Couverture vs Compound
You love chocolate, relish the smooth and creamy taste coating your tongue in deliciousness and probably have a favourite brand which you choose every time because you find solace in that predicted flavour – a familiar taste together with a familiar feeling of contentedness…
Sometimes you are gifted a chocolate, a promotional token from a corporate or it is a thank you gift given at a function. I am not sure about you, but my first thought is: “Is this couverture chocolate?” with the inevitable sigh of disappointment. One sniff and I know for sure…
Chocolate is divided into real chocolate and compound chocolate. Both real chocolate and compound chocolate are chocolate – the distinct difference is the type of lipid (fat) or oil used in the production of the product. All chocolate bars contain many of the same base ingredients—cocoa solids, cocoa butter, sugar, and perhaps additives like vanilla, soy lecithin, or milk powder. The difference in taste and texture comes down to the quantity and quality of the ingredients used. The more cocoa butter the chocolate contains, the more fluid it is when melted, and the higher the cost it is to produce.
Real chocolate contains cocoa butter which is extracted from the cocoa bean. Cocoa butter is an expensive ingredient which has some unusual characteristics or quirks. Because of the nature of cocoa butter, real chocolate requires going through a special procedure during the melting process called ‘tempering’. This re-establishes the cocoa butter crystals, giving the cooled and finished chocolate the proper sheen, snap and taste.
Additionally, and of vital importance, tempering prevents bloom, where the cocoa butter separates from the cocoa solids and comes to the surface, turning the chocolate whitish or greyish in colour.
Regular Chocolate – typically sweetened with sugar, generally made from moderate quality cocoa beans, and has a very low cocoa butter content and is quite thick when melted. Generally used in baking (i.e. chocolate chip cookies), regular chocolate holds its shape and is not the best choice when moulding, dipping or enrobing. Another form of regular chocolate is unsweetened blocks or bars of baking chocolate (also called plain chocolate), which generally has a relatively low cocoa butter content and little sugar, it doesn’t require tempering when used in normal baking applications.
Couverture Chocolate – the term couverture translates to “covering” and refers to the finest professional quality chocolate. It is produced with a high percentage of cocoa butter and uses premium cacao beans. It melts smoothly, making it ideal for specialty chocolates and moulding. When tempered and cooled, it forms an elegant glossy finish. Couverture chocolate, unlike regular chocolate, is ground to a finer texture and contains a greater percentage of cocoa butter. These two differences produce a superior flavour and texture that makes couverture the preferred chocolate. (Ostara uses only couverture chocolate)
Ultra-Couverture Chocolate – is equal in quality to couverture chocolate, but with an even higher cocoa butter content. Due to the higher cocoa butter content and very fluid nature, it is the perfect chocolate for dipping and enrobing. Few manufacturers are able to successfully produce this type of chocolate. It is difficult to balance the higher cocoa butter content with superb taste and texture. When tempered and cooled, it forms a thin and elegant glossy shell.
Home hobbyists and professionals alike have utilized compound chocolate due to its ease of use and lower price. Compound chocolate contains vegetable oil instead of cocoa butter so tempering is not required. Historically, compound chocolate sacrifices quality and taste for ease and price.
Many fine chocolate makers produce couverture chocolate, including Amano, El Rey, Felchlin, Guittard, Lindt, Scharffen Berger, and Valrhona. There’s not a “top” or “best” couverture chocolate to recommend, as it comes down to personal taste and preference.
Our recommendation is to sample different brands over time, if possible, to find your personal favourite couverture. Look for a beautiful shine, and experience a healthy “snap” when you bite into the chocolate. That deep chocolatey flavour…nothing quite like it!