Eating Chocolate With A Clear “Conch”ence

Chocolate, the king of confections, continues to grow in popularity. Chocolate is surely nature’s sweetest combination of fruit and vegetable, sugar and cocoa beans. Kosher chocolate is a delicious study of technology and halachah. Let’s explore the intoxicating world of chocolate.

Over the years, chocolate manufacturing has continued to grow, both domestically and internationally. Chocolate connoisseurship has reached new heights. Believe it or not, the most expensive chocolate today costs in excess of $90 a pound. The chocoholic delights at the sight of Belgian truffles, French bonbons, Swiss chocolate and other chocolate bars that abound. Most major chocolate manufacturers in the U.S. have reliable kosher certification. Some specialty chocolate manufacturers are kosher certified, as well. Cholov Yisroel chocolate in particular has recently seen unprecedented growth. Today, a Cholov Yisroel consumer can feast on a Cholov Yisroel chocolate equivalent without having to compromise on taste or quality.

Chocolate raw ingredients make a long trek before being transformed into a familiar chocolate bar or chocolate covered cherry. The prime ingredient in chocolate is the cacao bean, which grows in many regions of the world including Africa, Central America, and Southeast Asia. Two main varieties of trees produce cacao beans: the Forastero tree in West Africa which produces commodity quality cacao beans, and the Criollo tree which is found in Venezuela and other South American countries and produces premium quality cacao beans.

The first stage of cacao bean processing is harvesting, which may be done by machete – a slow and tedious process – or by automatic shakers that release the cacao pods. Next, the pods are cracked open and the cacao beans are removed. Note that cacao beans, when processed for commercial use, will become cocoa beans. Cocoa beans, which are covered with a sweet white pulp or mucilage, are then fermented and dried. Once dried, the cocoa beans are packed in jute sacks and shipped overseas to the chocolate manufacturers for further processing.

The cocoa bean is one of Hashem’s most fascinating creations. In order for its potential to be fully unlocked, it requires processing to convert the quality products contained within. The raw cocoa beans are cleaned and roasted in giant roasters, much like a coffee bean, to unlock the nib’s delicious cocoa flavors. The cocoa bean is then ground into a paste known as cocoa liquor, the primary ingredient of chocolate.

Sometimes cocoa butter is listed as an ingredient. What is cocoa butter? The cocoa bean has over 50% natural fat. When squeezed under enormous pressure in a hydraulic press, the cocoa bean exudes fat that is yellow in color, similar to rich dairy butter; hence, the name cocoa butter. Unlike dairy butter, however, cocoa butter is thicker, blander, and hardens at room temperature. What remains behind in this extraction process is a massive solid cake which, when ground, will be known as – you guessed it – cocoa powder. Ironically, for the chocolate manufacturer the main commodity product is the cocoa butter and the by-product is the cocoa powder.

Cocoa liquor that is produced from premium cocoa beans is rich enough to form chocolate. Cocoa liquor made from standard cocoa beans lacks richness and, therefore, cannot be made into chocolate without the addition of cocoa butter.


Sugar, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, milk powder, flavors and lecithin as an emulsifier are the primary ingredients of chocolate. When these products are blended together, as we will soon see, they meld to form liquid chocolate. Interestingly, liquid chocolate is over 50% sugar. The percentages of the other ingredients vary according to the type of chocolate being manufactured.

There are three major types of liquid chocolate: dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and white chocolate. Dark chocolate is a combination of cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, sugar and flavorings such as vanilla or vanillin. Sometimes a dairy ingredient, such as traced butter oil (not to be confused with cocoa butter) is added as a flavor ingredient. Milk chocolate contains powdered milk and milk crumb, a combination of milk powder and sugar that is added to the “dark chocolate” mix. White chocolate is not a conventional chocolate as it contains no cocoa liquor or cocoa powder, only cocoa butter. White chocolate is also known as a compound chocolate because additional vegetable fats are added to the ingredient base.

All varieties of chocolate undergo three basic steps of chocolate production: a) kneading the ingredients into a paste, b) grinding the paste into semi-granular particles, and c) blending the ingredients in a conch. Solid chocolate requires tempering as a final step to finish the product.


What is Conching?

