For years, Sharon Leitner's candy bar of choice was Take 5.
"I liked that it was a combination of different flavors," the Cincinnati resident said. "It was salty and sweet, [with] caramel and peanut butter and chocolate, and it had something for everybody."
But this past spring, Leitner, 24, noticed a change.
"It just didn't taste like it used to," she said. The new taste was "more waxy and artificial."
A look at the bar's wrapper helped Leitner understand why: cocoa butter -- which experts say helps give chocolate its smooth, creamy taste -- wasn't on the candy's ingredients list.
"Then I started noticing that there were all kinds of other products that didn't have cocoa butter," she said.
Changes to the formulations of several candy bars has chocolate lovers like Leitner buzzing -- and not in a good way.
Cybele May, the founder of the candy review Web site Candy Blog, said that in recent years rising cocoa prices have led candy companies like Hershey's -- the maker of Take 5 and the top chocolate-seller in the U.S. -- to replace cocoa butter with cheaper vegetable oils. The ingredients list for Take 5, for instance, now includes "palm, shea, sunflower and/or safflower oil."
"They just ruined that," May said of the Take 5 bar.
Hershey, meanwhile, stands by its products. The company "is committed to making the world's best chocolate," said spokesman Kirk Saville.
While a "handful" of the company's products do include vegetable oils other than cocoa butter, he said, "we continue to make Hershey's, Hershey's Kisses, Reese's peanut butter cups with pure milk chocolate as we have for over a century."
That defense -- that there are Hershey's products that still contain pure milk chocolate -- isn't enough for Leitner.
"To me, shaving out the cocoa butter in the less-popular products kind of says that if you like Whatchamacallit [candy bars] you're less deserving of quality ingredients than say, someone who likes Reese's cups," she said.
Cocoa butter is fat derived from cocoa beans. Like other commodities, cocoa prices have skyrocketed in recent years. In 2006, one metric ton of African cocoa butter cost less than $4,000. Today, it costs more than $8,100, according to Judy Ganes, the president of J. Ganes Consulting in Katonah, New York.
Ganes, whose company specializes in research on tropical food products, said that a combination of growing global demand for chocolate and problems in cocoa-producing countries -- heavy rains in Indonesia and civil war in the Ivory Coast -- have driven prices to peaks not seen since the 1970s.
"It certainly has hurt manufacturers," Ganes said.
In the United States, when a so-called chocolate bar doesn't include cocoa butter or includes other oils, it can't actually be labeled chocolate.
"According to the Food and Drug [Administration's] regulations for chocolate, cocoa butter is the required fat for chocolate," said Susan Smith, the spokeswoman for the National Confectioners Association.