Processed cacao beans yield a liquor comprised of 50-60 percent cocoa butter. It's the primary ingredient in chocolate. Always has been, always will be. Maybe.
U.S. manufacturers are trying to sweet talk the federal government into changing the definition of chocolate to allow vegetable oils to substitute for cocoa butter. For large candy manufacturers, it would be the equivalent of finding the golden ticket in a Wonka bar. Cocoa butter costs about four times more than vegetable oils, so even a small reduction in the amount of cocoa in the mix would mean big savings. And while officials with the Grocery Manufacturers Association say the savings "could" be passed on to consumers, chances are it would land in Big Chocolate's pocket.
It should be noted that the industry is already free to take as much chocolate as it wants out of chocolate. But without the rule changes to allow a lower percentage of cocoa butter, the candy would have to be labeled "imitation" chocolate, which could hurt sales. Better to disguise the imitations as the real thing and fetch a premium price, the industry seems to be saying.
But chocolate fiends, and candymakers concerned about product purity, are uniting against this assault on our favorite comfort food. Hundreds of chocoholics have written the federal Food and Drug Administration protesting the proposed changes. Chocolate lovers don't want candymakers to fudge on the ingredients. They want their chocolate to be chocolate.
Consumers seem less concerned about other foodstuffs. The federal Food and Drug Administration, acting on recommendations from a consortium of food industry groups, will decide if manufacturers can add and substitute ingredients in nearly 300 manufactured foods. But citizen complaints have centered almost exclusively on chocolate.
While it's nice to see American consumers have a meltdown about the quality of their candy, they're missing the big picture. In this age of additives, preservatives, herbicides, insecticides, hormones and bioengineering, they should be concerned about all foods, not just sexy products like chocolate.
Perhaps chocolate can serve as a signature species for pure food advocates, much like the polar bear did for global warming opponents, and help raise public awareness and increase public input into food issues. We need to maintain the integrity of our food supply. After all, we are what we eat.