Chocolate — At the intersection of health and indulgence

by Charlotte Atchley
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As chocolate’s benefits are better understood, formulators can use this indulgent ingredient to boost the health perception of their products.
 

KANSAS CITY — Two trends driving the food industry — health and indulgence — seem at odds with each other. Categories such as breads, flatbreads and savory snacks are benefiting by turning to better-for-you formulations while sweet goods, cakes, cookies and pies are getting a lift from going more delectable than ever. Chocolate is one ingredient that sits at the intersection.

“Chocolate is definitely a tool for food manufacturers in baking and snacks because it fits both of those worlds,” said Laura Bergan, director of innovation and market development, Barry Callebaut. “Part of that is it’s indulgent and there’s a premium to it, but also consumers have figured out there are some health benefits primarily due to the fact that it has natural antioxidant properties and flavanols that happen in the cocoa bean.”

On its own, chocolate possesses antioxidants that have been linked to cardiovascular health. Much of the growth in the industry associated with chocolate’s natural health halo is driven by dark chocolate. However, chocolate is unique in that not only does it carry its own antioxidants, but it is also very amenable to being fortified with other nutrients or having negative attributes removed.

“Due to the ‘better for you’ trend in the food industry, there are many chocolate and compound coating products that have been specially developed to have an impact on the nutrition label, such as reduced sugar, added protein, added fiber and reduced fat/calories, which can confer benefits onto the baked good or snack,” said Jenna Derhammer, applications and innovation manager, Blommer Chocolate. “The desired benefit will drive the chocolate or compound selection to help achieve it.”

Chocolate’s indulgent flavor can help bakers deliver on promises, such as reduced sugar and added protein, while still providing taste and texture.

“Our chocolates and compounds really help enhance the overall eating experience,” said Adam Lechter, director of chocolate technology, CQC. “They bring some different textures and enhance the overall eating experience of bars or baked goods, which is good if you’re trying to increase the nutrition.”

All of these attributes make chocolate and its associated ingredients the perfect vehicles to help bakers and snack producers improve the nutritional impact of their finished products while still maintaining taste and an indulgent profile. Although new chocolate and compound coatings can help bakers reduce sugar and fat, the most prevalent ways these ingredients contribute to a product’s better-for-you image are through bringing natural antioxidants to the table or the extra boost of protein or fiber.

Innate healthfulness

The simplest way to benefit from chocolate’s health perception is by taking advantage of its own antioxidants rather than adding anything to make it more nutritious.

“Our Taste Tomorrow global research has shown that consumers perceive cocoa to be a power ingredient,” said Jessica Blondeel, product manager, chocolate, Puratos Corp. “Raw, unprocessed cocoa is rich in flavonoids, which are natural antioxidants associated with better protection of the heart, vascular system and brain tissue.”

Cocoa beans carry more flavonoids than the fruit of many other plants, and the specific flavonoids found in them are rarely found elsewhere. However, the more the cocoa bean is processed, the fewer flavanols remain in the resulting cacao, or cocoa mass, the intermediate from which chocolate is made.

 

 

“Like many other beneficial components in chocolate, antioxidants are best preserved when the cacao percentage is high and minimally processed,” Ms. Derhammer said. “For example, a chocolate with 70% cacao will have more antioxidants than a milk chocolate, and a natural cocoa powder will have more antioxidants than an alkalized one.”

During processing, cocoa beans are ground, which creates cocoa mass that is then pressed into cocoa powder and cocoa butter. In a finished chocolate product, a higher percentage of cocoa mass and a lower amount of sugar will yield a greater proportion of flavonoids. Only cocoa solids have flavonoids. For example, because it contains milk powder, milk chocolate has a lower cocoa percentage than dark chocolate, resulting in a lower amount of flavonoids. White chocolate, made only with cocoa butter, has no cocoa solids and, thus, offers the least amount of antioxidants, according to Ms. Blondeel.

“Time, temperature and certain steps in the production process such as alkalization can lower the amount of flavonoids,” she said.

Barry Callebaut developed a proprietary process to create a dark cocoa powder that preserves as many flavanols as possible. The resulting Acticoa cocoa powder contains eight times more flavanols than conventional cocoa powder. Acticoa chocolate, processed in a similar fashion, contains three times more flavanols than conventional chocolate.

“We don’t add anything to this product,” Ms. Bergan explained. “This is all from how we process it and how we keep that goodness of the flavanols in. I equate it to when people say, ‘Don’t overcook your vegetables’ because you’re cooking out the nutritious parts of the vegetables. It’s all the same thing.”

The extra flavonoids, however, do make these ingredients’ flavors more intense, so it’s recommended that they be used in conjunction with conventional cocoa powders and chocolates.

“Just depending on what the food manufacturer is trying to accomplish from a flavor profile standpoint, we can help them with the end formulation,” Ms. Bergan said.

