Chocolate, Chocolate, Vanilla!
Creating confectionary formulations based on, or using, chocolate, cocoa and chocolate coating is an art and a science—but don’t forget the vanilla
Editor’s Note: To learn more about the art of creating chocolate confections, check out “Sweet Indulgence” in Prepared Foods’ September 2014 issue.
Confections makers understand that, while chocolate is universally the leading favorite flavor, merely throwing chocolate into a formulation can incite more disappointment than pleasure. Chocolate itself, and the use of chocolate ingredients, are the foundations of an art. Chocolate involves complicated science—in fact, some of the most delicate chemical science in food production.
Chocolate is an excellent carrier of flavor components. Inclusions can be incorporated into the chocolate mixture and formed into a confection. Or, they can be combined with others for use in a more complex product that relies on the chocolate to hold the inclusions and use its singular flavor as a palette for the secondary notes of the ingredients it carries. This is often the case when chocolate is used as a filling or coating. Nuts always have been among the most popular of chocolate inclusions, but the past few years have seen the ante increased with everything from cookie and candy pieces, fruit pieces and powders (freeze-dried being the best form), tea and coffee extracts or powders and cereals (such as crisped rice) to dried spices, essential oils, pretzels, potato chips and even processed meats, such as bacon or beef jerky. All such inclusions can generally be incorporated into melted chocolate without too much difficulty. Still, it is important to control for particle size, with the smaller particle size supplying greater flavor and impact, but less recognition, when inclusions or textual nuances are desired.
Vanilla is commonly an indispensable component in choc-olate formulations. But it also is a key ingre-dient in a variety of products that take advantage of its involved chemistry, one that features scores of volatile flavor com-pounds. The techniques and ingredients involved in creating a spectrum of chocolate and vanilla creations includes not only various forms of vanilla and chocolate, cocoa butter and cocoa, but texturants, flavorants and coatings, as well. All components come together in a dance of chemistry-dependent flavor and texture to create chocolaty dessert items, bars, bonbons, inclusions and coatings.
In nearly every flavor poll, worldwide, chocolate and vanilla nudge each other for the first spot, but both nearly always are in the top two. The sweet-and-savory trend (see “The Yin and Yang of Flavor,” PF January 2015) has only served to push more chocolate products to the forefront in recent years. Coupled with the huge boom in artisanal, handcrafted and creatively flavored chocolate bars, chocolate anything can come as close to a guaranteed success as anything.
The overall US market for chocolate grew 4% in 2013, reaching $21 billion, according to market research organization Packaged Facts Inc. “‘Everyday’ chocolate dominates the overall market, accounting for almost 83% of sales,” noted Packaged Facts research director, David Sprinkle, in the 10th edition of the organization’s annual “Chocolate Candy in the U.S.” report.
The remainder of chocolate sales are attributable to premium chocolate. The report also noted, “Premium chocolate grew at a faster rate than everyday chocolate.” (For more chocolate statistics, see “Life by Chocolate,” PF May 2013.)
Sweet New Paradigm
Multiple trend streams have fed these two flavor kings’ steady flow of popularity, allowing for creativity and constant reinvention. Among the most prominent are the organic and fair trade movements, especially pertinent to these ingredients sourced almost entirely from developing nations.
Leading suppliers were savvy to the temperament of the newly social-aware consumers and managed to get and stay ahead of the curve of demand for responsibly obtained and compensated product. It paid off, as even during the recent economic downturn, chocolate sales remained solid, and the number of smaller chocolate product houses increased astronomically.
If any processors are still holding out, wondering how serious consumer demand is on such issues, they should take a lesson from immensely popular bar maker Clif Bar & Co. This poster child for responsible, community-involved food manufacturing gave in to pressure to disclose the country of origin for the cocoa used in some of its products following an online petition that accumulated more than 83,000 signatures.
Examples of such sweet successes in boutique chocolate products include the Mayana Chocolate company (see “Sweet Indulgence,” PF September 2014), a rapidly growing maker of hand-crafted bonbons and bars in Wisconsin; and Madécasse LLC. Madécasse produces a line of ultra-premium chocolate and vanilla products that are “sustainably crafted, 100%” in Madagascar. Although some 70% of cocoa is sourced in Africa, less than 1% of the world’s chocolate is actually manufactured there, according to Tim McCollum, co-founder and co-CEO (with Brett Beach, both former Peace Corps volunteers).
