Monday, August 17, 2009

Dark, Milk, and White: Three Chocolate Races Divided

Dear Tricia, How is white chocolate different than dark and milk chocolate? And why does it seize faster than dark and milk chocolate?

Chocolate is one of those awesome things that people either absolutely love, or absolutely get sick from. I LOVE things like that- nothing says awesome more than being able to only spark a love/hate relationship with someone.
Let's start by talking about what exactly makes up chocolate, aside from magic, which no one lists on the ingredient list but I'm pretty sure its in there. The actual taste of chocolate comes from the cocoa liquor. Don't get your hopes up... there's no booze in it. And on its own, it doesn't taste great: its like chocolate with no sugar in it, and no melt-in-your-mouth feel. But without the cocoa liquor, chocolate wouldn't taste like chocolate. The second ingredient that makes up chocolate is the cocoa butter, which is what gives it its smooth, melty texture. So cocoa liquor (you'll also hear people refer to it as "cocoa solids"), cocoa butter, and the addition of sugar is what makes up dark, or bittersweet chocolate.
What's added to dark chocolate to turn it into milk chocolate is.... da da da dum... MILK. You hear that, vegans? Milk chocolate is yet another thing you're depriving yourself of, you crazies! Milk powder can also be used, and vanilla is often an added flavor.
White chocolate isn't actually chocolate at all: its a confection with a big fat liar of a name. White chocolate is made of cocoa butter, milk, sugar, and vanilla. The cocoa liquor is missing, which is what keeps it out of the "chocolate" category. Sorry, whitey.
So lets break this down:
Dark chocolate- cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, sugar
Milk chocolate- cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, sugar, milk, vanilla
White chocolate- cocoa butter, sugar, milk, vanilla

Moving on to your next question: why does white chocolate seize faster? First let me explain to the non-experts what seizing means. When you melt chocolate and add water to it, it turns into a gloppy, thick mess that is impossible to melt again. That's called "seizing." Water and chocolate are mortal enemies- they're like the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders of the chocolate world. When you start adding extra ingredients to dark chocolate, (like sugar, milk, and vanilla), it makes the chocolate less stable, which is a nice way of saying it gets fussy and temperamental. So, if you've got a bowl of dark chocolate melting over a pot of simmering water, some of the condensation from the bowl might get into the chocolate and it could be fine. But if any moisture at all gets into a bowl of melting white or milk chocolate, it will seize up immediately. And that's just because it has all the extra added ingredients that make it less stable.
If you ruin a batch of white or milk chocolate that has seized up, luckily you don't have throw it out. That would be stupid and financially irresponsible, and people, we're in a recession! Just add lots of hot milk, stir it up, and voila: hot chocolate. Keep it in the fridge for when you get your late night chocolate craving. (I don't get those cravings... mine are usually for white wine spritzers.)
When you're trying to figure out what kind of chocolate you want to buy, good chocolate will usually have the cocoa liquor content on the label. A higher number means it has more cocoa liquor, and thus, less sugar. So if you're a bigger fan of sweet chocolate and are comparing two labels that say 56% and 70%, go for the one that says 56%.
If you've heard any of the hype about dark chocolate being good for you, yes, it is indeed true. Dark chocolate contains polyphenols- the antioxidants that keep things like cancer and premature aging away. So if you're going to try to eat chocolate for the health benefits, make sure its not milk or white. The higher the cocoa liquor content, the higher the level of polyphenols. I like to think that for every bite of chocolate I eat, it erases one of the martinis I've consumed in my lifetime. I should take stock in Hershey's....


Rachel Bates said...

So if white chocolate seizes at the mear thought os liquids, how do bakers dip the strawberries to make them look like the strawberry is wearing a tux? Is that candy melts, or white chocolate?

Tricia Reisch said...

Its white chocolate, but you just have to dry the strawberry really well before you dip it. Its also better to buy good white chocolate that has plenty of cocoa butter. Whole foods has it by the pound.