WEBSTER'S defines ''chocolate'' as a paste, powder, syrup, or bar made from cocoa beans. ''Oh really?'' say seven of the 15 European Union nations. Not if they get their way.
Chocolate was one of the few products that avoided standardization when the EU erased differing national traditions to make it easier to trade just about anything. But now the EU has its eye on the sweet stuff. Eight nations believe chocolate should consist entirely of cocoa butter made from beans imported primarily from West Africa. The other seven say manufacturers should be allowed to replace up to 5 percent of the cocoa with cheaper vegetable oils.
Who'd have thought. We fight over land. We fight over ethnic heritage.We even fight over wounded pride. Now it's cocoa meets vegetable fat.
This is a sticky issue. The ''keep chocolate pure'' advocates worry that cheaper chocolate coming from other EU nations will undercut their own products. West African countries worry that use of vegetable fats will harm their economies. Nonsense, insist the pro-oil proponents. Vegetable fats allow chocolate makers to concoct a product that's shinier and crispier. That, in turn, will increase the demand for chocolate, helping the cocoa-bean exporters, not hurting them. Just please, please don't label it ''chocolate with substitutes.''
For its part, the EU Commission, which has been debating the issue for more than a year, doesn't know what to do. It only knows that no matter what its decision, one side will be unhappy. But decide it must. Lovers of chocolate - pure and not so pure - are counting on it.