Two sandwiches with chocolate spread on a plate. Sandwich like a bear muzzle

When it comes to cocoa butter for recipes and even DIY personal-care products, not just any cocoa butter will do. There’s a huge difference between ungraded and food-grade cocoa butter when it comes to purity. If you’re using cocoa butter to make candy or lip balm, for instance, food grade is a must. Food-grade cocoa butter is available in many large grocery stores, natural markets and through online retailers.

What on Earth Is Cocoa Butter?

As you may have suspected, cocoa butter and cacao butter are exactly the same thing. The cacao butter at Whole Foods may cost a bit more than the cocoa butter at Walmart, but they may be virtually the same product. There’s also no dairy-based butter in cocoa butter; instead, the name reflects its buttery consistency when rubbed on the skin.

Cocoa butter is a fat that’s extracted when cacao beans are fermented and removed from their hulls. When the cacao beans are ground and pressed, the fat separates from the rest of the material, which is turned into chocolate liquor, an important part of the chocolate-making process.

Cocoa butter, also called theobroma oil, is prized by the food, pharmaceutical and beauty industries, as it’s packed with antioxidants and moisturizing qualities. It melts when you hold it in in the hand, but it won’t melt at room temperature, which is why it’s often used for lip balms and chocolate candies. Cocoa butter doesn’t have much of a chocolaty flavor at all, but it does have a chocolate scent.

Why Get Food Grade?

Many products, such as mineral oil and cocoa butter, are graded for purity by organizations such as the American Society of the International Association for Testing and Materials. The higher the grade, the purer the product. For instance, pharmaceutical-grade products are tested as 99% pure, making them safe for use in foods, medicines and dietary supplements.

Food grade may be slightly less pure, with different standards, depending upon the product. All food-grade cocoa butter is regarded as safe to eat, which means it’s also safe for skin application. The packaging should clearly indicate that the cocoa butter is food grade and pure.

Ungraded cocoa butter simply means it hasn’t been tested by any authoritative agency. It could be fairly pure, but there’s no guarantee. This type of cocoa butter is still safe for projects such as homemade lotions, moisturizers and soaps, but not for food use.

Finding Food-Grade Cocoa Butter

Cocoa butter is sold as a standalone product in many drugstores, big-box stores, healthy markets and vitamin shops. It’s also easy to find through online retailers such as Amazon and shops that sell crafting, candymaking and soap-making supplies. These online craft-supply retailers often carry a selection of cocoa-butter products, so be sure to read the description to ensure you purchase the food grade type. Food grade tends to cost more than ungraded cocoa butter.

In a drugstore or large department store, coconut butter may be near coconut oil in the food aisle or in the skin care section near the lotions. Look for a jar or package that says pure cocoa butter; make sure it’s not just an ingredient in a product, such as “cocoa butter moisturizing cream.” If it’s in the skin-care aisle, read the label details to ensure the product is pure food-grade cocoa butter and nothing else; otherwise, do not buy it for food use. In a candymaking shop or natural market, the food-grade cocoa butter will be near the other natural food-worthy oils, wafers and butters.

Note: No matter where you buy the cocoa butter, read the product details carefully before purchase to ensure the product is pure cocoa butter. This creamy material also melts at a relatively low temperature, much like coconut oil, so don’t leave it in a hot car while shopping.