Cocoa Butter: Inside & Out
Cocoa butter is one of nature's best gifts. Not only is it ideal for moisturizing your skin, but it plays a significant role in the chocolate we eat, and it's a critical tool for chocolatiers.
Cocoa Butter Basics
The cacao bean is about 45% cocoa solids (also called cocoa mass) and 55% cocoa butter. Cocoa butter is the fat content of the cacao bean, and because it is a vegetable fat, cocoa butter has no cholesterol. It’s pale yellow in appearance and has a chocolate aroma. It is one of the most stable fats (having a shelf life of between two to five years) and provides good omega fatty acids as well as antioxidants.
Cocoa butter for beauty use usually comes in large hunks.
You can buy 100% natural or raw cocoa butter that has a lovely chocolate-ish aroma. You can use it on its own to moisturize or melt it and blend it with other butters and oils to create a moisturizer.
Cocoa butter remains solid at room temperature but melts quickly at 90-93°F, just below body temperature. This is why, when applied topically, cocoa butter melts nicely on your skin and creates a barrier between your skin and the environment to retain your skin’s moisture.
When it comes to chocolate, cocoa butter is responsible for the creamy, smooth mouthfeel of chocolate. The quality of chocolate depends on the amount of cocoa butter added during processing. The reason a piece of premium chocolate melts immediately when you eat it is because the melting point of cocoa butter is slightly lower than our body temperature. Because high quality cocoa butter is expensive, inferior chocolate relies on the use of vegetable shortening or oil instead of cocoa butter. And not all cocoa butter is the same. The quality of cocoa butter depends on the quality of the cacao bean.
Dark and milk chocolate have both cocoa solids and cocoa butter; whereas, white chocolate contains no cocoa solids. White chocolate is made primarily of cocoa butter, a milk product, sugar, and vanilla.
Cocoa Butter From a Chocolatier’s Perspective
When chocolatiers speak of crystallizing chocolate (post about crystallization), it’s the cocoa butter in the chocolate that has to be crystallized. Cocoa butter that’s used by chocolatiers is offered in small pieces and is deodorized (or the scent is removed) so that the natural scent of cocoa butter doesn’t affect the flavor of chocolate.
This cocoa butter comes crystallized. Below is the same cocoa butter melted.
And if I don’t crystallize it, but rather just let the melted cocoa butter cool, I'll get the following whitish spots – also called bloom.
There's nothing wrong with the cocoa butter, but it should be crystallized before use in chocolate work.
From a chocolatier’s perspective, there are a variety of uses for cocoa butter. For instance, cocoa butter can be added to a ganache with other vegetable fats to make a dairy-free ganache. Also, the colorful designs on chocolates and truffles are made largely with cocoa butter. Cocoa butter can be added to chocolate during the crystallization phase to reduce the viscosity of the chocolate and make it fluid enough for dipping chocolates or using in molds. When the cocoa butter sets or cools, it contracts slightly, and that allows the chocolate to easily release from the mold.
That's a quick cocoa butter overview for you.