What’s the difference between compound chocolate and real chocolate?

6 May 2021

Chocolate Knowledge

You know your cacao from your cocoa but do you know what sets compound chocolate apart and what it can be used for?

Dark, milk, Supermilk, and white. Chocolate comes in all different forms for a variety of textures and flavours to tantalise all taste buds. But what is compound chocolate? Take your chocolate knowledge to the next level as we dive into the differences between compound cocoa products and top-quality real-deal chocolate.

What is compound chocolate?

Just like ‘real’ chocolate, compound chocolate’s main ingredient comes from the cacao bean. However, the crucial difference is the level of cocoa butter. Compound chocolate uses vegetable fats, such as coconut oil, soy, or palm kernel oil, in place of cocoa butter.

Many manufacturers choose to replace cocoa butter with vegetable fats to reduce costs, as ingredients like coconut oil are cheaper to source than authentic cocoa butter. Compound chocolate can also be less complex to produce, as it doesn’t require careful heating and cooling (tempering) to give it a glossy finish.

fresh coconut next to jar of coconut and coconut oil

This is because cocoa butter is formed of complex crystals that need to be tempered. This takes a little more time and attention, but perfectly tempered chocolate is shiny, breaks with a satisfying snap and melts delicately on the tongue. The tempering process also prevents ‘fat bloom’, which is where cocoa butter rises to the surface, causing a matte, cloudy appearance.

As with real chocolate, compound chocolate can still come in an array of cacao percentages. Dark and milk compound chocolates contain some cacao solids, though often this is cocoa powder rather than chocolate liquor. White compound chocolate is essentially a combination of sugar, vegetable fats, milk and emulsifiers. Though it can be enhanced by flavourings, it contains none of the textures, tastes and aromas you get with true chocolate.

What is it used for?

The cheaper ingredients in compound chocolate make it more affordable to buy. That means many commercial confectionery brands use these cacao options over higher-quality chocolate to mass-produce cheap chocolate goods for consumers.

As well as being cheaper to create, compound chocolate can give producers more flexibility. The amount of oil or fat that you add can change the properties of the chocolate. This versatility makes it a popular choice for cooking and baking. Chocolate coatings used for decorating cakes, for example, tend to be made from compound chocolate as it will harden to form a shell around the soft baked goods.

Some confectioners like to use it for moulded designs. That’s because it can be melted and poured straight in without tempering.

It’s also often used for filling and coating candy bars and biscuits. Having said that, we believe that chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa butter can create a more luxurious topping that works just as well. That’s why we enrobe our Biscuits of the Gods Shortbreads with a generous layer of milk chocolate containing a minimum of 50% cacao solids. A heavenly balance of melt and crunch.

How is compound chocolate different to chocolate?

a bar of compound chocolate on a dark surface

Cocoa butter gives real chocolate a rich, velvety texture that’s ideal for savouring slowly. Cocoa butter melts at human body temperature; around 37°C. This gives it a melt-in-the-mouth sensation for a truly decadent tasting experience.

The vegetable fats in compound chocolate have a slightly higher melting point. Melting around 45℃, it’ll need a good chew – or some patience – before it melts, rather than dissolving on your tongue at first bite. On the plus side, it will also stay solid in warmer temperatures, so can be handy to take on a picnic!

At Hotel Chocolat, we believe that cocoa butter is a bit of a botanical hero in its own right. With benefits for the skin as well as the taste buds, it stands centre stage in a selection of our Rabot 1475 beauty products. Our creamy white chocolate contains 40% cocoa butter for smooth, sweet delights that satisfy without being sickly.

Chocolatiers work with couverture, rather than compound chocolate. Couverture chocolate must contain at least 35% cacao solids and 31% cocoa butter. Chocolate makers deliver this in large blocks or slabs to chocolatiers, who will then turn it into delicious chocolate creations.

Do they taste different?

Cocoa butter’s melting temperature not only gives chocolate a smooth texture but also enhances the confectionery’s nuanced flavours and aromas.

As well as containing lower levels of cocoa butter, compound chocolate tends to contain more sugar. This makes it sweeter but can diminish the chocolate’s depth of flavour. Natural cocoa has so many varied tasting notes. The flavour of each cacao bean varies depending on where it’s grown and how it’s processed. You might get refreshing citrus flavours, notes of red berries, or hints of coffee and malt. Replacing cocoa ingredients with sugar dulls the impact of these subtleties and masks the chocolate’s quality.

In our humble opinion, more cacao, less sugar yields a more satisfying chocolate experience that captivates all the senses. And, unlike with compound chocolate, a little goes a long way.

From decadent Gianduja Bombes to intense Supermilk Chocolate Batons, we let the cacao shine throughout our collection.