White chocolate is technically not chocolate at all, since it does not contain chocolate liquor or cocoa solids, the two primary ingredients in chocolate. It does, however, contain cocoa butter, which is a product of the cacao plant, and it has a delicate flavor in which hints of chocolate certainly play a role. This product is processed and made much like chocolate, and it can also be used just as regular chocolate is in an assortment of foods.
To make chocolate, the seeds of the cacao plant are harvested and allowed to ferment slightly. The outer casing of the seeds is cracked, revealing an inner core that is ground into chocolate liquor. This substance is the base of most chocolates, but it can also be separated to yield cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Cocoa butter is the fat of the chocolate, and it is rich, creamy, and very stable when processed well. Cocoa solids are mixed in with more chocolate liquor for intense chocolates, or sold separately. Cocoa butter can be processed to make a variety of products, including cosmetic creams.
When white chocolate is made, the separated cocoa butter is mixed with milk and a sweetener, and it is also frequently flavored with vanilla. The mixture is poured into molds that take a variety of forms, from chocolate bars to baking blocks, and packaged for sale after it solidifies and cools. The resulting product has an ivory color and a creamy flavor. It is also a very fragile chocolate that needs to be handled with care in baking.
Several nations have established labeling standards for white chocolate to ensure that it contains cocoa butter rather than vegetable oil or another fat. As a general rule, it must contain 20% cocoa butter. A high quality product made with good ingredients will have a cream to ivory color, whereas one made with substitute fats will be truly white. This type has an inferior flavor and texture, and most consumers and confectioners avoid it.
The delicate flavor can be used in a number of desserts or blended with conventional chocolate for a contrast. It can also be used in savory dishes, especially spicy foods, which interact delightfully with the sweet, creamy flavor. White chocolate is also available in bars that can be enjoyed plain, although it tends to be very rich, so it should not be consumed in large amounts.