Spreading Chocolate Health
When Nutella hit US shores, it hit big. The popular European chocolate- hazelnut spread became a clear leader in a category that saw nearly $4 billion in annual sales, with expectations of reaching $6.5 billion by 2018. However, the category hit a speed bump when a marketing campaign advertising it as a breakfast food for kids attracted the very public attention of health experts who couldn’t reconcile a high-calorie, high-sugar treat with a good, nutritious breakfast. But chocolate-nut spreads, it turns out, are excellent vehicles for carrying certain functional ingredients, especially the omega-3 fish oil DHA. Omega-3 fatty acids are critical to neurological development in infants and young children. Other benefits include visual development, mitigation of inflammation and improved lung function. Recent studies indicate omegas-3s could help alleviate allergy symptoms in children.
Madécasse released a holiday collection of chocolate bars it certifies “Fair for Life” and, according to McCollum, “represents four times the positive impact of fair trade cocoa alone.” Spices and other ingredients are all responsibly sourced, he says, and adds that “each bar is crafted from sustainably harvested cocoa farmed under a forest canopy in Madagascar’s northwest region.”
The company is able to keep its products competitively priced within this pinnacle of responsibility, and it appears to be working. “Madécasse helps protect more than 70,000 trees and maintain a thriving ecosystem and a safe haven for more than 65 species of plants and animals, while providing a sustainable livelihood for Malagasy cocoa farmers,” McCollum announced at the line’s launch.
The artisanal and boutique chocolate trend has had a distinct impact on larger chocolatiers. For example, premium confectioner Godiva Chocolatier Inc. recently launched its “Godiva’s Chef Chocolatiers” Flavors of the World series that showcases creations of Belgian chocolates combined with ingredients such as Kuromitsu molasses from Japan; the traditional Belgian cookies called speculoos; “China,” made with black tea mousse and Sichuan pepper; Brazilian coffee nut praline; US-style with honey-roasted caramel; and a South African banana and caramelized-coconut flavor.
The Alchemy of Chocolate
Chocolate is a Standard of Identity-protected product/ingredient (21 CFR Part 163 Cocoa Products or specifically Part 163.130 Milk Chocolate). At first, a chocolatier could think this would render any creativity as somewhat limited. There are numerous factors that can equally affect the technical quality of chocolate products, and offer ways to modify them within the CFR regulations.
Some half-dozen parameters impact chocolate quality. The first are bean selection and type of chocolate liquor used. Chocolate, like coffee and vanilla, comes from a bean pod, and all beans are not alike. They differ in variety from regions due to environmental, cultivation and climatic conditions.
Cacao nibs and chocolate liquor are derived from the dried fermented beans which are ground and roasted. The beans and their liquor can range in flavor from earthy, woodsy and mellow, to fruity and fragrant. Some even take on a slightly sour, citrusy note. These qualities depend on growing conditions and how the beans are dried and cured.
Particle size of the chocolate mass (cocoa mass, milk and sugars) affects taste of the final products and, therefore, of the products in which chocolate is used. Typically, white refined sugar is used, but evaporated cane, turbinado and even dried fruit sugars can be successfully used. Each contribute specific flavors to the chocolate.
Date sugar is gaining attention for providing honey-like undertones to chocolate products. However, sugars are generally incorporated early in the initial manufacturing process, so utilizing them in a product that starts with a ready-made, bulk chocolate ingredient is not easily accomplished.
Chocolate flavor also is manipulated by a process called conching. Conching is the high-shear heat treatment of the chocolate mass and is performed either pre-or post-refining. The conching process contributes in many ways to the chocolate flavor and quality. It changes the particle size of the mass, allowing better flavor perception, and also helps generate certain desirable flavor notes via two reactions: the Malliard and Streckler. These chemical reactions generate browned and caramel flavors between the proteins and the reducing sugars.
Conching also helps lower or reduce certain sour, acidic notes that remain after bean fermentation and drying. However, conching is a slow process that requires significant energy, and thus is expensive. Most US chocolates see limited conching, except for the higher quality, European-style chocolates or those supplied from Europe.
