This article was originally published in the American edition of Yated Neeman
Before answering this question, we need to ascertain the correct bracha for chocolate itself. Although the accepted practice is to recite Shehakol on chocolate bars and other products, the question is, why? After all, chocolate is the product of the bean from the cocoa tree. Shouldn’t its bracha be Borei pri ha’eitz? As we will see, many poskim indeed contend that the correct bracha on chocolate is ha’eitz, notwithstanding the minhag. We will also investigate whether there is a difference between the bracha on dark chocolate and white chocolate.
To resolve our question we must analyze what bracha one recites on fruit products that have undergone extensive processing, such as sugar, peanut butter, jams, jellies, apple sauce, and chocolate. We also need to understand something about the history and methods of chocolate production. Aside from being informative, we will discover that all this information impacts on halacha.
Chocolate is native to southern Mexico and Central America, where the Maya, and later the Aztec Indians cultivated the cocoa (also called the cacao) tree for hundreds and possibly thousands of years. In fact, the word chocolate originates from an Aztec word meaning “warm liquid.” In their society, the royal family drank warm unsweetened chocolate from golden goblets, and cocoa beans were used as currency. Thus, if a Jew had accompanied Hernando Cortez on his trip to the New World, he may have recited kiddush and havdalah over hot chocolate since it qualified there as chamar medinah, a beverage used to honor guests!
The Spaniards planted cocoa trees all over the tropical parts of the New World. Later industrialists developed vast plantations of cocoa trees in Africa, Indonesia, and other tropical areas.
The Native Americans drank their chocolate unsweetened, whereas the Spaniards added sugar to it. This created two industries in the New World, the cocoa industry and the sugar industry. By 5340 (1580), hot chocolate flavored with sugar and vanilla was a common Spanish drink, and from there it eventually spread to the rest of Europe.
As long as chocolate was drunk as a beverage, its bracha was certainly Shehakol, since we recite Shehakol on all beverages (except wine, of course), even if they are made from the five grains, such as beer and whiskey (see Tosafos, Berachos 38a s.v. Hai).
THE 19th CENTURY AND CHOCOLATE
Two major 19th century developments vastly changed the way people consumed chocolate. In 1847, an English company introduced the first solid eating chocolate. Until this time, chocolate was only drunk as a beverage.
The second development occurred in 1876 when the Swiss devised a method of adding milk to chocolate, thereby creating what we know today as milk chocolate. Prior to this invention, all chocolate was pareve. (By the way, some European manufacturers currently add animal fat to chocolate, obviously making it non-kosher.)
HOW DOES COCOA GROW?
The cocoa tree grows with large, colored fruits the size of melons or small pineapples that hang from the branches and trunk of the tree. Each huge fruit contains a sticky pulp that holds about 20-50 almond-shaped seeds that are usually called cocoa beans. The growers separate the beans from the pulp, ferment the beans for about a week, dry them in the sun, and then ship the semi-processed cocoa beans to a chocolate maker.
HOW IS CHOCOLATE MADE?
The chocolate maker roasts the beans to bring out the flavor, and then removes the shell from the bean, leaving the kernel. The kernel is ground and becomes a thick, viscous liquid called chocolate liquor. The bean turns into a liquid when it is ground because it contains over 50% fat.
Chocolate liquor contains no alcohol — that is simply the name for the ground, liquefied chocolate. Chocolate liquor is pure, bitter, unsweetened chocolate, similar to what the Aztecs drank in their time.
The chocolate maker now separates the cocoa liquor into its two main components; the fat or cocoa butter (nothing to do with the butter made from milk that we eat) and cocoa bean solids. The solids are ground into cocoa powder. The chocolate we eat consists of a mix of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, and cocoa powder, along with several other ingredients, notably sugar and usually milk. This product is ground very finely in a machine called a “conch” to give it a smooth consistency and taste. The chocolate is then tempered, which means that it is heated slowly and then cooled slowly, to enable the chocolate to harden properly and so that the cocoa butter does not separate from the chocolate. Finally, the chocolate is flavored and shaped into the final product.
Thus before being ready to eat, chocolate has been separated, fermented, dried, roasted, shelled, ground, liquefied, separated, ground again, mixed with milk and/or cocoa butter, ground yet again in a conch, tempered, flavored and shaped.
White chocolate is made from cocoa butter, sugar, and sometimes milk. There are no cocoa solids in white chocolate and that is how in maintains its light color. Some “white chocolate” products are in reality made of vegetable oil and chocolate flavoring instead of cocoa butter.
SO WHAT BRACHA DO WE MAKE ON CHOCOLATE?
To this day, there is a dispute among poskim whether the correct bracha on chocolate is Borei pri ha’eitz or Shehakol nihyeh bidvaro. To comprehend this dispute we need to understand the halachos of fruit and vegetable products that no longer have their original consistency, such as date butter, apple sauce, jam, fruit puree, mashed potatoes, tomato paste, and peanut butter. Is the correct bracha on these items Borei pri ha’eitz (Borei pri ha’adamah in the case of some) or Shehakol nihyeh bidvaro?
