Cacao: A Glossary

CACAO: The raw product of the cacao plant, as well as the plant itself.

CHOCOLATE: A sweetened, edible product processed from cacao. It may contain flavorings, added cocoa butter, and milk.

CHOCOLATE LIQUOR: The finely ground nib, or meat, of the cacao bean, technically not yet chocolate. When warm, the liquor is fluid; when cold, it solidifies. Also referred to as unsweetened or baking chocolate.

COCOA (COCOA POWDER): The powdery substance made by pulverizing and sifting the “cake” that remains after some fat is pressed from the chocolate liquor. Cocoa is sometimes used incorrectly to mean cacao.

COCOA BUTTER (CACAO FAT): The naturally occurring fat in cacao beans, essential to the manufacture of eating chocolate. It’s why chocolate melts in your mouth.

CONCHING: The process in which heavy rollers plow back and forth through the liquid chocolate, kneading it to smooth out its texture and round out its flavor.

COUVERTURE: A term generally used to describe high-quality chocolate used by professionals in confectionery and baked products. It’s specially formulated for dipping and coating.

DUTCH PROCESS COCOA: Cocoa made by adding alkali to nibs or to cocoa powder to develop certain flavors, reduce acidity, and make it more soluble.

EXTRA-BITTER CHOCOLATE: Chocolate that contains less sugar and more liquor than semisweet chocolate. The term is used to describe certain couvertures.

MILK CHOCOLATE: Sweet chocolate to which whole and/or skim milk powder has been added. It must contain at least 10 percent by weight of chocolate liquor—though premium brands contain more.

NIBS: The meat of the cacao bean—the fundamental stuff from which chocolate is made. These dark, rich bits remain when the shells detach from the beans after they have been roasted.

SEMISWEET (OR BITTERSWEET) CHOCOLATE: Sweet chocolate that is by weight at least 35 percent chocolate liquor. This is the chocolate most often used for premium sweets. Besides chocolate liquor, it contains added cocoa butter, sugar, vanilla or vanillin, and often lecithin (a soy-based emulsifier, used in tiny quantities); formulas vary.

SWEET CHOCOLATE: Chocolate prepared by mixing and grinding chocolate liquor with one or more optional nutritive carbohydrate sweeteners. At least 15 percent of its weight is chocolate liquor.

THEOBROMA CACAO: The botanical designation for cacao. The genus name, Theobroma, is derived (aptly, some would say) from the ancient Greek words for “god” and “food.”

WHITE CHOCOLATE: True white chocolate, like that found in Europe, is made from cocoa butter, milk, sugar, and flavorings, and it contains no chocolate liquor. Here in the United States, you’re more likely to find a white confectionery coating that’s made with vegetable fat instead of cocoa butter. This product, sometimes mislabeled “white chocolate,” is less flavorful and its texture is not as silky as the real thing.