Cocoa butter is a pure, stable fat that is probably best known for its presence in body and face lotions. However, it is also used in cooking, both sweet and savory recipes. Cocoa butter, also called cacao butter, has the flavor and aroma of cocoa and is considered a vegetable fat. Despite the use of the word "butter" in its name, it is vegan and contains no dairy products. Cocoa butter is pale yellow in color and is sold in solid form; it needs to be melted before cooking. It is used to make white chocolate as well as other chocolate bars, giving the confection its smooth and silky mouthfeel. Because of its texture, as well as long shelf life, cocoa butter is also used as an ingredient in skincare products.
What Is Cocoa Butter?
Cocoa beans, which are from the Theobroma cacao L. plant, are used to make cocoa butter and cocoa powder. The process begins with roasting cocoa beans, stripping them of their hulls, revealing cocoa nibs. The cocoa nibs are ground into a paste (called cocoa liquor) which is then pressed to release the fat. This fat, called theobroma oil, is the cocoa butter, separated from the solids, which are then made into cocoa powder.
Cocoa butter has a mild chocolate taste and flavor and has several health benefits thanks to the nutritive elements found in chocolate. It holds together at room temperature, providing that ideal candy bar crispness. In the United States, chocolate must be made with only cocoa butter, while in Europe other types of fats can be used.
Cocoa Butter vs. Cacao Butter
Raw cacao butter and cocoa butter are essentially the same, except that the manufacturing process of raw cacao butter is slowed down to ensure that the temperature does not exceed 115 F (about 46 C). The difference in spelling between cacao and cocoa is most likely to match what is printed on product labels—"cacao" has always been the word of choice for raw food products in order to distinguish them from the conventional roasted bean products.
How to Cook With Cocoa Butter
Cocoa butter is a nourishing addition to both sweet and savory recipes and can add a bit of creaminess to beverages and desserts. Use it in place of coconut butter or oil and as a substitute for butter in vegan or dairy-free recipes. Because of its high smoke point, cocoa butter is ideal when cooking at high temperatures as it won't burn easily; it's also not necessary to use as much as other fats. Because it is solid, cocoa butter needs to be melted before use.
Skincare Uses of Cocoa Butter
Cocoa butter is ideal for beauty care products since it stays solid at room temperature. It also contains naturally occurring antioxidants that prevent rancidity, giving it prolonged shelf life. Cocoa butter feels velvety smooth on the skin, making it perfect for salves, lotions, lip balm, and some types of makeup. Because it is nontoxic and melts at body temperature, it is also used as a base for medical suppositories to deliver medications.
What Does It Taste Like?
Cocoa butter has a mildly sweet flavor and aroma that is reminiscent of chocolate; the scent is stronger than the taste. It is never eaten on its own but only used as an ingredient in recipes. The texture of coconut butter is like coconut oil and coconut butter combined.
Cocoa Butter Recipes
Since cocoa butter is dairy-free and safe for a vegan diet, it is often used as a butter substitute. But since it has a high smoke point, it is also great to use when searing meat at high temperatures.
Where to Buy Cocoa Butter
Cocoa butter can be found at health food and specialty grocery stores, as well as online. Cosmetic-grade cocoa butter is available at drug stores and vitamin shops. Read the label carefully to be sure the product is pure cocoa butter and that it is food-grade. If there are additional ingredients or it does not specify "food grade," it may not be safe to eat. Food-grade tends to be more expensive than the type used for beauty care.
Because cocoa butter melts easily, it should be stored away from light and heat in a cool, dry spot. It can also be kept in the refrigerator. Cocoa butter will last several years if stored properly.
Nutrition and Benefits
Cocoa is a powerhouse of healthy fats and antioxidants, similar to olive oil. Antioxidants can help improve the immune system, promote heart health, and lower inflammation. The healthy fats support brain health and boost mood, and help to control appetite and assist in hormone production. Similar to dark chocolate, cocoa butter is also high in minerals such as copper, magnesium, and manganese, which help with iron absorption, control blood sugar, improve bone health, support thyroid health, and regulate muscle and nerve function. In addition, studies have shown that cocoa butter can lower blood pressure and helps with the immune system.
Raw cocoa (cacao) butter retains more of its nutrients because it hasn't been treated with heat, which strips the fat of some of its health benefits. Cocoa butter also carries only trace amounts of caffeine that is found in chocolate. Because cocoa butter is a healthy fat with little to no carbs and sugar, it is an ideal choice for those on a keto diet. However, because cocoa butter is a saturated fat, it should not be consumed in large quantities to avoid weight gain and high cholesterol.
Cocoa Butter vs. Shea Butter
Although both plant-based fats, cocoa butter and shea butter come from distinct sources; while cocoa butter is derived from a bean, shea butter is the vegetable fat found in the nut from the shea tree. The two butters are processed differently and have varying scents, with cocoa leaning toward "tropical" and shea butter milder. They are used in similar ways, providing hydration for skin and lips, preventing dryness and aging, and treating burns and skin irritations. Although most often used as a cosmetic, shea butter is also employed as a cooking oil in African countries.
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