Fat levels not only make an important difference in the chocolate itself but in the formulation using the chocolate. A typical chocolate formula will contain 30-35% total fat in its formula, with the fat coming from the chocolate liquor, added cocoa butter and, in some cases, milk fat or milk powder fat.
Recently, due to higher chocolate costs, many manufacturers have been lowering the overall fat content in their products as a way of holding or maintaining costs. However, such reductions affect not only the desired organoleptic especially characteristics, but also the product’s viscosity, handling and shelflife. Lower fat levels can result in a sweeter product and a product with a different mouthfeel/melt-down.
Bloom in Love
Key to a base chocolate ingredient is tempering and bloom. If chocolate is incorrectly processed, such as being exposed to elevated temperatures or combined with incompatible fats, a whitish surface haze will appear on the finished bar or coating. This is called “fat bloom” and is due to the cocoa butter recrystallizing into less-desirable crystal forms. Depending on its cause, such a bloom can be correctable, once generated, without significant loss of product.
While bloom is correctable by following the tempering cycle and lessening exposure of the finished products to heat, using or adding incompatible fats that cause blooming is less so. This sort of blooming frequently is seen when developers attempt novel products. Here, in addition to causing some possible bloom issues, another effect called a fat eutectic can be generated.
A “fat eutectic” is when mixed fats result in lowering the melting point of a mixture below the expected or desired melt point. This fat eutectic causes excess softening and is frequently seen when nut meats are added to chocolates. A prime example of this is chocolate peanut butter cups; the peanut oil and cocoa butter form a very soft, lower fat eutectic on the piece bottom.
While eutectics typically are seen as a problem or negative, there are formulations where the reaction actually can be used to a specific advantage, such as in ice cream or frozen coatings. In these cases, a eutectic is made with milk chocolate and coconut oil (76°F melting point) to create a soft, easily melted, fast setting coating for use in cold temperatures. Not only does the eutectic lower the melting point of the chocolate’s formula, it makes the coating less brittle and easier to eat, all while enhancing the chocolate’s taste and eating quality.
Less fat significantly affects chocolate’s flavor because, since the source of flavor is in the volatile oils, the flavor is carried in the fat. One can add extra cocoa butter or butter fat to chocolate to improve these qualities. Alternatively, if desired, the addition of other specialty fats, those of softer melts and compatible with cocoa butter, can be used.
These generate a very similar texture, mouthfeel and level of aeration—all with lower microbial risk and longer shelflife. This approach will generate a truffle-like flavor and mouthfeel, while maintaining stability. However, while added fat can improve many of a chocolate’s qualities, it will also affect temperature sensitivity in a negative way, making it more sensitive to melting and bloom.
Various dairy milk and milk powders, as well as butter or milk fat, are commonly employed for milk chocolate products. Generally, these ingredients are part of the initial chocolate mass (along with the chocolate liquor and sugar) prior to refining. Changes to these core ingredients would be difficult to implement without expensive refiners or particle-size mills. Once again, post-production use of these ingredients is unlikely to be beneficial.
Another way of affecting a chocolate product’s quality is by changing and substituting (when legal per CFR standards) some of the key ingredients, such as cocoa butter, salt and vanilla. Some processors choose to use pressed, deodorized cocoa butter. For formulations requiring a milder chocolate flavor, deodorized cocoa butter can be helpful, in that it reduces some of the fatty, creamy or buttery notes.
Adding ingredients such as whole cream or eggs to a chocolate mass and allowing it to be aerated is a method used to create truffle, mousse and ganache fillings. Food safety is of concern in these formulations due to possible microbial and shelflife issues. Honey, invert sugar or corn syrup can be added to the chocolate mass to create the ganache-like consistency with lower microbial risk than using cream or eggs.
It’s possible to forego the CFR standards, if one is willing to also adjust labeling accordingly. Settling for a “chocolate-flavored” designation opens a variety of interesting options. However, any corruptions of true chocolate require ingredient know-how. Chocolate is an anhydrous mass, and even low levels of water or water-containing ingredients will have a significant negative impact on chocolate viscosity and taste. Even a small amount of water can turn melted chocolate from a pourable liquid mass to a viscous, thick pudding.
