Count mockolate?; Upscale confectioners say ‘it’s ridiculous’ to

Count mockolate?; Upscale confectioners say ‘it’s ridiculous’ to

Janet Rausa Fuller

Gary Guittard can’t get the bitter taste out of his mouth.

The San Francisco chocolatier and other upscale chocolate- makers, in Chicago this week for the Fancy Food Show at McCormick Place, are making a stand: Don’t mess with our chocolate.

The source of their distaste: a proposal by some of the nation’s largest food trade groups that would change the definition of chocolate by allowing the use of vegetable oil in place of cocoa butter — the key ingredient that makes chocolate, well, chocolate.

“A step back,” Guittard, president of a company that bears his family’s name, called it.

“Low-class,” agreed Katie Schaub, chocolatier at Wisconsin’s Kohler Original Recipe Chocolates. “To call that chocolate, it’s ridiculous.”

At the center of the chocolate debate is a petition filed last October by the Grocery Manufacturers Association on behalf of 11 food trade groups, including the Chocolate Manufacturers Association. They are asking the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to update its definitions for a wide range of foods, everything from using reconstituted milk in yogurt to allowing cartoon character- shaped pasta to be called macaroni.

Then, there’s the line that got the chocolate-makers’ attention, calling for allowing the use of “a vegetable fat in place of another vegetable fat named in the standard [e.g. cacao fat]”. That change, the chocolate people say, threatens the very essence of chocolate.

“Cocoa butter is such a unique fat. There’s nothing else like it,” said Richard Gordon, president of the Chocolate Potpourri, a Glenview boutique.

Cocoa butter — the cacao fat from cocoa beans — is what gives chocolate its “mouth feel.” It’s extracted from chocolate liquor — the liquid produced by grinding up the center, or nib, of the cocoa bean.

For a food to be called chocolate, it must contain both cocoa butter and chocolate liquor, under federal regulations enforced by the FDA. A product that doesn’t meet the FDA’s standards has to be labeled “chocolate flavored,” “chocolatey” or something else other than “chocolate.”

Under the proposed changes, you’d still have to have chocolate liquor in anything called chocolate, but vegetable oil could be substituted for cocoa butter.

A chocolate-maker would not, of course, be required to do away with cocoa butter.

Still, Guittard and others say the changes would bring on more chocolate impostors — “mockolate,” as some bloggers put it — and confuse consumers.

“They’ll be able to call it chocolate, and it’s just not the right thing to be doing,” said Guittard, who last month launched a Web site,, which people can use to submit comments to the FDA.

Critics suspect that cost has a lot to do with the proposed changes to the standards, which were established in 1938. A pound of chocolate contains roughly $2.30 worth of cocoa butter, Guittard said — vegetable oil would cost just 70 cents.


“It would make chocolate easier to make, cheaper to make and easier to handle,” said Nathan Sato, president of Malie Kai Chocolates, a gourmet chocolate company based in Honolulu.

Sato says chocolate made with vegetable oil would eliminate the issue of “bloom” — the whitish streaks that appear when cocoa butter separates and rises to the surface of chocolate.

It’s possible to get chocolate that tastes just as good without cocoa butter, backers say.

“There is not one company that would ever do anything to reduce the quality of their product,” said Tom Joyce, vice president of customer and industry affairs at Hersheys, a member of the Chocolate Manufacturers Association.

“A bottom line here is that consumers love chocolate, and they’ll still be able to get the chocolates they want,” said the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s Robert Earl.

The FDA’s review process is lengthy. If any changes to the food standards are approved, the process would take three to five years.

Gourmet chocolatiers interviewed at the Fancy Food Show said they don’t question the need to update some of the food standards.

“But messing with chocolate?” said Gordon, the Glenview chocolate- maker. “Bad idea.”

Copyright 2007 Chicago Sun-Times. All rights reserved. Reproduction


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