The Rishonim dispute this question, many contending that even fruit that is completely pureed is still Borei pri ha’eitz, whereas a minority rule that the bracha on a fruit or vegetable that no longer has its original consistency is Shehakol.
HOW DO WE PASKIN?
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 202:7) rules that the bracha on date butter is Ha’eitz, and this is the ruling followed by most Sefardim. Ashkenazim follow the ruling of the Rama, who contends that one should recite Shehakol because of the safek as to which opinion we should follow. In practice, Ashkenazim usually recite Borei pri ha’eitz when eating a product that has some of the consistency of the original product, as is the case of jam with recognizable fruit pieces in it or “chunky” apple sauce, but recite Shehakol before eating a completely smooth apple sauce, or a smooth jam where the fruit has completely lost its consistency (Mishnah Berurah 202:42).
However, since the reason we recite Shehakol is because it is a safek, several halachic differences result. For example, someone having a snack of apple sauce and a beverage should make sure to recite the Shehakol on the apple sauce rather than on the beverage. If one recites the Shehakol on the beverage without specifically including the apple sauce, one now has a safek whether he has fulfilled the bracha on the apple sauce. This is because according to the opinions that the bracha should be Ha’eitz, one does not fulfill the bracha by reciting Shehakol on something else.
Similarly, someone eating a fruit and apple sauce at the same time who recited Ha’eitz on the fruit should not recite Shehakol (and certainly not Ha’eitz) on the apple sauce. This is because according to the poskim who contend that apple sauce is Ha’eitz he has already fulfilled his bracha by reciting Ha’eitz on the other fruit. Instead, he should first recite Shehakol on the apple sauce and then Ha’eitz on the other fruit (Ben Ish Chai, Pinchas #16).
Some poskim are stricter, ruling that one should not eat an item that is definitely Borei pri ha’eitz together with an item that is questionably Borei pri ha’eitz, such as apple sauce. This is because there isn’t any way to fulfill reciting a bracha on both items without creating an unnecessary bracha. If one recites the bracha on the fruit first, then one has a safek as to whether he can recite a bracha on the safek item. However, if you recite the Shehakol on the safek item first, then according to the opinions that the bracha is Ha’eitz you have now recited an unnecessary bracha (Maamar Mordechai 203:3).
HOW DOES THIS DISCUSSION AFFECT CHOCOLATE?
The average person looking at a chocolate bar does not recognize the cocoa beans since the producer ground, liquefied, and reconstituted them into a solid in the process. Can one still recite Ha’eitz on the finished chocolate product or does it become Shehakol?
Many assume that the bracha on chocolate products is Shehakol based on the rulings of the Divrei Yosef and other poskim quoted by Shaarei Teshuvah (202:19). However, since all these poskim lived at the time when chocolate was only drunk, it is difficult to base any halachic conclusion on what bracha to recite before eating chocolate since we recite Shehakol on all beverages, as mentioned above.
Among the more recent poskim who discuss what bracha one should recite before eating chocolate, the two greatest poskim to discuss this issue are Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach and Rav Moshe Feinstein, who reach diametrically opposite conclusions. In his Minchas Shlomoh (Vol. 1, 91:2) Rav Shlomoh Zalman suggests that one should recite Ha’eitz before eating chocolate. He compares chocolate to a case of spices ground so fine that their source is no longer identifiable. The bracha recited on these spices is whatever would have been the appropriate bracha on this spice had it been edible before grinding (that is, usually Ha’Adamah), even if the spice is mixed with sugar [and even if it is mostly sugar] (Shulchan Aruch 203:7). Let me explain this case with an example.
WHAT BRACHA DOES ONE RECITE ON CINNAMON SUGAR?
Cinnamon is the bark of a tree, and as such its bracha is Borei pri ha’adamah (we do not recite Borei pri ha’eitz since we eat the bark and not the fruit). “Cinnamon sugar” is a blend of cinnamon and sugar where the cinnamon cannot be identified by appearance, although it is clearly the more pronounced flavor. Based on the above-quoted ruling, one should recite Ha’adamah before eating cinnamon sugar.
Why are spices different from finely ground fruit and vegetables over which Ashkenazim recite Shehakol?
Since this is considered the way that one “eats” spices they do not lose their bracha even though they can no longer be identified (Mishnah Berurah 203:12).
WHAT BRACHA DO WE RECITE ON SUGAR?
As I discussed in a different article, there is a thousand-year-old dispute over whether the correct bracha one should recite before eating cane sugar is Borei pri ha’eitz, Borei pri ha’adamah, or Shehakol. The Shulchan Aruch (202:15) concludes that we recite Shehakol on sugar, however someone who recited either Borei pri ha’eitz or Borei pri ha’adamah on cane sugar should not recite a new bracha since the correct bracha is disputed (Tur, Beis Yosef, Mishnah Berurah, and Biyur Halacha ad loc.).
