What is White Chocolate?

Some people love it, and others leave it.

It’s White Chocolate, that controversial melange of cocoa butter, sugar, and milk (more on that later). Often there’s vanilla, or vanillin (a synthetic vanilla-like substance) added as well.


Many people will say they don’t like white chocolate, citing a preference for the dark side.
“It’s not chocolate!”, you’ll hear.

Well, no, it’s not. It’s different. A different kind of chocolate.

Dark, or bittersweet chocolate, contains cacao mass (the ground beans), sugar, cocoa butter, and sometimes vanilla and lecithin.
White chocolate has none of the cacao mass, hence the delicate, ivory-like color, which it gets from the cocoa butter. Instead it’s rich with cocoa butter, which gives it that suave, subtle taste, that I find compliments dark chocolate desserts and bolder flavors. I make White Chocolate Crème Anglaise and pour the cool custard alongside a dark chocolate cake. Or I steep fragrant fresh mint leaves when making White Chocolate Ice Cream.

Cocoa butter is derived from the chocolate-making process, or more specifically, when cocoa powder is made. To make cocoa powder, roastedcacao beans are ground into a paste, known as chocolate liquor, then the paste is pressed through a powerful hydraulic press, which separates the cocoa mass from the cocoa butter. The cocoa mass comes out as a solid block, which is grated into cocoa powder (which is why cocoa powder is always unsweetened and relatively low-fat) and the soft, rich cocoa butter is extracted. I’ve been to factories and watched the process, and the smell of warm, fat-rich cocoa butter is intoxicating.

The valuable cocoa butter is often sold to the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industry, since it has the perfect melting point for things like lipstick…and why chocolate melts and releases its complex flavors like nothing else when you pop a piece in your mouth. But it’s also that reason that true white chocolate tastes so good and is loved by many pastry chefs.


Here’s some tips and facts about white chocolate:

  • Both white and dark chocolates are emulsions. Adding small amounts of liquid, like water or milk, will cause the emulsion to break or seize. Therefore, any milk that’s added to white chocolate must be first either dried into a powder or cooked to a paste, removing the water, before it’s used. So you’ll often find the ingredient ‘milkfat’ on the label.

  • In the United States, white chocolate must contain a minimum of 20% cocoa fat.

  • Because white chocolate contains a dairy product, it’s highly perishable. Purchase it in small quantities as needed (unless you’re like me, and use so much you buy it in 5-pound blocks…as shown above.) I make sure to get white chocolate from a reliable source that rotates and checks their stock regularly. Store it in a cool, dark place, but not the refrigerator, since it’s high-fat content makes it a good medium for absorbing other odors…like the stinky camembert in my fridge.

  • White chocolate will keep for up to one year. If you’re unsure if it’s any good, taste it before using (which most of us do when baking with chocolate, right?)

  • Buy only ‘pure’ white chocolate and check to make sure the label reads only ‘cocoa butter’, and no other tropical fats, such as coconut or palm kernel oil.

  • Due to the higher fat and sugar content, white chocolate melts very easily and at a lower temperature than dark chocolate, but more care should be taken when using it. Avoid excessive or direct heat. I like to pour a hot liquid over it and use the heat from that to melt the white chocolate.

  • There’s only a few companies in America that make white chocolate: E. Guittard, Baker’s, and Askinoise. But most of the white chocolate you’ll find is European-made, perhaps since few American bake with white chocolate.

  • White chocolate should never be pure white. Since cocoa butter is ivory-colored, real white chocolate should be off-white as well. Products labeled as ‘white bar’ or ‘white coating’ are often not white chocolate and just tastes plain sugary and should not be used in recipes that call for white chocolate.

Related Links and Recipes

Askinoise (US-made bean-to-bar white chocolate)

White Chocolate & Fresh Ginger Ice Cream (Recipe)

Chocolate FAQs

White Chocolate Sorbet (Recipe)

White Chocolate Rice Krispie Treats with Candied Peanuts (Recipe)

Caramelized White Chocolate (Recipe)

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  • Judith in Umbria
    February 5, 2006 4:01am

    I like it, but I always feel guilty about liking it. It fels sort of like a ten year old liking baby formula.

