The question of whether butter is good for one’s health is never-ending. Celebrated or vilified, butter’s reputation can depend on the day, place, and whose opinion is being valued. Regardless, it is a versatile dairy product that’s a staple in any well-meaning kitchen, elevating the flavor and texture of a savory dish or sweet dessert.
In general, butter is a healthy food component so long as consumed in moderation. However, even with this in mind and the healthy natural fats, minerals, and vitamins present, butter also has a high saturated fat content, which is a major trigger for bad cholesterol in the body.
Demands for healthier, non-dairy, or vegan options continue to grow. Although, some alternatives, such as ghee and almond butter, are more expensive and not easy to find. Other substitutes, like olive or coconut oil, lack the subtle taste that butter from cow’s milk offers.
There is, however, a kind of butter that’s been around for as long as we have known chocolate to exist – the cacao butter. The best part is that cacao, its main source, is a key high-value crop and actively grown in several parts of the Philippines. Among these is Davao City, which was officially recognized by the Department of Agriculture in 2020 as the cacao capital of the Philippines.
The same year, Germany became the biggest importer of cacao butter in Europe at 152 thousand tonnes. According to the Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries (CBI*), 31% was sourced directly from cocoa-producing countries. While those of fellow major importers France and The Netherlands were over 75%. This points to the growing global trend for cacao processing at origin, largely in part to the premium being put on traceable chocolates in Europe.
Some might fear using cacao butter might overpower the intended taste due to its chocolate-like aroma, though this might be more imagined. According to Julie Morris, a superfood chef and best-selling cookbook author, cacao butter only provides a hint of that flavor, and mostly adds richness to a recipe. Adding that calling it butter is a bit inaccurate since it has no butter or dairy content. Cacao butter is technically oil.
Also known as Theobroma oil, cacao butter is produced when cacao beans are processed to make chocolate and other cacao products. This raw fat is extracted from pressing the cacao mass or chocolate liquor that forms after the roasting and grinding processes. Much of the cacao butter coming from the beans is being used by the manufacturers themselves. It is what gives the sheen and smoothness of a chocolate bar, and the light, pale yellow hue of white chocolate.
And just like dark chocolates, cacao butter is rich in antioxidants, which is key to fighting free radicals in the body and is good for the skin’s moisture and protection. Cacao butter is plant-based, so it can be used by people with lactose intolerance, and in vegan meal preparations the same way one would do with regular or dairy butter.
*CBI stands for “Centrum ter Bevordering van Import uit ontwikkelingslanden” – the organization’s Dutch name. The CBI was created in 1971, and is funded by The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
See if cacao butter takes your fancy. Here are just some of the food-grade cacao butter varieties available from Philippine chocolate makers and traders:
From the makers of the fine Auro Chocolate, a brand with equally distinguished packaging design, Filipinas Oro de Cacao also offers an unrefined butter variant that comes in either 150g or 1kg size.
Along with their line of chocolates, SaBroso Chocolate Manufacturing’s butter is easy to find. Available in leading grocery chains nationwide, baking supply stores, and retail fine food and specialty stores, this export-ready raw unfiltered butter comes in packs of 500g and 1.5kg, and is also available in tin cans and jars of 250g.