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We have put together a glossary of terms that we use in the fine chocolate industry to help you navigate information on our association website.


Artisan chocolate - This term refers to chocolate produced by small chocolate makers--artisans--who understand their craft intimately. Artisan chocolate must be made under the care and supervision of a knowledgeable chocolate maker who could be defined as an artisan. If there is no artisan at a company, then the chocolate cannot accurately be called artisanal.

Cacao - Refers to Theobroma cacao tree, and the fruits it produces, as well as their seeds. The fermented and dried cacao seeds are also often referred to as "cocoa" beans.

Chocolate Maker - This term usually refers to those companies that produce chocolate in small batches from fermented and dried cocoa beans.

Chocolate Manufacturers - This term usually refers to those large companies that produce a broad range of mass market and/or specialty chocolate from dried cocoa beans.

Chocolate liquor - Ground up cocoa nibs, whether in molten liquid or solid block form. The term chocolate liquor has nothing to do with alcohol in any way but refers to the nibs being in the liquid state when they are ground.

Chocolate or Cocoa percentage - The percentage of chocolate liquor + cocoa butter + cocoa powder in a chocolate. A higher cocoa percentage has little bearing on the quality. For example, a 70% chocolate may range from excellent to terrible. The only specific thing that we can say about a 70% chocolate bar, with any certainty, prior to tasting it, is that it has about 30% sugar in the formulation.

Chocolatier - This term usually refers to a person that uses fine chocolate produced by chocolate manufacturers/makers to create unique chocolate products and confectionery.

Coating chocolate or chocolate-flavored coating - Some or all of the cocoa butter is removed from the chocolate liquor and is replaced with less expensive vegetable fat of some kind to produce an inexpensive product to replace real chocolate.

Cocoa butter - Cocoa butter is rare among vegetable fats because it is mostly solid at room temperature, though it starts to very noticeably soften and melt at just a few degrees beneath body temperature, leading to its unique melting mouthfeel. These interesting qualities are due to the fact that cocoa butter is polymorphic, with about six, somewhat overlapping, crystallization and melting ranges. Cocoa butter is also rare in that it resists rancidity, and can be stored for much longer periods of time than most vegetable fats without spoilage. Additional uses include pharmaceutical and cosmetic purposes.

Cocoa butter percentage - Mass market chocolates and cocoa powders often have much lower cocoa butter percentages than fine chocolate and high-quality cocoa powders because cocoa butter is an expensive ingredient. The higher percentages of cocoa butter in fine chocolate and fine cocoa powders have a positive impact on mouthfeel and flavor.

Cocoa nibs - The broken pieces of the fermented, dried, and usually roasted, cocoa bean, after the shell--actually the thin seed coat of the cocoa bean--has been removed via a process called winnowing. Cocoa nibs may be eaten out of hand, or ground into chocolate liquor, which itself may be used for chocolate making or pressing to extract the fat of the cocoa bean, called cocoa butter.

Cocoa powder - Once the cocoa butter has been hydraulically pressed from chocolate liquor, the remaining material is a compressed "cocoa cake." This cocoa cake is then reground and sifted until it is a fine cocoa powder. Cocoa powder, though lower in cocoa butter than the initial chocolate liquor from which it is made, will still have from 10-22% cocoa butter content as defined by the FDA in Title 21 section 163.113. As mentioned under the term "cocoa butter percentage," in the FCIA Glossary, more flavorful fine cocoa powder will generally have a higher cocoa butter percentage.

Conching - Conching is a texture and flavor improvement process carried out by any of a variety of different machines called conches or refiner-conches. The process, which generally follows refining, takes place over the course of several hours to three days or more depending upon the machine, the chocolate maker's vision regarding chocolate flavor and texture, and the particular cacao from which the chocolate is made. It is still not well-understood what causes the significant flavor changes that occur within conched chocolate, though various food scientists throughout the 20th century have suggested that volatilization of certain flavor compounds, oxidation of others, and even the process of coating cocoa particles with cocoa butter, may play roles.

Couverture - Fine couverture is made with care from fine cacao beans that are fermented and dried properly then roasted, refined and conched with concern for the overall flavor and texture of the chocolate. Couverture is generally used by chocolatiers to coat ganache or in molded chocolate bonbons, though it may also be molded into bar form, or used in cooking and baking as well.

Dark chocolate - Though not all of the following ingredients are necessary in a fine dark chocolate formulation, the chocolate should not contain any ingredients beyond: cacao liquor, sugar, cacao (cocoa) butter, lecithin, and vanilla.

Lecithin - Lecithin, when added, is generally added during the end of the conching process. Lecithin is an emulsifier, and decreases the viscosity of chocolate. It is generally used within mass-market chocolate to allow a reduction in the amount of necessary cocoa butter for a given formulation. Some fine chocolate makers use lecithin while others do not - that is the personal choice of the chocolate maker.

Milk chocolate - Fine milk chocolate should only contain: cacao liquor, sugar, cacao (cocoa) butter, milk solids, milk fat, lecithin, vanilla.

Pistoles - Originally this French word referred to gold coins in use in European countries until the late 19th century. Now, in the world of chocolate, pistole refers to the coin shaped pieces of couverture.

Roasting - Cocoa beans are roasted to develop the characteristic aroma and taste of chocolate. The length of the roasting process and its temperatures vary, though for those familiar with coffee roasting, cocoa roasting times and temperatures can generally be said to be significantly longer and lower. Fine chocolate manufacturers generally do not roast every origin of cocoa beans in the same way, but try to find the combination of time and temperature that best enhances a particular origin's flavor.

Tempering - Tempering is a process in which the temperature of the chocolate is manipulated to allow for a controlled crystallization of the cocoa butter to occur, thus allowing the cooled chocolate to have a good "snap," glossy sheen, and proper mouthfeel. In addition to book knowledge, fine chocolatiers must develop a highly refined understanding of the tempering process through experience, because only this experience ensures that each chocolate product is perfectly tempered, even when automatic or semi-automatic tempering equipment is used.

Terroir - The French term terroir has been used in the wine industry for ages and is also relevant when speaking of cacao. It refers to the various ways a particular place can have an impact on a given population of cacao, such as the effect of general and micro-climates in the area, soil composition, and even the unique microbiology of the growing area and fermentary.

White chocolate - Fine white chocolate should only contain: sugar, cacao (cocoa) butter, milk solids, milk fat, lecithin, vanilla.

"FCIA has provided unique and valuable contact and product information In the short time I have been associated them. The growth in the US premium chocolate industry has outpaced the infrastructures like this and it is so refreshing to get an intense exposure to the latest trends and techniques in this industry without pecking around on the internet. Can’t wait for the next meeting." Tom Polk, TCF Sales

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