  • February 5, 2006 7:05am

    What gives white chocolate that caramelized flavor? I used to prefer it till I got to know the dark..There is something mysterious about white chocolate and it often gets left behind…

  • February 5, 2006 8:34am

    i love chocolat blanc and will always be more than happy to munch on it or to cook with it! :)

  • Kathy
    February 5, 2006 11:00am

    What an informative post. I’ve often heard the argument you described and next time I hear it I’ll mention the wine thing! :)

  • February 5, 2006 11:06am

    This post made me hungry for any kind of chocolate. I was interested to hear that El Rey has white chocolate–I’ve never seen it–maybe not available in the U.S.?

  • February 5, 2006 12:22pm

    I love white chocolate, and could never understand why it is scorned, rather than simply disliked, by those who don’t care for it. It is as if they think it is wimpy in some way (as if you have to be tough to like dark chocolate!) I have been thinking about doing some baking with the white stuff, and am glad to have this info on good brands.

  • February 5, 2006 12:41pm

    I’ll tell you why some of us despise white chocolate, the texture of a white chocolate bar is often waxy and unappealing and the flavor sickeningly sweet. In general I avoid it. That said, there used to be a restaurant that served a white chocolate mousse with a raspberry sauce that was nothing short of divine…

  • Embla
    February 5, 2006 2:07pm

    I have no problem eating as much dark chocolate as I want, but eating white chocolate just always make me feel so guilty.

    I think one of the reasons people may not like white chocolate so much is that a lot of the white chocolate candies in America always have something (usually gross) mixed in it to make the chocolate seem more interesting. It’s never offered as a simple bar, the way dark and milk chocolate are.

  • February 5, 2006 2:49pm

    OK, I’ll reconsider white chocolate as a nice enhancement to darker chocolate, something akin to the nice color combination on your blog, BTW. I adore the taste of dark chocolate so much, I do find it’s pale cousin a poor substitute, but as a contrasting taste and texture, I know I can appreciate it. Thanks for talking me into it!

  • February 5, 2006 7:44pm

    i didn’t care for white choc for the longest time until i had a bread pudding that included white choc & dried apricots (which i’ve noted is one of the standard flavor combos used by artisan breadmaker types). anyway, once ya have good white choc, i guess it makes a difference

  • February 5, 2006 11:46pm

    Thank you for the incredibly informative post, David!

    I love white chocolate as well … and I love baking with it. One of my favourite cakes is a stawberry shortcake that I make where melted white chocolate is added to the batter. DELICIOUS!

  • February 6, 2006 12:30am

    Great post.

    I’m glad to see that White Chocolate is being given a second look.

    It is truly a guilty pleasure for many of us (I’ve always associated it with Easter and those molded chocolate bunnies).

    I like to do double dipped strawberries – dip in white first and then a second, kind of off kilter coat of dark chocolate. Yum.

  • February 6, 2006 10:48am

    It’s kind of like green peppers for me – I like it well enough when it’s IN things, but not on its own. When I was a kid I could just roll with the extra sweetness, but I’ve long since gone to the dark side.

    Still, I enjoyed reading your comments, as always!

  • A.P.
    February 6, 2006 6:36pm

    Interesting post. I found out that industry definitions as to what constitutes “chocolate” are a bit fuzzy. It appears most definitions include both cocoa butter AND cocoa solids (mass).
    The lotion for my legs has cocoa butter in it, but it is not chocolate, not even white chocolate.
    White chocolate is just cocoa butter (no cacao solids) plus sugar plus milk plus flavoring.

    I do not agree with the wine/chocolate comparison. Wines red and white are made of the same ingredient (grapes). A more apt comparison would be dark/white chocolate vs. wine/vinegar.


  • February 7, 2006 12:01pm

    thanks for all the information! i rarely use white chocolate, (i rarely makes desserts either), but white chocolate creme anglaise sounds too delicious.

  • Patrick
    February 8, 2006 9:44am

    I love WC, especially Lindt. I have to say though, I used Callebaut WC a couple of times, and I thought it was horrible!

  • brandon
    February 11, 2006 9:51am

    As far as american white chocolate goes…I think Ghiradelli makes a nice product With a good chocolate taste.

  • MissK
    February 18, 2006 1:45am

    I love white chocolate as well.
    My favourite is bt Green and Blacks,it’s so expensive here in Australia but i just get a small bar when feeling guilty.