Chocolate heaven

Chocolate heaven

Dahm, Lori


Consumer trends are music to the ears of cocoa ingredient suppliers.

It’s a chocolate lover’s dream come true – chocolate is good for your health! Well, at the very least chocolate is high in polyphenols, the substances that function as antioxidants in the body

And that’s good news for consumers and manufacturers alike. For starters, chocolate has been identified as the flavor American consumers prefer, according to the Chocolate Manufacturers’ Association. That means chocolate ice cream products and chocolate milk products are destined to be rising stars as the food industry continues to trend toward indulgence.

Moreover, with the re-emphasis upon dairy as a natural source of calcium and other healthy nutrients, chocolate ice creams and chocolate milks may have an even greater chance of flying off the shelves as hot commodities (figuratively and literally– albeit chilled) over the next few years.

Taking the good with the bad, however, this chocolate-laden prediction also requires that manufacturers be well versed in the science of formulating dairy products that include chocolate and cocoa ingredients. And that science is a difficult one. The stabilization requirements in chocolate milk are notably tricky, and the flavor and color effects of cocoa powders in ice cream are affected by many variables in the ice cream mix.

Although the world of formulating with chocolate ingredients hasn’t changed significantly over the past few years – the stabilization issues of today are the same as 10 years ago the trend toward consolidation of regional dairies means a forced meld between varying formulation preferences and manufacturing procedures. Coupled with the consumer’s increased demand for chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate, the wide world of formulating with chocolate ingredients has become a difficult landscape to navigate.

First, the Good News

The health benefits of chocolate have been publicized in the media over the past few years. It’s no surprise that such news would receive public attention and media interest – the consumption of chocolate often causes feelings of guilt when consumers dare to indulge.

New research studies have concluded that polyphenols are present in cocoa, however. These constituents are also found in tea, are absorbed by the blood, and may positively impact cardiovascular health. In addition, cocoa and cocoa extracts have been tested for their effect on the oxidation of LDL. The quantity of antioxidant absorbed from cocoa and chocolate is considerably higher compared to absorption from wine, tea and vegetables, according to studies published in The Lancet and the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry.

Compared to other antioxidantladen foods, dark chocolate has almost twice the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) of prunes, the next highest antioxidant food on the scale. Even milk chocolate has triple the ORAC of raisins, blueberries and blackberries, the next most potent antioxidant foods.

This means that consumers can eat chocolate with wild abandon, or at least without the usual guilt. And subsequent developments will most likely drive the demand for chocolate products across the food industry.

“Since chocolate is presently the number one preferred flavor out there in the market, it plays a continuing role in many product introductions,” says Steven Laning, product service and development manager at ADM Cocoa, Milwaukee. “The recent news on its potential health benefits could drive new introductions. But chocolate as the preferred flavor – that’s not new, and it’s not likely to change any time soon.”

The outcome of these trends is a pairing of dairy foods and chocolate, particularly in the form of chocolate milk.

Do You Take Yours Light or Dark?

Believe it or not, many consumers have established their preferred chocolate milk brand based upon its color. Or at least they believe they are choosing chocolate milk solely for its color. What they don’t realize is the color of a chocolate milk product is affected by several factors including the alkalization of the cocoa powder used, the milkfat and the establishment of an effective stabilization system. Consumers may “prefer” a certain color, but in truth, they are partial to the mouthfeel and overall taste of the drink.

In skim milk-based beverages, an alkalized cocoa may appear darker and have a greater impact on flavor. Blends using whole milk would be lighter and creamier. Natural and/or alkalized cocoa powders influence dairy beverage formulations in different ways including likely impact upon flavor, color and beverage stability on the shelf.

Packaging developments – including single-serve milks, high-tech labeling and capping – may have driven the initial increase in chocolate milk, but these developments also resulted in chocolate drinks being subject to new visual scrutiny. See-through containers allow consumers to make purchase decisions based upon the aesthetics of the chocolate milk they see on the shelf.

Particle settling or stabilization issues, for example, are formulation problems that can appear in chocolate milk once the product is on the shelf. Settling is attributed to processing issues at the dairy or ingredient issues with the supplier. At the dairy, the temperature during bottling or aseptic packaging may be too low, or the flavor powder may be stretched beyond recommended usage levels.

If the problem lies with the flavor powder, the percentage of coarse particles in the cocoa powder may be too high, the powder may be under-stabilized or the stabilizing system being used may be inappropriately chosen. All of these problems lead to various visible effects in the milk – layering (a dark layer on the bottom and a ring of fat at the top), marbling (dark lines in the milk) or gelling (when the product becomes thick and globby in its container).

For chocolate milk manufacturers, determining how to stabilize a cocoa powder in the milk environment is extremely important and begins with the selection of cocoa powder. Several considerations are critical when selecting cocoa powder. Particle size and microbiological contamination are both concerns for manufacturers. Alkalization affects the pH of the cocoa powder, in turn affecting the thermal stability of the product. The closer the pH of the cocoa powder is to the pH of milk (-6.7), the less impact the cocoa powder has upon the product’s thermal stability.

Color and flavor are perhaps the greatest considerations for dairy manufacturers when selecting a cocoa powder. The alkalization of a cocoa powder yields a darker, richer cocoa powder. Although the alkalized cocoa powder provides a stronger cocoa flavor, the alkalized cocoa powder also increases the chances of gelling and curdling when the product is on the shelf, because alkalized products agglomerate milk proteins.

Given that the formulation of chocolate milk and the surrounding stabilization system is so complicated, several cocoa suppliers offer expertise in developing the ideal formulation, including a complete stabilization system.