As any good cook or baker will tell you, there are certain tricks of the trade that set a “great” product apart from a ”good” or “ho-hum” product. The trick of the chocolate trade is quality ingredients blended in a blending machine called a conch. The chocolate blending process is known as conching. The conch is a large rotary blender that blends the chocolaty mass for hours on end at a temperature of approximately 140°F. The chocolate may be conched for over 12 hours in order to fully homogenize the ingredients. Lecithin, an emulsifier, is added to help blend the ingredients. Conching releases any bitter aromas and flavors in the liquified chocolate and allows all the remaining delicious chocolate flavors and aromas to mature fully and develop into a symphony of chocolaty taste.

If the chocolate is being sold as liquid chocolate, no further processing is required. Industrial chocolate is shipped to the manufacturing customers in a heated transport, in which a constant temperature of 112°F is maintained to prevent solidification or hardening. Customers are typically bakeries, ice cream manufacturers or candymakers who will further process the chocolate.

Solid chocolate must be tempered after conching in order to give it its luster. In the tempering process, the chocolate is heated to 113°F, quickly cooled and slightly heated to 90°F. The tempered chocolate is then ready to be molded into any variety of forms: large 50 pound cubes, 25-pound bars, or consumer sized chocolate drops.
With this overview, let us examine the issues that confront kosher chocolate making.


As with any manufactured food product, all ingredients require strict kosher certification. Mashgichim travel to cocoa bean plantations around the world. All the additional ingredients require reliable kosher certification.
Interestingly, ingredients used in European chocolate processing may present many more challenges than in domestic chocolate production. In Europe today, genetically modified raw materials are strictly avoided. One example of a genetically modified grain is the soybean, used to produce lecithin and emulsify and blend the ingredients being conched. Nearly all soybean crops worldwide have been genetically modified. Consequently, lecithin has come under scrutiny in Europe and European chocolate producers have looked to find suitable alternatives to lecithin. The newest trend alternative in Europe is sunflower lecithin.

Alternatives to lecithin were researched, and a seemingly innocuous product called ammonium phosphatide is used as a lecithin alternative. This product itself poses no kashrus problems. One company in Denmark that manufactures ammonium phosphatide was a totally non-kosher facility, thereby requiring massive kosherization. Due to the demand, kosher ammonium phosphatide is available.

Reliable kosher traced butter oil requires strict kosher supervision. It goes without saying that the vegetable fats used to manufacture kosher compound chocolate must have reliable kosher certification, because these vegetable fats can be produced in the same facilities as tallow or lard.

In Search Of A Pareve Conch

What is the greatest nemesis to chocolate? Water – just ask any balabusta who uses melted chocolate in homemade recipes. When mixed with chocolate, even minimally, water causes the chocolate to solidify almost instantaneously into a solid block that can’t be remelted! Consequently, chocolate manufacturers passionately avoid the introduction of water into their facilities at all costs. Recognizing this problem, how do kosher chocolate manufacturers overcome the issue of compatible conches that may be used indiscriminately for pareve and dairy chocolates without using water?

One possibility is to dedicate conches exclusively for dairy and pareve productions. This method is used in certain chocolate production facilities because sufficient amounts of both pareve and dairy products are manufactured to justify the separation. Most kosher chocolate companies felt that segregating conches is expensive and impractical.

This problem has plagued kosher chocolate manufacturers for many years. Their solution was that in lieu of water, the conches would be kashered by sha’ar mashkim, using liquid dark chocolate.1 The Shulchan Aruch poses the question regarding whether liquids other than water may be used for kosherization. The Remah is opposed to using sha’ar mashkim and forbids its use for kosherization. However, the Remah permits kashering with sha’ar mashkim if one has already done the kosherization, b’dieved.2 It is STAR-K policy not to kasher with sha’ar mashkim. However, some kashrus agencies in the U.S. and Europe rely on the lenient position, even though the Shulchan Aruch frowns upon that method of kosherization.

Another interesting caveat to this question is whether liquid chocolate, or more specifically cocoa butter which is a solid at room temperature, may be considered a liquid and could, therefore, be used as a kashering liquid. Interestingly enough, when the Mishna Berura discusses the issue of egg matzah the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, mentions that fats are categorically considered a liquid,3 sha’ar mashkim, and would be permitted to be used as a kashering liquid for those who allow this type of kosherization.

