Palm oil has been used as an alternative to cocoa butter for many years in the chocolate industry, allowing larger chocolate manufacturers to create products by replacing the more expensive ingredient of cocoa butter, with a less expensive alternative.
In light of the environmental problems caused by the growing of palm oil, we believe that within the cocoa industry, because we have a viable alternative to palm oil, that we should play our small part in reducing, where possible, the burden of palm oil, and keep the naturally occurring cocoa butter rather than palm oil within our chocolate.
This being said, we are not suggesting that any of us should boycott palm oil; doing so would have a huge impact on the palm oil growing communities, and cause huge economic and social problems for millions of local people. We believe that where palm oil is vital with no credible alternative, it should be sustainably grown, thus reducing the impact it has on our environment for future generations.
The unique quality of cocoa butter is that melts quickly at 34°C, which is just under body temperature; creating a smooth, creamy texture in the mouth, increasing the release of the flavours, and leaving what we call a ‘nice mouth feel’. When considering an alternative for cocoa butter, a fat that will melt at a similar temperature is the ideal so it gives a similar experience. Those alternatives with a higher melting point will give the chocolate a waxy mouth feel, and the release of the flavours will be perceived differently. Here we explore briefly two alternatives to cocoa butter.
Unrefined shea butter is a traditional cooking fat, that when heated, melts to an oil with a characteristically smoky, nutty aroma. It has been used for generations in the broad geographical belt that runs east to west across the African continent as a healthy fat. Unrefined Shea Butter is an all natural, vegan-friendly alternative to other lards and butters.
Shea is grown in cocoa growing countries such as Ghana and the Ivory Coast, as well as in the northern areas of Burkina Faso, Mali, Nigeria and Togo. The trees tend to occur naturally on farmlands and fallows. Known as “women’s gold” in Africa, it provides an invaluable source of income for over 16 million women living in rural communities, who collect the shea fruits, and using traditional methods passed on by the previous generation, process the kernel into butter. The butter is processed into a product we know as stearin and is an ideal replacement for cocoa butter or palm oil. Do check the ingredients though, as palm oil can also be listed as palm stearin.
Wild Mango Butter
Not widely used to date, but heavily researched for it’s properties similar to cocoa butter, wild mango fruit is grown in Bangladesh, India, China, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Nepal. Known as the National fruit of India, it has been cultivated and harvested for thousands of years for its medicinal properties in rural areas by the local women, and is harvested sporadically rather than being a cultivated crop. In the classical language of ancient India, Sanskrit, they are also known as “the wish granting trees”, because of their symbolic meaning and taste.
Made from the stone of the fruit, it has the advantage of being a large kernel fruit, meaning the kernel or stone makes up 40% or so of its mass, creating a proportionately high fat content. Having very similar physical and chemical properties to cocoa butter, it can be a great alternative to palm oil.
As a manufacturer, we do encourage other businesses to minimise their use of palm oil, or try and investigate as to whether the palm oil used is classed as sustainable or not. We think we all have a part to play in looking after our environment, and this could be a good place to start!