Originally, sugar was produced only from sugar cane. Today a large percentage of the world’s sugar crop is extracted from the sweet white root of the sugar beet. However, mass cultivation and production of sugar beets did not begin until the 19th Century and was a result of the Napoleonic Wars. When the British blockaded Napoleon’s Europe, one of the curtailed products was cane sugar, which does not grow in Europe’s cold climate. Out of concern that his subjects might revolt over the unavailability of imported sugar, Napoleon built sugar refineries throughout Europe. He even awarded a medal for perfecting the production of white sugar from the white root of the sugar beet, which thrives in cold climates.
Although Napoleon was not worried about it, Rabbonim were concerned whether the bracha over the new type of sugar was also Shehakol, just as the bracha over cane sugar. (The two types of sugar cannot be distinguished one from the other.) The Mishnah Berurah (202:76) rules that one should recite Shehakol over beet sugar, although if someone recited Borei pri ha’adamah he should not make another bracha.
Thus we see that there is a halachic difference between spices that are ground up and cannot be identified, whose bracha remains Ha’adamah, and beet sugar, whose bracha is Shehakol. We must now analyze the difference between these two foods and to figure out where chocolate fits into the picture.
BEATING A BEET
After the sugar beets ripen, they are harvested, washed thoroughly, and then sliced into thin chips. The beets are then soaked in hot water for about an hour which extracts the sugar from the beets and creates a strong sugar solution. Chalk is added to the sugar solution which causes the non-sugar parts of the solution to clump so that they can be filtered out. The sugar solution is then evaporated to concentrate the sugar. Eventually the sugar concentration is great enough to form crystals which are then removed from the solution.
An important fact affecting our halachic discussion is that in the case of both cane and beet, the sugar is extracted, or removed, from the stem or root, rather than being simply processed.
Now our question is, do we compare chocolate to spices, which maintain their bracha even after they have been ground until they are no longer identifiable, or to sugar which we paskin loses its bracha and becomes Shehakol?
Horav Shlomoh Zalman compares chocolate to the case of ground spices that maintain their original bracha although they are no longer recognizable. (Dayan Gavriel Krausz, formerly the Av Beis Din of Manchester, devotes a lengthy essay to advocate this position in his sefer Mekor Habracha.) Apparently Rav Shlomoh Zalman felt that chocolate which is refined from the cocoa bean should not be compared to sugar which is extracted from the cane or beet.
(In my opinion, those poskim who contend that the bracha on chocolate is Borei pri ha’eitz should agree that the bracha on white chocolate is Shehakol since this product contains no cocoa solids. Cocoa butter should have the halacha of a liquid that is pressed out of a fruit whose bracha is always Shehakol.)
On the other hand, when Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:31) discusses what bracha to recite before eating chocolate-covered raisins, he assumes that the bracha on chocolate is Shehakol and does not entertain the possibility that its bracha might be a safek.
In Rav Moshe’s tshuvah, he addresses the following issue: When eating a food composed of items with different brachos, we must determine which food is the more important part, the ikar, and determines the bracha of the entire food. Rav Moshe deliberates whether the chocolate or the raisin is more important in order to determine whether the bracha on chocolate-covered raisins is Ha’eitz, like the raisin, or Shehakol, like the chocolate. Rav Moshe concludes that neither the chocolate nor the raisins can be considered of secondary importance (tafeil) to the other, and therefore chocolate-covered raisins require two brachos, Ha’eitz on the raisins and Shehakol on the chocolate.
Rav Moshe then discusses which of the two brachos to recite first. Usually, one should recite the bracha of Ha’eitz before reciting Shehakol. However, Rav Moshe points out that one must eat the chocolate before reaching the raisin; thus, the bracha on the chocolate will have to be first. Rav Moshe concludes that the best thing to do is to recite Ha’eitz on a regular raisin and then Shehakol on the chocolate. (When this option does not exist, he paskins that one should recite Shehakol on the chocolate and then Ha’eitz on the raisin.)
Clearly, Rav Moshe held that chocolate is definitely Shehakol and not even questionably Ha’eitz. I conjecture that he maintained that since chocolate undergoes so many changes and processes in its preparation, one should not consider the finished product as a fruit at all. Alternatively he may have held that since chocolate is liquefied and remains a liquid for most of its processing, it retains its status of being a liquid for hilchos brachos and thus the correct bracha is Shehakol. In any instance, the almost-universal minhag is to recite Shehakol before eating chocolate. (For other reasons why chocolate should be Shehakol, see Shaarei Habracha pg. 693 and Makor Habracha pgs. 52-61.)
Other poskim disagree with Rav Moshe’s psak on chocolate-covered raisins and nuts, contending that one should recite only one bracha. Among these poskim, there are two major approaches, those that hold that the bracha is always Shehakol since they consider the chocolate to be the ikar and those who feel the bracha should be determined by whichever is greater in quantity (Vezos Haberacha pg. 97; Yalkut Yosef, Vol. 3, pg 431). I refer you to your own posek to decide what bracha you should recite before eating this delicacy.
As we mentioned above, the Aztecs considered chocolate a royal food. By studying the halachos of the berachos on this food, we elevate it to being a true royal food – since we are determining what bracha the mamleches cohanim vigoy kodosh, the holy nation that is a kingdom of priests recites on this food.