White chocolate is one of those polarizing foods like black licorice, Brussel sprouts and cilantro — you either love it or you hate it. But what actually is white chocolate, and can it really be considered chocolate?

Let’s first look at chocolate in general

Chocolate needs no introduction. You’ve had it. You love it in all its forms: bunnies, bars, brownies. But what makes chocolate, chocolate?

Well, both the dark kind and the milk kind contain cocoa solids or cocoa powder — which give them their rich brown color — as well as the fatty cocoa butter — the fat that gives them their creamy mouthfeel. White chocolate just has cocoa butter — no cocoa. Both milk chocolate and white chocolate also typically include some amount of milk or cream powder, sugar, and sometimes vanilla or other add-ins.

where does cocoa butter come from?

Cocoa butter is the foundation of white chocolate. Your opinion on whether white chocolate is considered real chocolate probably lies in your opinion of whether having cocoa butter alone qualifies chocolate as chocolate, of if the brown stuff (the cocoa powder) is required.

So how do we get cocoa butter from the bean?

Cocoa butter is found naturally in cocoa beans, but it has to be harvested through a lengthy process.  It begins with roasting, shelling, and grinds up cocoa beans into a paste, which are then pressed with a ton of force to squeeze out every last drop of cocoa butter. The remnants of this process are called cocoa powder — the stuff that gives milk and dark chocolate its color and classic chocolate flavor.

What the FDA says

According to the FDA, milk chocolate must contain at least 10 percent chocolate liquor, 3.39 percent milkfat, and at least 12 percent milk solids. The FDA doesn’t mandate that dark chocolate follow additional criteria other than it meets the guidelines for chocolate in general, and that the term is used reasonably to describe an actual chocolate product (not a “chocolate flavored” product).

To be considered white chocolate, a product must contain at least 20 percent cocoa butter, at least 14 percent total milk solids, and at least 3.5 percent milkfat. No more than 55 percent sweeteners may be used.

So is white chocolate really chocolate?

So now we know what white chocolate is, but is it actually chocolate?

Many people point to the fact that even though white chocolate is derived from cocoa beans, and is therefore a close relative of milk and dark chocolate, it simply doesn’t qualify because it doesn’t include any cocoa solids that can confer the chocolatey flavor we association with chocolate.

And they’re right. Technically speaking, white chocolate is not chocolate.

But wait!

In 2002 it did earn its own distinction. In that year, standards for white chocolate were officially set. Until then, chocolate was considered a “confectionary.” Thanks to petitioning by the Hershey Foods Corporation and the Chocolate Manufacturers Association (now part of the National Confectioners Association), the FDA published a standard identity (20% cocoa butter, 14% milk solids, 3.5% milkfat, and less than 55% sweeteners) for “white chocolate,” and on January 1, 2004 the rule became official.

If you’re a chocolate purist, you’re probably thrilled that this super saccharine, often low-quality white chocolate confection can’t claim status next to your beloved dark chocolate bars.

But perhaps you should relax on your stance a bit.

Getting all worked up about the naming of white chocolate shouldn’t matter today, when milkshakes aren’t typically shaken and maple syrup is rarely made with actual maple.

Plus, there are plenty of chocolatiers out there spending as much time creating decadent goodies with white chocolate as they do dark chocolate. So if you haven’t tried white chocolate in a while, give it another go. It just might surprise you.

Also see, Cocoa Krispie football recipe.

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Meghan is a full-time writer exploring the fun facts behind food. She lives a healthy lifestyle but lives for breakfast, dessert and anything with marinara. She’s thrown away just as many meals as she’s proud of.