I can just feel you dark chocoholics out there cringing in front of this photo like vampires before a sunrise. It burns! It burns! But that’s a nice question, reader Walter! Of course there are a fair number of dark chocolate-loving readers here who would describe any white chocolate as “low quality”, but let’s ignore the peanut gallery, shall we? The main difference between a high quality white chocolate and a lower quality white chocolate is the percentage of cocoa butter. Of course other factors play into it, the care with which it’s formulated and processed and so on, but if I had to boil it down to any one thing, that would be it. For cocoa butter is what often makes the difference between a silky, melt-in-your mouth sort of candy and one that’s crumbly or waxy.
Is crumble/waxiness such a bad thing? Generally speaking it is for the bar chocolate eater, as one of the defining features of chocolate, whether dark or light, is its ability to liquify in your mouth and bathe your tastebuds in flavor. Lower quality chocolates don’t do that, or not to as great an extent. The reason is because low quality chocolate doesn’t have as much cocoa butter in it. Yes it has some — chocolate without at least some cocoa butter can’t legally be labeled “chocolate” in the US — however it may be mixed with another type of fat like palm oil.
What’s the difference between the two fats? Mainly one of melt point. Cocoa butter is famous for its low melt point, which is just below body temperature. It’s also famous for its “sharp” melt point, which is a related quality. A sharp melt point means an almost instantaneous change of phase from solid to liquid. In general, materials that are more uniform are the ones that melt the fastest. Fats may look uniform, but under the hood they’re anything but. Palm oil is composed of dozens of different types of lipids, all of which have different melt points, some low, some high. As a result it takes a fair amount of time, once the palm oil is heated, before all the various lipids melt completely. Cocoa butter likewise has many kinds of lipids in it, however it is dominated by just three, all of which melt right around 91 degrees. Put cocoa butter in your mouth and boom, it immediately starts to run.
So while lower quality white chocolate does have its uses, if you just wanted to eat some you’re better off with a higher quality confection. Not only will it probably taste better, you’ll tend to savor each morsel as the cocoa butter melts, coats your mouth and tongue, and extends the sensory experience. Low quality chocolate, lacking much cocoa butter, tends to simply tumble down your gullet, which is why if I’m going to simply eat some chocolate by itself I like something a little more expensive (like a Dove mini). I’ve seen Mrs. Pastry make a good quality chocolate bar last for weeks. Thanks for the question, Walter!