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Cocoa butter substitutes 101: What you need to know

Posted: Aug 02, 2023 9 minute read GAR 6352 views

Chocolate is loved by many – from how it melts in the mouth to the comforting taste it brings.

The smooth texture and flavour of chocolate and related confectionery products come from cocoa butter. Occurring naturally in cocoa beans, cocoa butter is mainly made up of lipids – in other words, fat.

However, cocoa butter production yield challenges and specific application demands, such as making chocolate that does not melt in the tropics, have led to an increasing demand for substitutes for cocoa butter. Read on to learn more about these alternatives, their comparisons with cocoa butter, and how they can be a long-term, cost-effective solution for chocolate and confectionery production.

What is cocoa butter?

Cocoa butter is the fat of the cocoa bean. The extraction process starts by roasting cocoa beans, removing their hulls, and exposing cocoa nibs. These cocoa nibs are ground into a paste known as cocoa liquor which is pressed to extract a pale-yellow liquid fat and solidified to form the cocoa butter we know.

With a strong chocolatey smell and mildly sweet taste, cocoa butter has a low melting point (around 34°C – 38°C). This melting point coincides with the average human body temperature and gives chocolate the melt-in-your-mouth experience.

Did you know?

Cocoa butter fat can crystallise in any one of six different forms. Only one of the crystal forms (Form V), hardens into firm, shiny chocolate with a great snap that people love.

When tempered properly to achieve the correct fat crystal formation, cocoa butter creates chocolate with a high gloss and a sharp snap. Not only is this look and feel desired by consumers, but the firmness also enables more efficient moulding when making the chocolate.

What are cocoa butter alternatives? Why use cocoa butter alternatives?

Although cocoa butter possesses ideal characteristics to create great chocolate, the volatile price of cocoa butter, along with the specific climatic conditions cocoa trees need to grow  – like consistent temperatures, nitrogen-rich soil, and shelter from wind – have led the food industries to seek alternatives for this essential chocolate ingredient. These cocoa butter alternatives are produced from vegetable fats that fully or partially mimic the properties of cocoa butter, either by blending or modifying other natural oils or fats.

These alternatives are divided into three groups based on their function and similarity to cocoa butter: Cocoa Butter Equivalents (CBE), Cocoa Butter Replacers (CBR), and Cocoa Butter Substitutes (CBS).

Cocoa Butter Equivalent (CBE) Cocoa Butter Replacer (CBR) Cocoa Butter Substitute (CBS)
Sources Palm oil, illipe butter, shea butter, kokum butter, sal nut fat Hydrogenated oil, soya oil, rapeseed oil, cotton seed oil, ground nut oil, palm olein Coconut oil, palm kernel oil, Medium-Chain Triglycerides (MCT) oil
Physical and chemical comparisons with cocoa butter Similar in their physical and chemical properties to cocoa butter The distribution of fatty acid is similar to cocoa butter, but the structure of triglycerides is completely different While chemically different to cocoa butter, they share some physical similarities
Type of fatty acids Non-lauric acid plant fats Non-lauric acid plant fats Lauric acid plant fat
Main fatty acids content Palmitic (P), stearic (S), oleic acid (O), Linoleic (L), Arachidic acid (A) Elaidic acid (E), Stearic acid (S), Palmitic (P), Linoleic (L) Lauric acid (L), myristic acid (M)
How well does it mix with cocoa butter? Mixable with it in every amount without altering the properties of cocoa butter Only in small ratios Not mixable. Used to 100% replace cocoa butter

Comparison between cocoa butter alternatives1

Exploring cocoa butter substitutes for chocolate applications

There are plenty of cocoa butter substitutes in the market. Here are three of the most commonly used options for chocolate:

  1. Palm Kernel Oil
    As the highest-yielding plant-derived oil, palm kernel oil is notably more accessible and affordable than cocoa butter.

    Like cocoa butter, which has a distinct and specific melting profile, palm-based cocoa butter substitutes maintain a solid state at room temperature while melting near body temperature. This results in a smooth and creamy mouthfeel while reducing the risk of melting or softening during warm weather or in locations with higher temperatures. At the same time, modern cocoa butter substitutes can be tailored to achieve diverse melting characteristics, surpassing the limitations of standard cocoa butter and unlocking a wide range of potential applications for the market to explore.

    Did you know?

    Palm-based cocoa butter substitutes, like our i-SOC CBS 35 require no tempering because it naturally crystallises into a stable structure. This results in more efficient and cost-friendly production, consistent results in terms of texture and appearance, and a longer shelf life.

    Using palm kernel oil as a substitute for cocoa butter also enhances the final product’s fat composition profile and stability as the cocoa butter substitute crystallises rapidly in a stable form – unlike cocoa butter, which can crystallise in any one of six forms, only one of which is desired. The enhanced fat stability stops fat migration (fat in chocolate from moving from the inside to the outer layer of the chocolate), which can cause an unattractive white discoloration known as fat bloom in chocolate.

