Of Chocolate and Ice Cream

A number of blogs and mainstream media outlets are going wild over proposed FDA regulations that would redefine chocolate. Right now, to be called “chocolate” a substance has to contain cocoa solids and cocoa butter. This gives chocolate its unique, melt-in-the-mouth texture.

Most “chocolate” is real now: according to the leading opponent of the proposed FDA switch, nine of the ten leading candy bars already contain real chocolate. Why would Mars, Hershey and the rest throw out treasured, well known brands by replacing cocoa butter with soy or something else? Quite simply, they wouldn’t.

If fact, the story of another popular sweet indicates that a looser chocolate definition would make things better. Until 1994, any sweet, frozen dairy product with less than 20 percent butterfat had to be called “ice milk.” Most “ice cream” products in the supermarkets had something close to the minimum butterfat it needed. Super-premium ice cream existed but the biggest player, Ben and Jerry’s, seemed to care more about trendy political causes than moving product. The FDA ruling–which really just reaffirmed common sense–resulted in “ice milk” becoming “lite ice cream” and drew much more attention to butterfat content. The number of super-premium-50-percent-fat brands exploded, soft serve began to call itself “ice cream,” and new products like slow-churned ice cream and frozen custard showed up all over the country. In short, the new definition actually drew more attention to butterfat content and gave us better ice cream.

The current laws about “chocolate” defy common sense and thus make innovation less attractive. What about chocolate that melts at 120 degress rather than 98 degrees? What about “diet” chocolate that actually tastes good? I’d guess food scientists could develop both of them but, for the moment, they would be very hard to market because they’d both be called “cocoa-flavored synthetic food products.” Ewww.

I’d rather not have the government defining the meaning of most food products but, if that’s going to happen, why not let common sense win?