What is Cocoa Butter?
My first introduction to cocoa butter was not from chocolate. It was actually from the skincare industry, and growing up with two older sisters who happened to use these types of products on a regular basis. This exposed me to a wide range of products that used cocoa butter, but at that time I had no idea that it is a main ingredient in chocolate.
Fast forward ten years and having turned my mind to specialty chocolate, I am now aware of how it is made and I have learned far more about its makeup - both have led me to to appreciate it far more than I have ever expected to.
Here are a few examples: Do you know that cocoa butter is a polymorph? Or deodorized cocoa butter aims to mask defects found in the cacao itself? Or how soy / sunflower lecithin allows a chocolate maker to reduce the cocoa butter used in a recipe (therefore saving money)? Let me share a bit about how cocoa butter is made, what its used for, and what I find fascinating.
How is cocoa butter made?
Cocoa butter is a major contributor to the makeup of cacao (or cocoa, depending on how to say it). Approximately 50% of the seed is cocoa butter (fat), and the remaining 50% is cocoa powder (solids).
The cocoa butter needs to be extracted from the cacao seeds. To do so the seeds must first be turned into chocolate liquor, which is made by refining roasted cacao nibs from its coarse state into a very fine texture. The level of fineness is measured in microns, and is typically between 10-20µ. If the liquor is not fine enough, it will be less effective when removing the fat from solid, making refining a very important part of the process.
Roasted cacao nibs are added to our refiners, which crush them into paste
Once the correct micron level is achieved, the cacao liquor, still in its liquid state, is transferred to a cocoa butter press. This press operates under extremely high pressure, forcing the liquor through a sieve and separating the fat (cocoa butter) from the solids (cocoa powder). At this point the butter is typically weighed out in 25kg blocks and shipped to buyers like ourselves.
What is cocoa butter used for in chocolate?
For both dark and milk chocolate, the whole cacao seed is used, along with any other ingredients that the chocolate maker sees fit.
In white chocolate, there are no cacao solids added. Cocoa butter is one of the main ingredients, along with milk powder, sugar, and any extra ingredients for flavouring.
Matcha white chocolate in its untempered, solid form
Well, what is cocoa butter used for? There are times when we develop recipes that have fluidity issues, impacting both tempering and moulding processes. This is common in the specialty chocolate industry as most makers aim to add as little ingredients as possible. So, when we are dealing with lower percentages of cacao in a recipe (milk chocolate for example), the amount of cocoa butter in the recipe is also less. This means we have a thicker chocolate on our hands. Thick chocolate is not capable of flowing properly, and as it begins to cool during the tempering process, it can thicken too much causing headaches with filling our moulds.
We solve this by adding extra cocoa butter to thin out the chocolate, making tempering and moulding far easier (and saving a grey hair or two from popping up).
Ways around using extra cocoa butter
If you have ever scanned the ingredient list from a candy bar you have devoured, you may have noticed the ingredient soy or sunflower lecithin. Soy lecithin is an emulsifier - meaning it can help bind cacao solids, milk powder and sugar to fats. It also reduces viscosity.
And, did I mention its cheap? A small addition, usually around 0.4% of lecithin has the ability to remove 8% of cocoa butter from a recipe, without sacrificing the fluidity at all. A little goes a long way. It is worth noting that you can't just keep adding lecithin to remove cocoa butter as the cocoa butter is required to properly temper chocolate. And, if you add too much lecithin it will actually start to do the inverse and thicken the chocolate.
What does tempering have to do with cocoa butter?
Tempering chocolate involves melting and cooling chocolate to precise temperatures. Tempered chocolate has a lovely shine, and when broken apart, 'snaps', rather than bending or just melting away. When moulding chocolate, tempering is needed as it will also allow the chocolate to contract when cooling, making releasing from the moulds a breeze.
Remember when I mentioned how cocoa butter is a polymorph? Polymorphism comes from the greek words "poly" (many) and "morphe" (form). Cocoa butter has 6 different forms it can take on. Form 1 is the least stable and melts at 17.3°C, where Form 6 is the most stable and 36.3°C.
Cocoa butter silk is a form of tempered chocolate. It can be used to temper melted chocolate with ease.
When tempering chocolate, you are really just controlling the cocoa butter to do what you want. It may sound easy, but it is a skill that takes many attempts to get right.
We have found the most success with tempering when our recipes contain at least 33% of cocoa butter to allow a proper temper to take shape. Having more will make it easier to temper, but if you add too much the texture of your chocolate can sacrifice. Recipe development is a tricky one, but really satisfying when you get it right!
See, cocoa butter is cool!
The more I work with cocoa butter, the more I am amazed by it. Or, maybe I just tell myself that so when the days of tempering don't go as planned, I can look at it in another light and give it another try.