What Is In White Chocolate?

white chocolate

Maybe you have tasted white chocolate before, or perhaps you are thinking of buying some for the first time.  Either way, you might be wondering exactly what is in white chocolate, how much sugar and milk it contains, and so forth.  I wanted to find out myself, so I did some research on the topic.

So, what is in white chocolate?  White chocolate contains cocoa butter, milk (fat and solids), and sweeteners (such as sugar) as the main ingredients.  White chocolate may also contain additional flavoring (such as vanilla or cinnamon) and emulsifiers (such as lecithin derived from soy, egg, or sunflower) to improve texture.

Of course, white chocolate can vary in quality, taste, and texture depending on the percentages of cocoa butter, milk, and sweeteners used.

Let’s take a closer look at what is in white chocolate.  Then we’ll get into why white chocolate is white, why it is so expensive, and what makes it different from chocolate.

What Is In White Chocolate?

We’ll begin with the “official” legal definition of chocolate, at least in the U.S.  According to the FDA,

“White chocolate contains not less than 20 percent by weight of cacao fat as calculated by subtracting from the weight of the total fat the weight of the milkfat, dividing the result by the weight of the finished white chocolate, and multiplying the quotient by 100. The finished white chocolate contains not less than 3.5 percent by weight of milkfat and not less than 14 percent by weight of total milk solids, calculated by using only those dairy ingredients specified in paragraph (b)(2) of this section, and not more than 55 percent by weight nutritive carbohydrate sweetener.”

From the FDA website: https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?CFRPart=163&showFR=1&subpartNode=21:

Let’s translate that government language into plain English.  In summary, white chocolate must contain:

  • At least 20% cacao fat (cocoa butter)
  • At least 3.5% milk fat
  • At least 14% total milk solids (such as milk powder)
  • At most 55% sugar (or other sweeteners)

This means that white chocolate will contain, as a baseline, cocoa butter, milk fat, milk solids, and sugar.  White chocolate may also contain:

  • additional flavoring, such as vanilla or cinnamon, to enhance flavor
  • emulsifiers, such as lecithin derived from soy, eggs, or sunflowers, to improve texture
  • food coloring
  • other vegetable oils, such as palm (kernel) oil

For more information, check out this article on white chocolate from Wikipedia.

Does White Chocolate Contain Cocoa Solids?

No, white chocolate does not contain any cocoa solids (such as cocoa powder).  This is because the cocoa butter used in white chocolate has been separated from the rest of the cacao bean during processing.

white chocolate chips
White chocolate contains no cocoa solids, so it lacks the brown color of other types of chocolate. Image from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White_chocolate_chips.png

Basically, the cacao beans are harvested, fermented, heated, and separated from their shells.  The cacao nib is what remains after this process is complete.

The cacao nibs are crushed into a paste to form what is called cocoa mass.  This cocoa mass paste is then melted to form cocoa liquor (also known as chocolate liquor).

The fat is then separated from the cocoa liquor, leaving us with two separate products:

  • cocoa butter (which has an ivory or yellowish off-white color)
  • cocoa solids (which have a brown color and give chocolate its dark appearance)
cocoa powder
Cocoa solids, like cocoa powder, are what remains after extracting some of the cocoa butter from chocolate liquor (made from cacao beans).

The cocoa butter is used to make white chocolate and other products, such as skin cream, lip balm, and even pharmaceuticals.  The cocoa solids can be turned into cocoa powder, which is used for baking cakes, cupcakes, and other pastries.

Is There Any Caffeine In White Chocolate?

No, there is no caffeine in white chocolate, according to the FDA.  This is because white chocolate does not contain any cocoa solids.  The cocoa solids are what contain caffeine, and since they are absent from white chocolate, caffeine is also absent.

It is possible that white chocolate contains trace amounts of caffeine if it is made at a plant that also processes cocoa solids.  However, this amount of caffeine will not be enough to keep you up at night!

Why Is White Chocolate So Sweet?

As mentioned above, white chocolate contains no cocoa solids at all.  This eliminates the strong and sometimes bitter cacao flavor that is present in other types of chocolate.  This lack of bitter flavor makes white chocolate taste sweeter by comparison.

Also, white chocolate contains cocoa butter, but this only needs to be 20% of the mixture by weight, according to FDA rules.  Since cocoa butter is expensive, it is much cheaper to add sweeteners instead of extra cocoa butter when making white chocolate.

