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The Making of Kosher Swiss Chocolate

Rabbi Zushe Yosef Blech

© 2002 Rabbi Blech; Reprinted with permission from MK News and Views Volume 1, Issue 9 Lag B'Omer & Shavuot 5760 / May 2000.

Pundits have often claimed - with a bit of truth intermingled in their jest - that chocolate represents one of the major food groups. Few foods have aroused the passions of its legions of adherents, and modern science has indeed tentatively identified a number of components of chocolate that may contribute to a person’s well being. It is interesting to note that the chocolate confection as we know it has been around for less than 200 years, yet in that short period of time has managed to be the subject of much Halachik discussion. The processing of the cocoa bean into high quality chocolate adhering to strict Kashrus requirements is a formidable challenge, but such are the challenges worthy of creative effort ( ). As we shall see, in the world of chocolate, “butter” is not Milchig, “liquor” is non-alcoholic, “chocolate” may contain meat, and it should have a temper.

Chocolate was first cultivated in South America. It was enjoyed by Cortez in the court of Montezuma, brought to Europe by the Spaniards and improved upon by the intrepid Dutch. The various types of cacao trees, from which the cocoa bean is derived, are collectively known by the name theobrama (food of the gods) and grown in tropical areas of the Americas and Africa. The pods, which grow on the tree, are allowed to ferment naturally after harvesting. The beans are then removed, roasted, and the “meats” inside the bean are broken into small pieces called nibs. These nibs are then ground to yield a viscous liquid called chocolate liquor. The Aztecs mixed this liquor with hot water to create a much prized, if bitter, beverage -- hence the term chocolate from the Mexican Indian choco (foam) and atl (water). When Cortez introduced the beverage to Europe, his market surveys indicated that Europeans preferred a sweeter beverage, and by 1580 hot chocolate flavored with sugar and vanilla was in common use in Spain. Interestingly, it is claimed that Jewish traders brought the drink to France, from where its use spread throughout Europe. While the history of chocolate as a hot beverage may seem pedantic, its Halachic implications are quite significant. The Sha’arei Teshuva (O.C. 402:19) discusses the appropriate brocha that one should make on chocolate, and quotes several sources that it is a Shehakol. However, Dayan Gavriel Kraus in Mekor Habracha (Chpt. 21) argues that the correct bracha for chocolate which we eat today should be Ha’Etz. As we will see, eating chocolate is a relatively recent innovation, first appearing in 1845. In contradistinction to the chocolate beverage available for the previous 200 years which is predominantly water, eating chocolate is predominantly chocolate liquor with sugar and additional fat added. Since the cocoa beans were grown for the purpose of making chocolate, such chocolate should retain the status and beracha as a fruit. Rabbi Kraus argues that the sources mentioned by the Sha’arei Teshuva posting a Shehakol related only to the chocolate beverage available at the time, and the current practice of making a Shehakol on eating chocolate is an inappropriate extrapolation between the historic chocolate beverage and modern eating chocolate. Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, however (Igros Moshe O.C. III:31) discusses the appropriate brocha that one should make on chocolate covered raisins, and clearly assumes that the chocolate itself is subject to a Shehakol. [For additional arguments favoring the blessing of Shehakol, see Mishna Halachos Vol. VI Ch. 38 as well as Tiferes Tzvi Ch. 6 from Rabbi Kornmehl.]

Chocolate liquor, also known as chocolate mass, has a flavor that is too intense to be eaten by itself and as discussed above had historically been used as a base for hot cocoa drinks. However, in 1825 Conrad Van Houten developed a press that could separate cocoa butter from chocolate liquor yielding cocoa butter and cocoa powder, or cocoa. Although it is impossible to remove all of the cocoa butter from cocoa using this process, all of the chocolate flavor is concentrated in the cocoa powder. [Cocoa powder is categorized by the amount of cocoa butter which remains after pressing, and if a very low fat cocoa powder is desired, the powder can be solvent extracted with a process similar to that used to decaffeinate coffee.] Dutched cocoa powder is treated with an alkalizing agent (such as calcium carbonate) to modify the flavor and darken the color. Cocoa butter is an insipid fat; it imparts no flavor to chocolate. Its importance, however, stems from the fact that it melts at and below body temperature, allowing chocolate to have that “melt in your mouth” sensation. If additional cocoa butter, as well as sugar, are added to chocolate liquor, a new confection called eating chocolate could be produced. The actual inventor of “chocolate for eating” is unknown, but in 1847 a product called chocolate delicieux a manger was sold in England. It is credited by some as the progenitor of this basic food group.

Generally, “chocolate” must contain the following ingredients — cocoa, cocoa butter, sugar, lecithin, and vanillin — and nothing else. Milk Chocolate also contains whole milk solids. White chocolate is actually a confection made from milk, cocoa butter, sugar and vanillin. It has no “chocolate” flavor, but does enjoy the same melting characteristics as other chocolates. If, on the other hand, another type of fat is used in place of, or in addition to cocoa butter, the product is usually called compound chocolate. [Many chocolate products, indeed, use alternative fat blends. Such blends are typically less expensive than cocoa butter and allow the manufacturer to adjust the melting temperature and other characteristics of its product. Pure chocolate does not do well in the summer!] The definition of chocolate in various European countries, on the other hand, is quite a bit broader. Fats other than cocoa butter may be used in European chocolates. Indeed, the Belgians are fond of using animal fat in their chocolate because of the softer texture it imparts. Clearly, one person’s chocolate is another person’s nightmare.

