We asked our Living Lotus community what they’d like to learn about chocolate, and the most common questions were about cacao butter and it’s not-so-chocolatey sister, white chocolate.
What is cacao butter? Where does it come from? What is white chocolate made of? Read ahead to learn all about cacao butter, white chocolate, and our dairy-free tribute to this treat, the Living Lotus blonde chocolate bar!
What is Cacao Butter?
Cacao butter is a delicious (and very necessary!) ingredient in chocolate making, with many other uses outside the world of chocolate, as well.
Cacao butter, also called cocoa butter, comes from cacao beans. Up to 55% of the weight of every cacao bean actually comes from cacao butter. Cacao beans are roasted, cracked, winnowed (this separates the shells from the nibs), and then ground into cacao paste. The cacao paste, also known as cacao liquor (no, not that kind of liquor) is put through a cacao press – a machine invented in 1828 by a man named Conrad J. Van Houten. This machine presses down on the cacao paste separating the cacao butter from the cacao solids. The result is what we call cacao butter. The remaining solids are turned into cacao powder.
Cacao butter has many uses and is safe to ingest and apply to the body. You may have heard of cacao butter being used in cosmetics – like lip balms and lotions – because of its smooth texture and moisturising properties. Despite its name, cacao butter is dairy-free and also works perfectly in chocolate creations to give a smooth and silky mouthfeel. It has a melting temperature just below the human body (34 to 38 °C) but is solid at room temperature, which allows it to melt in your mouth when you take a bite. Adding cacao butter to a chocolate recipe makes it easier to work with and mould into bars, and also gives an improved glossiness and stronger snap in the finished product.
The cacao butter that we use in Living Lotus chocolates originates from cacao beans in the San Martin region of Santiago de Sisa, Peru. This area is very mountainous and is located 600 to 800 metres above sea level, with various native communities inhabiting the area. The climate and terrain makes traditional farming fairly difficult, but luckily works great for harvesting cacao.
The cacao we receive from San Martin is harvested with quality in mind. The co-operative who farms these beans only harvest cacao pods when they are perfectly ripe, resulting in a more aromatic and delicious bean. The co-operative also values women’s empowerment and boosts female farmers who are looking to support their families with cacao. Almost half of the 435 registered organic cacao producers in this co-operative are women, and the organization itself also employs many women from local communities.
San Martin is responsible for over 40% of the cacao production in Peru and represents by far the largest cacao production department in the country. The Peruvian government has shown their support for the cacao industry by promoting the exportation of this resource, making Peru the biggest exporter of organic cacao Beans in the world.
So, what even is white chocolate?
White chocolate doesn’t actually have any cacao solids in it. Instead, the ingredients in a white chocolate recipe are usually sugar, cacao butter, and a dairy additive like ‘modified milk ingredients’ or ‘milk solids’. Where is the cacao? In a cacao bean the cacao butter is what gives chocolate a rich and silky mouthfeel, while the cacao nibs hold a more typical smell and taste of what we would recognize as being ‘chocolatey’. So, without the cacao nibs or solids, white chocolate’s use of cacao butter leads to a smooth and creamy product that has a very delicate flavour. Regulations for this treat require that white chocolate should have a cacao butter content of at least 20 percent compared to the regulations for regular chocolate, where only 10 percent cacao product is required.
Despite these regulations, a lot of the white chocolate that we see on store shelves actually doesn’t contain ANY cacao butter. The creamy flavour of your generic grocery store white chocolate bar comes from dairy additives and filler ingredients, not from authentic cacao butter. These additives and filler ingredients are used in place of cacao butter as a way to make a cheaper product and to line the pockets of the corporations who sell the chocolate as opposed to paying a fair price to the cacao farmers who farm and supply the cacao.
Living Lotus Blonde (Vegan White) Chocolate Bar
We wanted to create a sweet and creamy chocolate option for white chocolate lovers (with real cacao butter), but vegan and without the dairy additives that mainstream grocery store bars include. Our solution is the Blonde Bar!
If you’ve heard of blonde chocolate before, you may recognize it as the white chocolate spin-off where the cacao butter and dairy ingredients are heated up and caramelized until it has a milky-coffee colour. This version of chocolate has a more complex flavour profile than its more popular predecessor, white chocolate.
The Living Lotus Blonde Chocolate Bar is different. Our biggest challenge was to create a delicious and creamy ‘white chocolate’ bar without sacrificing texture or taste.. While testing and crafting our recipe, we found that using organic oat milk gave a creamy and complex flavour that we were aiming for – while still being totally vegan. The final recipe combines ethically sourced San Martin cacao butter, low glycemic coconut sugar, and certified gluten-free organic oat milk to create a silky sweet bar with notes of toffee and caramel. We didn’t have the dairy ingredients to caramelize like in a traditional blonde bar, but the natural colour of the coconut sugar gave the chocolate bars a beautiful golden colour. So, calling our bar ‘white’ chocolate didn’t feel quite right…and instead the current name for our version was born. Our Blonde (Vegan White) Chocolate.