Harnessing The Power Of Chocolate With Reduced Sugar

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

Cocoa has many benefits as an ingredient, but is it possible for chocolate to be made in a healthier way? Tina Tan, Managing Director of Tatgu Chocolate, and Dr Geeta Bansal, Lecturer, Ngee Ann Polytechnic, share their insight on reducing sugar in chocolate without compromising on taste.

Y.S. is a diabetic man, and unable to fulfil his sweet craving due to his medical condition. He walks into the department store to buy chocolates, but is presented with limited options as most of the chocolates on the shelves today are made with copious amounts of sugar. Such is the dilemma of a diabetic person—just one of the millions in Asia.

The irony is that chocolate is a superfood, but the way it is produced needs to change so that it can become a better option for the health-conscious.

The Origin And Benefits Of Chocolate

Etymologists trace the origin of the word ‘chocolate’ to the Aztec word ‘xocoatl,’ a bitter drink brewed from cacao beans. The Latin name for the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, means ‘food of the gods’. In the 19th century, Cubans used it as an aphrodisiac and in the 20th century, it was recommended as a panacea for indigestion.

Throughout its long history, chocolate has been revered for its many uses, and demand has exploded across the world. Today, chocolate and its related products are consumed by millions around the world, and all of its functional benefits have yet to be discovered.

Dark chocolate is lauded for its power in the content of vitamins and minerals, such as potassium, iron, copper and magnesium. Chocolate is also known to lower both blood pressure and cholesterol, and has nearly eight times the number of antioxidants found in strawberries.

Studies have also shown that dark chocolate can improve blood vessel flow, as well as blood sugar and insulin sensitivity to help reduce the risk of diabetes. Chocolate can support cardiovascular health by lowering cholesterol and improving blood pressure, prevent memory decline, and help fight heart disease risk.

Recent studies have even proven that after the consumption of chocolate, cocoa is fermented in the gut by the beneficial bacteria, producing anti-inflammatory compounds that improve the blood vessel function.

What more can you ask from a single ingredient?

The Problem With Chocolate

Dark chocolate always gets a thumbs up as the healthier option as it has relatively lower sugar and fat compared to milk or white chocolate. This implies that the problem lies within the composition of the final product. Today, the common consumer perception of chocolate is that it causes obesity, weight gain, acne, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and diabetes, among other health conditions.

In contrast, the truth of the matter is that cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate, is in fact a healthy one. However, it has a bitter taste that is not palatable to many. In order to sweeten it up, manufacturers tend to add a large amount of sugar, and this amount depends on the composition and manufacturing process of the final desired end-product. Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that is metabolised at a very fast rate leading to quick supply of energy. However, excessive intake of sugar can adversely affect health.

There is also uncertainty when it comes to labels on chocolate. For example, ‘no sugar added’ does not always mean there is no sugar in the chocolate. No added sugars mean that while no sugar is added to the product, some naturally occurring sugars are present in some of its ingredients (such as in raisins or fruits).

The US Food and Drug Administration regulations state that any product containing less than 0.5 g of sugar per serving and contains no sugar containing ingredient may be labelled sugar-free; whereas the “no added sugars” or “without added sugars” labels may be used if no sugar or sugar-containing ingredient is added during the manufacturing process. In this case, the total sugars present may exceed 0.5 g per serving.

Can We Produce Chocolate With A Difference?

Is there a way to produce chocolate that is healthier for everyone? The answer is yes.

For example, it has been found to be possible to produce white chocolate products with only a 10-12 percent sugar composition derived from sugar cane. This enables the chocolate to retain its sweetness, yet remain far healthier than the overwhelming majority of chocolate available on the market which contain an average of 45 percent of sugar.

This is big news for the future of chocolate, and could pave the way for harnessing the benefits of chocolate without the problems that come with sugar consumption.

For chocolate to shake off its bad reputation, the industry needs to change, and look for more advanced ways of reducing sugar content in its products. If chocolate can be enjoyed in a healthy way, the impact would be tremendous.

Imagine children being able to enjoy chocolate to their hearts’ content or the elderly being able to indulge in chocolate, without a fear of diabetes. Imagine chocolate being consumed, not just for its delicious taste, but for its health benefits.

