Why is Pareve Chocolate Disappearing From Our Shelves?
In theory, there shouldn’t be anything barring pure dark chocolate from being pareve, or “neutral” — the Hebrew term used in kosher nomenclature to identify foods that contain neither meat nor dairy products. After all, chocolate comes from the cacao tree, and only milk chocolate should have dairy in it. But in reality, certified pareve chocolate is becoming increasingly difficult to find on the average supermarket shelf.
Sweets-lovers around the world consume over 7 million metric tons of chocolate every year — that’s more than the weight of the Great Pyramid! All of that chocolate, of course, must be processed and manufactured by the companies who transform cacao into cocoa powder, chocolate bars, and other scrumptious goodies. The large companies, the ones who likely provide your average supermarket with their stock of chocolate chips and baking goods, have to produce a wide variety of products in their chocolate factories — many of which involve dairy.
If a food product so much as comes in contact with other machinery that has been used to process dairy products, it can no longer be considered pareve. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happens at many chocolate-making plants, where the same equipment is used for milk and dark chocolate products alike.
Can’t the manufacturers just wash their machinery with boiling water to kasher it between batches, making it acceptable for pareve chocolate production? This is exactly where the chocolate industry in particular runs into problems. If you’ve ever tried to temper chocolate at home, you know that if even a tiny amount of water comes into contact with the heating chocolate, the entire batch can be completely ruined. Large-scale manufacturing plants can’t risk botching an entire production line if some undried droplet falls into its swirling tubs.
In that case, then can’t manufacturers just establish a second and separate line of equipment that’s only to be used for making pareve chocolate? Yes, and in fact, many Kosher certification teams require this level of care. However, not all companies are going to leap at this opportunity: a separate production line would be expensive to implement, and the market for pareve chocolate is small compared to other annual targets, such as the 90 million pounds of candy distributed every Halloween.
Specialty manufacturers do exist, especially in the United States, which is responsible for 20% of all the world’s cocoa imports and chocolate consumption. If it’s important to you and your family that your chocolate is pareve, be sure to check for a rabbinical certification, as the ingredients list won’t always tell the whole story.