    Advantages of palm-based cocoa butter substitutes
    • Enhances the final product’s fat composition profile and stability
    • Ensures uniformity in texture
    • Safeguards against structural collapse caused by additional ingredients like fruits, nuts, and milk
    • Easier to achieve the required texture characteristics, including smoothness and glossiness
    • Enhances the crispness of chocolate’s snap
    • Does not need to be tempered, thus saving time
    • Tasteless, thus not affecting the recipe’s original taste

    Figure 2. The advantages of palm-based cocoa butter substitutes2

  2. Coconut Oil and Coconut Butter
    Coconut oil has similar fatty acids to cocoa butter, making it a dependable alternative. In contrast to cocoa butter, coconut oil is liquid even when refrigerated. With its nutty flavour and inherent tropical fruit sweetness, coconut oil is an ideal replacement for cocoa butter in recipes that call for those taste profiles.Coconut butter exhibits similar physical characteristics to cocoa butter – solid at room temperature and melting when subjected to heat. Just like coconut oil, it has a distinctive taste profile that can be desirable in certain recipes. Like cocoa butter, coconut butter is abundant in fat content. But it also contains carbohydrates and a small amount of protein, setting it apart from cocoa butter in terms of composition.

    Advantages of coconut-based cocoa butter substitutes
    • Provides delightful and subtle sweetness without additional sweeteners
    • Contributes to a smooth and creamy texture in desserts and confectionery items
    • Rich in healthy fats, contributing to the richness and mouthfeel of chocolates
    • Enhances the stability of certain dishes, especially in confections

    Figure 3. The advantages of coconut-based cocoa butter substitutes3

  3. Butter
    Butter is one of the most common substitutes for cocoa butter, particularly in homemade or artisanal chocolate recipes. Its creamy texture and rich buttery flavour can add a unique taste and richness to chocolate and confectionery products. While it doesn’t replicate cocoa butter’s exact texture and flavour, this difference is desirable or acceptable in some recipes.Butter has a lower melting point compared to cocoa butter. As a result, chocolates made with butter may have a softer texture and lower resistance to melting at room temperature. It’s important to note the following factors before using butter as a cocoa butter substitute:

    • Butter contains water and milk solids absent in cocoa butter. These additions may impact the overall texture and stability of the final product.
    • The distinct flavour of butter may overpower or alter the intended taste of certain chocolate creations.
    • Butter is not a suitable substitute for cocoa butter in vegan or dairy-free recipes, as it contains dairy components.
    • Specialised cocoa butter substitutes are often preferred for commercial chocolate production or applications requiring precise and consistent results due to their closer resemblance to cocoa butter.

Challenging the assumption: Are cocoa butter alternatives less “healthy” than cocoa butter?

Cocoa butter is widely known as a “natural fat” used in making chocolate. Meanwhile, specialised cocoa butter alternatives are less familiar to the public and might be seen as less healthy due to additional processing to match cocoa butter’s properties. However, the healthiness of alternatives depends on their composition and how they fit into an individual’s diet and lifestyle.

Cocoa butter alternatives can vary widely in their fat content and composition. Some alternatives, like palm oil, contain higher proportions of healthier unsaturated fats than alternative substitutes like butter. In addition, cocoa butter replacement fractions from palm kernel oil are highly saturated in medium and short chain fatty acids, which don’t accumulate and deposit in the bloodstream like long chain saturated fats, reducing the risk of heart disease and other conditions.

It’s essential to recognise that each alternative has its own nutritional profile and potential benefits. Thus, the assumption that cocoa butter alternatives are inherently less healthy is oversimplified. The key to making healthier choices is understanding the nutritional content, eating in moderation, and ensuring they align with dietary needs and preferences.

Chocolate and the law

The popularity of cocoa and chocolate products has surged worldwide. Demand is predicted to increase further, driven by regulations and factors such as rising income from emerging countries like India.

To feed such substantial consumption, governments from top global chocolate consumers like the European Union (EU) have implemented regulations to oversee the amount of cocoa butter in chocolate products. They aim to safeguard consumers, uphold product quality, and prevent deceptive practices within the food industry.

European Union (EU) Chocolate law
Cocoa butter substitutes are regulated under the Cocoa and Chocolate Products Directive (Directive 2000/36/EC). According to this directive, for a product to be legally labelled and marketed as “chocolate”, it must meet certain minimum requirements:

  • Cocoa solids content: must be at least 35 percent of the total dry cocoa solids (which includes both cocoa butter and cocoa powder).
  • Cocoa butter content and substitutes: The directive doesn’t set a minimum requirement for cocoa butter content, but it does state that the inclusion of other vegetable fats, besides cocoa butter, can be up to five percent.
  • Labelling: products that contain cocoa butter substitutes must be labelled appropriately to indicate the presence of such substitutes in the ingredient list.

The European Union (EU) is intensifying its efforts to prevent deforestation with a new regulation. Cocoa and its derivatives, including chocolate, are among the seven commodities that must demonstrate that they are from deforestation-free origins in order to enter the EU market. With this regulation, the traceability and responsible cultivation of cocoa (and its derivatives like chocolate) become increasingly crucial.

Against this background, palm-derived cocoa butter alternatives, a frequently utilised component in chocolate manufacturing, is well-positioned. The industry has also made considerable progress in addressing deforestation. Furthermore, the majority of palm oil imports into EU (93%) are certified sustainable – a significant stride towards meeting the new requirements.

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Our high-quality cocoa butter substitutes meet the diverse needs of chocolate and confectionery production, serving major food producers as well as smaller bakeries and chocolate artists. Check out our Products & Services page to learn more. Looking to customise a product for your food manufacturing line? Learn about our R&D capabilities here
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1 Information retrieved from: https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu
2 Information retrieved from: https://mpoc.org.my
3 Information retrieved from: https://foodsguy.com/best-cocoa-butter-substitutes/

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