These antioxidants can help bakers and snack producers take advantage of health benefits they convey, most notably flavanols’ link to cardiovascular health. Scientific studies relate consumption of flavanols found in chocolate to reduced risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. In fact, recently, the European Safety Authority approved a health claim to be used in the EU regarding chocolate. The claim states that at a minimum of 200 mg per day, cocoa flavanols help maintain the elasticity of blood vessels, which contributes to normal blood flow.

“It is very difficult, by the way, to get a statement like this through the European authority,” said Michael Augustine, U.S. director of R.&D., Barry Callebaut. “It takes a lot of work and evidence to substantiate.”

In the U.S., however, the Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve similar health claims for chocolate. To date, the most it has allowed is use of the term “healthy” on the packaging of certain chocolate-containing nutrition bars.

A boost of protein, fiber

Beyond its own health properties, chocolate can be a delivery tool for an end product’s nutritional boost.

“One of the many wonderful attributes about chocolate is that it is a great carrier for nutritionally additive ingredients like fiber and protein, and it helps to mask certain off-flavors that might be associated with such ingredients,” Ms. Derhammer said.

Compound coatings can be reinforced with protein or fiber to increase such content in finished snacks.
 

Compound coatings can be reinforced with protein or fiber to increase such content in finished snacks. These ingredients can help bakers and snack producers make high-protein and fiber statements when used in conjunction with other nutrient-boosting ingredients. Compound coatings often contain cocoa powder or cacao mass but differ from chocolate in their fat systems because their ingredients are not governed by a federal Standard of Identity, as is chocolate (21 CFR 163). They are sometimes referred to by the terms “chocolaty,” “fudge” or “fudgy.”

“While it is unlikely that the chocolate portion of the finished product alone will achieve a specific nutritive goal or claim, it can certainly be an active component of moving the nutrition position in the right direction while adding a lot of flavor and decadence,” Ms. Derhammer continued.

These ingredients often come in the form of compound coatings that can be drizzled on top of a product or enrobed to partially or completely cover the food. In this form, issues of taste and texture can be easily masked and downplayed.

“There is a point at which flavor and mouthfeel may become negatively affected by making a better-for-you chocolate product,” Ms. Derhammer said.

In this area, Blommer has worked with different fiber and protein combinations to find the right balance of function, nutrition and flavor so that the finished product delivers the desired eating experience and nutrients.

Protein is enjoying an on-trend moment in the food industry, and chocolate-flavored coatings are positioned well to deliver this macronutrient.

“Protein has outgrown its traditional fitness target market and is finding its way into baked goods and even the commercial snack aisle,” Ms. Blondeel said.

Puratos offers a range of protein-enriched compound coatings for bars or cakes. They also can be used as inclusions in muffins and cookies.

“Although it’s hard to associate a health claim with protein, the coating helps improve the nutritionals of the finished item by increasing the protein content and reducing the amount of sugar,” she said.

Barry Callebaut’s high-protein compound delivers 15% and 20% protein in both dark and white bases, giving bakers and snack producers options.

Fiber is another straightforward way to make chocolate a functional ingredient.

“Cocoa has fiber, and evidence suggests that some of these fibers are prebiotic, meaning they play a role in digestive health,” said Satya Jonnalagadda, Ph.D., director of nutrition, Kerry.

Including more is only natural. As with protein, bakers can use fortified compound coatings along with other fiber-boosting ingredients to make high-fiber statements.

 

 

A spoonful of sugar or less

Adding nutrients to compound coatings or taking advantage of the cocoa bean’s natural nutrition is a way to gain a health-and-wellness boost. However, chocolate isn’t without its downside, nutritionally. Sugar and fat are still major components to this indulgent ingredient.

“When talking about chocolate or coatings, moderation becomes more important because of the fat and sugar,” Dr. Jonnalagadda said.

To curb the sugar rush, bakers and snack producers can pursue reduced-sugar types.

Despite the trendiness of antioxidants and protein, reduced sugar is a request Mr. Augustine often fields from customers and a point of innovation that Barry Callebaut continues to pursue.

Blommer Chocolate also works diligently on reduced- and no-sugar chocolate and coatings. “We have products that can be considered natural and products that are free from sugar alcohols,” Ms. Derhammer said.

In its innovation efforts, CQC takes into account how sugar is being addressed by the Food and Drug Administration.

“We’re definitely looking at strategies to reduce total sugars and use alternatives to sugars, with ‘added sugars’ now mandatory for declaration on the Nutrition Facts Panel,” Mr. Lechter said.

Researchers have only begun to scratch the surface of the health benefits chocolate can deliver and the ways it can act as a vehicle for other nutrients. Research points to cholesterol improvements, better glucose management and a better understanding of the benefits chocolate could contribute to heart health.

“Chocolate is no longer just a pretty face,” Ms. Blondeel said. “It actually brings added benefits to the table.”

As more research is done and benefits better understood, bakers can take advantage of chocolate’s place at the intersection of healthy and indulgent.

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