White chocolate may contain up to 55% sugar (or other sweeteners) by weight, which is part of why it is so sweet.

It is true that FDA rules limit the amount of sweeteners in white chocolate to a maximum of 55% by weight.  However, that is still a lot of room for sugar – a 100-gram bar of white chocolate could contain 55 grams of sugar (more than half of the weight!)

Is There White Chocolate Without Milk?

According to the FDA definition, white chocolate must contain milk, in the form of both milk fat and milk solids.

However, you can create imitation white chocolate without dairy.  There are many vegan white chocolate recipes that do not use any kind of milk from animals.

These recipes include some of the ingredients that we find in traditional white chocolate, such as sugar, cocoa butter, lecithin, and vanilla.

However, these recipes replace milk fat and solids with products such as coconut oil, powdered coconut, almond milk, vegetable shortening, or nut butters.

Maybe you have no desire to follow a recipe and try your hand at becoming a white chocolate artisan.  In that case, you can buy dairy-free, nut-free, gluten-free, vegan white chocolate bars, such as these white chocolate bars from No Whey Foods.

Why Is White Chocolate White?

White chocolate is white, rather than brown, because it contains cocoa butter, but no cocoa solids at all.  Cocoa solids give other types of chocolate their brown color.

White chocolate does not contain cocoa solids, which give other types of chocolate their brown color. Image from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chocolate(bgFFF).jpg

When cocoa butter is removed from cocoa solids, it has an ivory or slightly yellow off-white color.  In addition, white chocolate contains milk ingredients, which also add to the white color.

For more information, check out this article from Wikipedia on cocoa butter.

If your chocolate looks pure or bright white, it may have been bleached to remove the yellow coloring that is typical of cocoa butter.

White chocolate that is bright white may also contain other types of vegetable oil, such as palm oil.  You can check the ingredient list to tell for sure.

Note that some manufacturers will use lots of vegetable oil and then add food coloring to give their white chocolate a more natural ivory or off-white color.

What Is The Difference Between White Chocolate and Chocolate?

As mentioned above, the main difference between white chocolate and chocolate is the presence of cocoa solids.

Chocolate contains cocoa solids, which makes it brown.  White chocolate contains no cocoa solids at all.

Due to the lack of cocoa solids, white chocolate may contain more sugar than dark chocolate or even milk chocolate.

It may sound strange, but some types of white chocolate can contain more milk by weight than milk chocolate does!

Also, white chocolate may contain vegetable oils other than cocoa butter.  Any chocolate that contains vegetable oil other than cocoa butter is considered compound chocolate.

For more information, check out my article on compound chocolate.

Why Is White Chocolate Expensive?

White chocolate is expensive due to the FDA requirement that it must contain at least 20% cocoa butter by weight.  Cocoa butter is the most expensive ingredient in white chocolate.

When the price of cocoa butter goes up, the price of white chocolate will also go up accordingly.

Why Is Cocoa Butter So Expensive?

Cocoa butter is expensive for several reasons.

First, there is additional processing required to separate cocoa butter from the cocoa solids in chocolate liquor.  This processing requires equipment and time, leading to increased costs for cocoa butter.

Also, there is a high and growing demand for cocoa butter due to its use in many products other than chocolate.  Cocoa butter can be found in products such as facial creams, lip balm, and pharmaceuticals (for instance, as a pill coating).

In addition, increased consumer health-consciousness means that people want to eat more dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate (since dark chocolate has less sugar and more flavanols).

By definition, dark chocolate contains more chocolate liquor than milk chocolate.  Increased demand for chocolate liquor means an increased demand for cacao beans, which raises the price of cacao beans and in turn makes cocoa butter more expensive.

Finally, the supply of cacao beans sometimes has difficulty keeping up with demand.  Problems such as bad weather or droughts, labor issues, or political and civil unrest can disrupt the supply of cacao beans, leading to higher prices for cocoa butter.

cocoa butter
Cocoa butter is expensive in part because it is used for purposes other than chocolate-making (such as skin creams and lip balms).

For more information, check out this article from Investopedia on what affects chocolate prices.


By now, you have a much better idea of what is in white chocolate and where these ingredients come from.  You also know the difference between white chocolate and chocolate (the presence of cocoa solids!), and what makes it so expensive (it all comes down to the price of cocoa butter!)

I hope you found this article helpful – if so, please share it with someone who can use the information.

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