A Growing Appetite For Chocolate

Throughout history, people have prized chocolate and this is a tradition that endures in our modern era. The demand for chocolate around the world is huge—around the world, people spend more than US$98 billion a year on the treat.

Accord i n g to the National Confectioners Association research published in 2016, around 100 million chocolate bunnies are made for Easter alone in the US, and on Valentine’s Day, Americans spend an estimated US$1.7 billion on chocolate.

In Great Britain, a recent study showed that 91 percent of females and 87 percent of males consume chocolate products. In terms of chocolate products, seasonal and boxed chocolates have been experiencing the fastest growth—between 2010 and last year, it has expanded by 13 percent.

Chocolate As A Baking Application

Chocolate has numerous health benefits, and adds richness, flavour and texture to dessert. Chocolate is a very flexible ingredient and can be turned into mousse, frosting, glaze or ganache.

There are some common terms in chocolate application including ‘Baking Chocolate’, and semisweet and bittersweet chocolate. Other names of baking chocolate include ‘unsweetened chocolate’ or ‘bitter chocolate’. Also to note, both semisweet and bittersweet chocolate contain at least 35 percent chocolate liquor.

Compound Chocolate Versus Real Chocolate

For baking and confectionery, manufacturers or bakers can use either real chocolate couverture, compound chocolate, or a mixture of the two.

Real chocolate couverture has cocoa butter and chocolate liquor as its main ingredients, which cause it to require more attention and preparation when being melted down. The rich sheen makes it suitable for coating and decorations. When it is tempered correctly, it has a glossy shine, has a snap and melts in your mouth.

Compound chocolate substitutes the two main ingredients found in real chocolate. Instead of chocolate liquor, it has cocoa powder; the cocoa butter is replaced with oil. Compound chocolate is often used in the mass market. However, due to its high oil content, it has its drawbacks when it comes to health.

Chocolate couverture can be used in:

  • Chocolate Cakes, Pastries, Desserts
  • Pralines, Bars
  • Gourmet Chocolate
  • Chocolate Sushi
  • Chocolate Sauce
  • Chocolate Fondue Dip
  • Chocolate Cookies
  • Chocolate Cake Pop
  • Chocolate Ice-cream
  • Chocolate Gelato
  • Chocolate Drinks
  • Cocoa Spoon

The Future Of Chocolate

Since the 1990s, more than a billion people from China, Indonesia, India, have entered the market. Also, with the rise of the growing middle class, the taste and demand for chocolate will continue to rise. A recent report called ‘Destruction by Chocolate’ published in numerous news articles in 2016, has shown that the typical Western consumer eats an average of 286 chocolate bars a year. Imagine the potential chocolate can have once the other markets in the world catch up to this growing hunger?

The way consumers are reaching for chocolate has changed—according to research in the US by the National Confectioners Association, large chocolate candy in boxes, bags and bars are in high demand and saw a 12 percent increase last year.

In a March 2016 report by the NPD Group, baby boomers and Millennials both listed chocolate/candy bars among their top three snack picks, which also included fruit and potato chips. However, even as many of the younger generation crave indulgence, they are becoming even more interested in the ingredients behind chocolate.

Chocolate manufacturers have responded in a big way. In 2015, Nestle announced its commitment to remove artificial flavours and FDA-certified colours. In the same year, Hershey’s announced that its chocolate kisses and chocolate bars would no longer be made with artificial ingredients. And in 2016, Mars Incorporated announced plans to remove all artificial colours from its human food products.

The actions of these chocolate goliaths speak volumes for the way chocolate will be sold and marketed in the coming years.

The Road Ahead For Chocolate

Considering the rising awareness of what constitutes a healthy lifestyle, dramatic changes will be up ahead for the chocolate industry. There are wars being waged to fight obesity and diabetes around the world. And while chocolate is being more recognised as a superfood, there is also a greater need for accountability.

Chocolate-makers need to show greater transparency in the ingredients that go into their products, while consumers will continue to become more discerning to make informed decisions. It is imperative that the way chocolate is produced and sold also needs to evolve to adapt to the needs of this fast-changing world.