, chopped

1/4 cup confectioners sugar

1/8 cup cocoa butter, chopped

1/8 teaspoon vanilla

Melt 2/3 of the baking chocolate, 2/3 of the cocoa butter, and the sugar in a double boiler. Once the temperature of the mixture reads between 110 and 115 degrees F on a thermometer, remove the double boiler from heat, place it on a towel, and stir. Add the rest of the chocolate, cocoa butter, and the vanilla. When the temperature of the mixture is between 95 and 100 degrees F, pour into 2 to 4 silicone muffin cups (depending on how big you want your cups to be) and place in the refrigerator to set.

Meg Favreau is a writer and comedian living in Los Angeles. Her writing has appeared in McSweeney’s, The Big Jewel, The Huffington Post, Table Matters, and The Smew. Her book with photographer Michael Reali, Little Old Lady Recipes: Comfort Food and Kitchen Table Wisdom, was released in November 2011 by Quirk Books. She’s currently the senior editor at the frugal living and personal finance site Wise Bread, and a regular guest on American Public Media’s Marketplace Money.

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