“After determining our customer’s desired color, flavor intensity and the milk environment that will be used, we will provide a stabilized cocoa powder designed to deliver the ideal chocolate milk product,” says Rick Stunek, marketing director at Forbes Chocolate, Cleveland, Ohio. “That blend will include the starch, the salt and other necessary ingredients. The dairy will just need to sweeten the product.”

But even when a formulation is foolproof, consumer preference still plays a part in which product will be selected from the shelf. “Dairies are particular about their flavor profiles and the goal they are trying to achieve. We don’t like to alter these profiles unless there is reason to do so,” says Stunek. “It’s also important to consider that dairies have specific consumer segments that are loyal to their products – these have to do with price, gourmet product versus a store brand, for example. It all plays into the way formulations are very specific to dairies.”

M&A Play

What makes the chocolate milk game particularly tricky is the merger and acquisition craze, causing separate dairies with differing formulations to join under the same ownership. The natural inclination of the acquiring company’s management is to consolidate chocolate milk formulations. This is more difficult than one might think. Different manufacturing equipment, processing procedures and procedural habits all play into effective formulation standardization.

“The past decade has seen a lot of consolidation in the dairy industry. As these companies try to assemble various product lines acquired through acquisitions, some of the first projects they tackle involve consolidating the product lines effectively and working through numerous brands in product line rationalization,” says Laning. “A company may be using many different cocoa powders from a variety of different vendors, and it becomes very complicated with a lot of SKUs involved.”

Laning points out that ADM utilizes its broad base, various divisions and the company`s overall vast product portfolio to help companies streamline the number of cocoa ingredient sources for consolidation efforts.

But there is no singular solution. “Every dairy is different because of its equipment. Even though it may be the same dairy ownership, two different plants may require adjustments in processing to ensure that a chocolate milk product will stabilize properly,” says Stunek. “We consider our cocoa powder a forgiving product that allows our powders to work in a wide range of applications.”

The Other Pint

The other product most often using cocoa and chocolate ingredients is chocolate ice cream. Considerations when creating a chocolate ice cream product revolve around the alkalization of the cocoa powder, cocoa fat level and the corresponding affect upon color and chocolate flavor in the ice cream.

Generally, a darker cocoa – more alkalized – will deliver a deeper and richer chocolate flavor. But ice cream manufacturers must also consider how the cocoa powder fat will interact with the butterfat in the ice cream mix.

“The cocoa used in ice cream formulations is impacted by the amount of butterfat in the ice cream. That fat affects smoothness, mouthfeel and the crystal structure of the ice cream itself,” says Laning. “Higher fat in the cocoa powder will bring more fat to the product, and hypothetically make the ice cream smoother. Some dairies may even ‘substitute’ a high-fat cocoa powder for some of the fat in the ice cream.”

As with chocolate milk, the choice of cocoa powder is dependent upon the ice cream manufacturers’ interpretation of the fat and alkalization that create a superior ice cream flavor. In super-premium indulgent ice creams – high-fat products – high-fat cocoa that is a deep reddish brown color may be used. In other ice creams, a cocoa powder that contains a lower-fat content could be used, and the flavor boost from the butterfat naturally present in the ice cream can help impart a smooth mouthfeel. And in low-fat ice cream, a low-fat or defatted cocoa powder may be chosen.

“The lightly alkalized and natural cocoa powders are also the more affordable powders,” says Stunek. “But this may be offset by the commensurate loss of color and flavor. There is a balance, a give and take.”

Chip Off the Ol’ Block

As the trend toward more indulgent ice cream offerings continues, the corresponding unique inclusion varieties are exploding. Some of the baked inclusions are the most interesting developments, but chocolate variegates also are becoming more popular, and real chocolate chips and chunks are making their way into a plethora of ice cream backgrounds.

Standards of identity for various chocolate and cocoa products have been established by the FDA and can be found in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21. These standards understandably drive many of the choices made by ice cream manufacturers, as a labels claiming “chocolate chunks” or “chocolate chips” must meet these standards of composition and must only be produced using real cocoa butter rather than partial or total substitution with other vegetable oils such as cottonseed, soybean or vegetable oil.

“True `standard of identity’ chocolate chips are widely used in ice cream products, including chips, chunks and flakes, all with cocoa butter and no added vegetable fats,” says Laning. “Our customers control the hardness of the chocolate by its size. Other so called compounds use a different fat that yields a softer chocolate-flavored inclusion piece, but then the ice cream manufacturer must label the product differently. It all comes down to the goal of the ice cream manufacturer.”

The labeling goal for the ice cream product controls the choice of chocolate inclusion ingredients.

Tomorrow, Tomorrow

As for the future of cocoa and chocolate ingredients in ice cream, indications only point toward more and more chocolate.

“We are working with chocolate in combination with other flavors as well as non-milk chocolate beverages,” says Stunek. “Of course, dairies are continually trying to work on extended shelf life in chocolate milk, and UHT processing is always top of mind.”

Exciting technological developments will most likely occur in beverages, and enticing chocolate developments are forecasted for the ice cream realm.

“We will see chocolate be a part of the mix in new product introductions in the near future. We may see chocolate paired with other flavors, such as fruit flavors, to capitalize upon some of the benefits of chocolate and pair them with other flavors that consumers are requesting,” says Laning. “Alkalized powders may be the ingredient of choice, as the trend toward indulgence will require a richer, darker chocolate powder that consumers perceive as rich, flavorful and indulgent – the factors that are appearing on the radar screen in the market today. It’s good news for the cocoa world.”

By Lori Dahm, Food R&D Editor

Copyright Stagnito Publishing Mar 2001

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved