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What’s the difference between white chocolate and brown chocolate?

All chocolate grows on trees. Brown chocolate comes from brown trees and white chocolate comes from white trees. Not really.

Chocolate comes from cocoa beans which grow inside a large pod that grows on trees. To make chocolate the beans are removed from the pods and heaped into a pile. Immediately a slew of chemical reactions begin. Sugar converts to glucose and fructose and which in turn start to ferment to alcohol and acetic acid. This then forms a variety of flavourful acetate esters and also kills the sprouts inside the seeds, releasing enzymes that break down proteins and sugars to tasty compounds. The beans are then roasted causing amino acids to react with sugars forming substances called melanoidins, responsible for colour. Roasting also makes it easy to remove the sprout from the bean.

The sprouts, or nibs, are ground, dispersing the tiny cocoa particles in the cocoa fat. This produces something called chocolate liquor. Cooling this yields baking chocolate. In Dutching, a process invented in 1828 by Conrad van Houten, the nibs are treated with bicarbonate or ammonium hydroxide to neutralize acids and produce a more mild cocoa. Van Houten also invented a way to separate cocoa butter by putting chocolate liquor through a huge press. In 1847 J.S. Fry found that added cocoa butter and sugar to chocolate liquor could produce a bar and then in 1876 Henri Nestle and Daniel Peter found that adding condensed milk produced a milder flavor. Milton Hershey went on to devise mass production. The final step in chocolate making is “tempering” when the chocolate is carefully cooled to allow the fat to crystallize.

So much for brown chocolate. What’s white chocolate? Actually it isn’t even chocolate because it does not contain cocoa particles. It is just cocoa butter mixed with sugar, often with a little vanilla added for flavoring. Since it has no cocoa, the characteristic flavour compounds found in chocolate, compounds like phenyl acetic acid, furfuryl alcohol, dimethyl sulfide, 2-methoxy-4-methylphenol and 1-methylnaphthalene as well as 300 others, are mostly absent. Also absent are anandamide, N-oleoylethanolamine and N- linoleoylethanolamine, the compounds that are supposedly responsible for the pleasure giving effects of chocolate. Why? Because they apparently stimulate the same receptors in the brain as cannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana. So it’s no wonder that chocoholics’ cravings are not satisfied by white chocolate. But before we get too carried away with the cannabis-like effect, just reflect on this: a 60 kg person would have to eat 11 kg of chocolate to get a buzz!

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