Chocolate. It seems like a simple idea. But it has become a matter for a bewildering array of European lawyers, policymakers, and businessmen, all trying to define exactly what constellation of ingredients make up the real thing.
Eight of the 15 European Union nations, like the United States, insist chocolate must consist entirely of cocoa butter made from beans imported mainly from West Africa. The other seven permit manufacturers to replace up to 5 percent of the cocoa with cheaper vegetable oils.
Belgium and other EU countries enjoying a reputation in chocolate contend only pure chocolate should bear the name. They worry that their products will be undercut by cheaper chocolate from other EU nations. Confectioners in Britain and other countries with a tradition of cheaper, mass-produced candy say using vegetable fats enables them to make chocolate that is shinier, crispier, more resistant to heat, and more easily mixable with cookies, all of which help sales. Also, West African nations are crying that increased use of vegetable-fat substitutes could wreck their economies.
''The whole thing is driving us completely berserk,'' says Arnold van Hecke, director of Coabisco, a trade group of European candymakers.