Milk Allergens To The Rescue

Many companies do not keep their conches separate and will conch dark and milk chocolate interchangeably. However, milk is an allergen and in our “allergy ridden” world pareve chocolatiers owe milk a debt of gratitude. In order to keep dark chocolate allergen-free in some companies, the dark chocolate conches and the tempering lines have been segregated. Tempering is the process through which the liquid chocolate is cooled, giving it its luster and shine. It allows the liquid chocolate to solidify smoothly without any white spots. Typically, the tempering line is used for both milk and dark chocolate. In this case, the holding tanks, cooling tunnels and belts are totally separated so kashering with sha’ar mashkim has become a non-issue.

Brochah Recited On Chocolate

As we saw through our tour of chocolate manufacturing, the cacao bean is the fruit of the Forestaro and Criollo trees. However, the cocoa bean is indistinguishable in its chocolate form. The question is: Does a fruit product that has been pressed into a paste, such as dates into date paste or apricots into fruit leather, retain its Borei Pri Ha’etz status because the original product in its pressed version is recognizable? The Shulchan Aruch4 concludes that since the fruit product retains its original status, the brochah does not change. However, the Remah explains that this is not the case regarding a fruit that totally loses its original form. Therefore, the proper brochah for chocolate would be Shehakol. However, other halachic opinions posit that since the cacao bean was grown for the purpose of making chocolate, this is the essence of the fruit. In spite of the fact that it loses its original identity, the brochah should be Borei Pri Ha’etz. The case in point in the Shulchan Aruch5 discusses spices that were ground and sweetened. The brochah on sweetened ground spices is Borei Pri Ha’etz because spices are made to be ground. Applying the same logic to the cacao bean, since the purpose of the cacao bean is to be ground and liquified into chocolate, some Poskim are of the opinion that the brochah on chocolate should be Borei Pri Ha’etz; the consensus of halachic opinion is that the brochah is Shehakol.

It is a known fact that chocolate contains over 50% sugar. Sugar is processed from vegetables such as sugar cane or sugar beets. In truth, the Shulchan Aruch also deals with the brochah recited over sugar.6 In any event, the amount of sugar used would not affect the brochah on chocolate since the purpose of the sugar is to sweeten the cocoa ingredients. Sugar, therefore, is viewed as a secondary ingredient (tafel)to the cocoa liquor even though sugar is chocolate’s primary ingredient.7 According to all opinions, the brochah remains Shehakol.

In the case of chocolate-covered nuts and fruits, such as peanuts, almonds or raisins, does the combination of chocolate with nuts or fruits affect the brochah? Most definitely! However, there are many opinions regarding the proper brochah. The Mishna Berura8 views the fruit as the ikar ingredient, and the chocolate that sweetens the fruit as secondary. The brochah on chocolate-covered fruits and nuts would follow the item that the chocolate is sweetening; in the case of fruit or nuts, Borei Pri Ha’etz, and in the case of peanuts, Borei Pri Hoadama. However, other Poskim reason that the brochah is subjective and would follow the item that is more desirous.9 Still others maintain that the item that is more plentiful would be the dominant ingredient, while some halachic authorities maintain that one should recite two brochos on chocolate-covered peanuts because both are of equal importance.10 Interestingly, the brochah of Borei Pri Ha’etz would suffice, b’dieved, for a chocolate and fruit combination because the brochah on chocolate may be Borei Pri Ha’etz,11 as mentioned earlier. Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, shlit”a, Rabbinic Administrator of STAR-K, maintains that the brochah is subjective. If the chocolate is more desirable, the brochah would be Shehakol; if the raisin is more desirable, the brochah on a chocolate covered raisin would be Borei Pri Ha’etz.

Shlomo Hamelech, when extolling the virtues of Bnei Yisroel, Torah, and mitzvos exclaims metaphorically, “Vayochal p’ri megadav,” “And he ate His delectable fruits.” Indeed, this verse could certainly apply to the delights of chocolate, the most delicious fruit in the world.

Many thanks to David Lachevere, of Cargill Chocolate, who graciously and enthusiastically reviewed this article.

1. The “kashering dark chocolate” serves as a substitute for kashering water and is known in halachic terms as sha’ar mashkim.
2. Orach Chaim 425:5, Remah
3. Orach Chaim 462, Mishna Brura 26
4. Orach Chaim 202:7
5. Orach Chaim 203:7
6. Orach Chaim 202:15
7. Orach Chaim 203, M.B. 13
8. Orach Chaim 204, Be’er Hetev 19
9. Rav Ovadiah Yosef, zt”l
10. Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, Orach Chaim III 31
11. Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, zt”l (Yuva Moshe)