Chocolate Vs Compound – The truth!!

There has been a constant argument between chocolatiers and companies with regard to the use of oil in chocolate making. Most of the big brands want to have a lucrative business and therefore fiercely promote the use of vegetable oils as opposed to high quality cocoa butter which is the true essence of chocolate. We need to understand here, every product is built around certain key ingredients which lend it uniqueness. Therefore, some get labeled as exotic or premium while others remain mundane.

A key question which needs to be addressed is why there is so much of debate on substituting oil for cocoa butter and is it really harmful? This can be only answered once the actual composition of chocolate is understood. What are the hidden benefits of cocoa butter if at all any?

First let’s understand how a chocolate is made. Chocolate is native to the theobroma tree which is also called as cacao tree a small (4–8 m (13–26 ft.) tree which is native to the deep tropical regions of Amazon basin but is commercially grown in West Africa and parts of Asia. After the plantation it takes approximately 4-5 years for the mature cacao tree to produce fruits which are in the form of elongated pods that yield up to 70 annually. The pods range from bright yellow to deep purple colour. Cacao exists in 3 categories forastero, criollo, and trinitario. Forastero are mostly used in commercial production. Criollo are easily susceptible to disease so are not much grown. Only 5% of the world’s production is Criollo. It is used in making premium chocolate. Trinitario are an amalgamation of the above two to produce high quality dark chocolate. Cacao pods take up to 6 months to grow, several weeks to ripen. Thereafter, the beans take about 5 days to ferment in specialized boxes. For 1-2 only weeks they are placed in the sun to dry on large trays.

The dried, fermented and roasted cocoa beans of this tree are then processed to get cocoa liquor and from which finally cocoa butter is extracted. All these ingredients put together and when under gone processes of refining, conching and tempering gives us a fine quality chocolate. The one which has right shine, snap and melt in the mouth feel and taste.

If we analyze the entire process of procuring the beans and then making chocolate is so lengthy, expensive and pain taking.  Would it be justified to just add oil and replace the primary like ingredient cocoa butter for a cheap low cost option of vegetable oil? If at all done then end product is definitely not chocolate but a low quality unhealthy substitute called compound.

Let us understand what is a compound?  It is a product made from a combination of cocoa, fractioned vegetable fat (usually palm or palm kernel oil) and sweeteners. A compound can never be called a chocolate because of the absence of cocoa butter and many a times the absence of even cocoa liquor. Rather they use cocoa powder in its making.

Pure healthy cocoa butter – heart friendlyUnhealthy saturated fat – heart risky
Smooth fresh after tasteWaxy greasy after taste
Tempering for shine and snapNo tempering lacks shine and no snap

What happens when we add oil to chocolate?

When oil is substituted in the chocolate the chemical composition of the end product is disturbed. It affects the melting point. Oil reduces the melting point of chocolate from 33.5 to 31.6 in case of palm oil (cheapest available and used commercially) in case of coconut oil 33.5 to 30.75 used probably by home bakers. Oils which are nut and seed based usually are ideal for cooking food on high temperatures. Again, their fat composition is also not healthy. In home cooking linoleic acid is predominant (n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid PUFA).  Right now companies are substituting high linoleic acid for low cost making it all the more hazardous for human health.

The biggest threat that we are facing is from palm oil. Palm oil is a controversial subject. Palm oil is extracted from the flesh of the fruit and palm kernel comes from the fruit of the palm tree found mainly in tropical climates of Africa and Asia. After USA raised an alarm against hydrogenated fats and banned it from being used in commercial products. Being a cheaper alternative palm oil gained a lot of popularity. For palm oil cultivation massive destruction of rain forests is being done. This is in turn causing 4% of global greenhouse gas emission and 8% of all global emission by burning fossil fuels. Animal wildlife has been most affected forcing them to relocate or species going extinct (orangutan, Sumatran elephant, tiger and rhino) disrupting the symbiotic relationships that the flora and fauna have with their habitat. Not only is this detrimental to animals but even human. The quality of soil gets significantly affected making cultivators either giving up on land or using high doses of fertilizers for production of edible crop in turn affecting our health.  I believe this is main reason why palm oil is being hated so much.

On the health forefront, palm oil’s nutritional profile is similar to other cooking oil. One tablespoon contains about 120 calories and 14 grams of total fat, including 7 grams of saturated fat 5 grams of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, and 1.5 grams of polyunsaturated fat. Palm oil has got a bad reputation because of being high in saturated fat which is linked to heart disease. As saturated fat boosts bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides both of which are risk factors for heart disease?

LDL is called “bad cholesterol” because it takes cholesterol to your arteries, where it may collect in artery walls. Too much cholesterol in your arteries may lead to a buildup of plaque known as atherosclerosis.

The FDA permissible limit in a chocolate of vegetable fat is maximum 5% but companies selling products labeled as chocolate freely use 20% and above violating basic norms. Reports suggest such high usage of oil messes up the chocolate making it sticky and waxy while a good chocolate is always sturdy at room temperature with 70% triglycerides being solid.   

Cocoa butter as opposed to oil has a narrow melting point fundamental to chocolate. Therefore, there is the melt in the mouth due to enthalpy. Enthalpy is relationship between Cocoa Content and Melting Enthalpy.  As the cocoa content increases, the amount of crystalline cocoa butter also increases and in turns the amount of energy necessary for melting.  

Cocoa butter also has health benefits. Cocoa butter is an antioxidant and also it does not affect heart heath. Even though it has high saturated fat, yet one-third of its fat comes from stearic acid which doesn’t raise LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) as most other saturated fats. While oils can create imbalance and increase the risk of high blood pressure and raise unhealthy LDL cholesterol and lower healthy HDL cholesterol. 

Another thing which comes under debate radar is hydrogenation of oils.

Hydrogenation is the process of treating fats and oils with hydrogen gas in the presence of a catalyst. The result is the conversion of liquid oils to fluid, semi-solid, or plastic fats suitable for use in any edible oil application.

It has been studied that incomplete hydrogenation can lead to unsaturated carbon molecules which leads to circulatory disease including heart attacks.

Here the basic argument is far from oil and no oil. For a product to be termed as chocolate legally require certain key ingredients to lend it a certain taste, flavor, snap and feel. For that cocoa butter is a must, substitutes do not work.