Nightmares are indeed the stuff of which Hashgachos are made. While it is now clear that “chocolate” can contain obviously non-Kosher material, many other Kashrus problems can lurk beneath the surface. For example, lecithin (a soy derivative) would seem harmless — were it not for the fact it may contain animal-based fatty acids. In addition, many countries allow the use of fat-based emulsifiers in addition to lecithin, some of which are derived from animal fats. Whey, a by-product of cheese production, is often used in European chocolate as a replacement for non-fat dry milk. Even milk powder may have serious Kashrus concerns. Companies that produce this material often use the same processing equipment to produce an infant formula that contains animal fat or veal feed, which is a spray-dried mixture of milk and beef fat! Even butter oil can pose a Kashrus concern. These ingredient concerns relate to chocolate itself, to say nothing of chocolate-coated products which may contain any number of questionable ingredients. Even if a chocolate contains no questionable ingredients in and of itself, it may still be processed on equipment that is used for non-Kosher products.

The art of chocolate making involves manipulating the crystal structure of the cocoa, fat, and sugar to provide a smooth melt in the mouth. The first step, refining, is where fat, cocoa, and sugar are milled to a very fine particle size. The mixture is then subjected to a process called conching, considered by chocolatiers to be the true art of the process of making chocolate. Conching involves kneading the chocolate mixture with additional cocoa butter for 24 to 96 hours at over 150o F to give it its final smoothness and creaminess and remove any residual moisture. [The term conch is derived from the Latin concha meaning seashell. The original conche used to process chocolate consisted of a flat granite bed upon which heavy granite rollers attached to steel arms rolled back and forth over the chocolate. These old longitudinal conches looked like shells, hence the name.] Most modern conches vary in construction and use steel rollers, but the essential process of imparting smoothness to the product remains the same.

The final step in the manufacture of chocolate is tempering. As liquid chocolate cools and solidifies, the cocoa butter forms crystals. To temper chocolate, it is heated and cooled under controlled conditions so that a fine, even-grained texture is developed. Typically, chocolate at this stage is not heated above 115oF. Careful tempering also reduces the tendency of chocolate to bloom. Bloom is the fuzzy white haze that forms on the surface of chocolate as cocoa butter melts and recrystallizes. Lecithin, a natural emulsifier derived from soybeans, is added to chocolate to reduce this problem which can appear on chocolate which has been stored or refrigerated for long periods of time. Chocolate certified for Pesach, however, uses no lecithin and requires the addition of a greater amount of (expensive) cocoa butter.

One of the peculiarities of chocolate is that water interferes with the crystallization of the cocoa butter. During its processing the fine particles of chocolate are aligned in a tight matrix with fat. If water is incorporated into chocolate, it will become a hard, brittle mass. Although the taste of chocolate could be improved by mixing it with milk, fluid milk is over 90% water and incorporating it into chocolate posed a serious challenge. The thrifty Swiss, in particular, were keen on finding a way to incorporate milk into chocolate as a means of using their surplus milk, and in 1875 a Swiss manufacturer named Daniel Peters discovered the key to a successful milk chocolate process. By using milk powder, he was able to produce a coarse, dry milk chocolate bar. By 1897, however, Mr. Peters had perfected a process using condensed milk to produce an intermediate product called milk crumb. Milk crumb is produced by cooking chocolate liquor with sweetened condensed milk, dry ing this mixture into a powder, and subsequently blending it with cocoa butter to produce chocolate.

[The use of powdered milk poses a possible interesting Halachik leniency. Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank zt”l (Har Tzvi Reponsa 103 and 104) is of the opinion that powdered milk is not subject to the restriction of Cholov Akum, and accordingly chocolate made with powdered milk may be eaten even by those who insist upon Cholov Yisroel. As regards chocolate made using the milk crumb method, Rav Avrohom Shapiro holds that since the majority of the mixture is chocolate liquor and not milk, it does not fall under this Heter. Others however, disagree. What is clear, however, is that caramels and other components of confections that are not pure chocolate often use liquid milk and would not enjoy this leniency.]

The inability of chocolate production to tolerate water has another interesting Halachic implication. Many chocolate production systems are used for both milk chocolate and dark (non-dairy) products, and Kashering equipment from dairy to Pareve (or from non-supervised milk to Cholov Yisroel) poses a formidable challenge. In general, chocolate manufacturers are loath to allow Kashering with water. Water is inimical to the manufacture of chocolate for two reasons, because it can react with chocolate to form a brittle mass that is exceptionally difficult to remove. For this reason, if Kashering with a flame (Libun) is not practical, some authorities rely on Kashering with cocoa butter or chocolate itself. Such a Kashering is, again, the subject of discussion among contemporary Poskim. Aside from general Halachik question of Kashering with liquids other than water, there is a question as to whether cocoa butter is considered a liquid in the first place since it solidifies at room temperature (see Igros Moshe Y.D. I:60).

Given the difficulty in Kashering chocolate plants, it is noteworthy that at least one company has indeed succeeded in achieving a Kashering with water to produce a truly Mehadrin chocolate. A famous Swiss chocolate company has agreed to make specially supervised productions of Passover Cholov Yisroel chocolate. Until this production, no Swiss chocolate company had ever agreed to allow the Kashering of its equipment with water. For this production, all equipment was Kashered with a flame or with hot water, and equipment that proved difficult to Kasher was replaced with equipment dedicated to Kosher production.

The food industry has long recognized the Kosher market as significant and worth an extra effort to penetrate. With a recognition of the increased expectations of the Kosher consumer today, companies have been willing to make additional efforts to provide products that meet the highest levels of Kashrus. Fine Swiss chocolate – Mehadrin-style – is but the latest example of the standards that can be attained by insisting on Kashrus l’Chatchila.

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