The Vanilla Side
Several trends in recent years have pushed vanilla to the forefront. Vanilla beans, like cacao beans, coffee beans and wine grapes have a “terroir” that imparts complex flavor nuances varying from sweet and mild to heady and floral in nature. This chemically complex bean from a member of the orchid family is highly labor intensive and contains scores of volatile phenolic compounds that combine into a myriad of subtle flavors.
Vanilla also has benefited uniquely from the movement toward fair trade and sustainability, because the large vanilla houses wisely opted to be leaders in that arena rather than wait for consumer pressure to force a change in the paradigm. Hand in hand with fair trade and sustainability is vanilla’s ability to seize on the demand for purity and clean label applicability.
Vanilla providers have put significant effort into marketing origin, purity, social benefits and uniqueness of individual vanillas. Also, on the technical side, vanilla processors have expanded and refined the forms available—in order to build in ease of application for a wider variety of formulations. Formats such as vanilla bean paste and vanilla powder are able to convey pure vanilla flavor while retaining unprecedented versatility.
When used in non-chocolate, vanilla-accented products, it is possible to create products with a spectrum of unique, multi-faceted quality flavor-notes. But the use of vanilla is significant to the creation of a chocolate product.
Incorporated into the initial chocolate mass of a chocolate recipe, the volatile oils are carried through to the final product to emerge in consumption as an inconspicuous yet indispensable element of the final chocolate flavor.
Choosing more delicate, exotic vanillas for a formulation is possible, because the temperatures normally used for chocolate are low. This allows much, if not all, of the delicate flavors to remain in the mix and not be flashed off because of sensitivity to heat. Because of this quality, the resulting chocolate and vanilla flavors can be retained and appreciated.
None So Sweet
“There have been a number of recent U.S. introductions of savory categories ranked by the percentage of new product launches that contain ‘chocolate,’ ‘cocoa’ or ‘vanilla’ as flavors, ingredients or more,” says Tom Vierhile, innovation insights director for Datamonitor Consumer. “These flavors are penetrating the savory snack categories to a much greater degree than other savory food categories.”
According to Vierhile, the percentage of new food product launches that contain “chocolate,” “cocoa” or “vanilla” were up, per Datamonitor Consumer’s Product Launch Analytics database of new products for the period from January 1, 2013 to October 31, 2014. Snacks were on top, with nuts and seeds at nearly 15%; popcorn at nearly 14%; and crackers at just over 9% of the products in the categories having those flavors. Even the quintessential salty-savory snack, potato chips, saw 1.7% of launches include such sweet components.
Seasonings themselves included 6% of that channel with chocolate, cocoa or vanilla in the formulation. And, although frozen meals saw only 1.8% of launches contain chocolate, cocoa or vanilla in the ingredient list, it represents a significant step forward from when such inclusions would never have been entertained.
Plenty to Go Around
When the chocolate shortage scare hit right before Halloween last year, a number of media reports highlighted many of the problems—sustainability, pests and diseases, and especially the disadvantaged situation in which many cocoa farmers find themselves.
The International Cocoa Organiza-tion (ICCO) responded with a widely published and comprehensive release noting its “ongoing process, identified in its “Global Cocoa Agenda” report on how the chocolate industry is dealing with such possible threats. Those strategies are outlined above. However, the experts who rely on healthy cocoa harvests also are revealing their individual strategies to ensure plenty of chocolate for everyone.
“In 2011 and 2012, Mars Chocolate forecasted needing at least another 1 million tons of cocoa to meet anticipated 2020 demand,” says Andy Harner, global cocoa vice president of Mars Chocolate Inc. “We expressed concern that supply could grow to meet the forecasted demand. The reasons for doubt were the threat of tree age, pest and disease, soil health and the attractiveness of cocoa farming to the next generation.”
Taking a proactive approach, Mars worked with industry and producer governments “to design and deliver productivity and community-development packages to address these threats,” explains Harner. “The threats still remain, and Mars is working hard to achieve its goal of purchasing 100% of our cocoa supply from certified sustainable sources by 2020, and through several methods.”
The company also is working directly with farmers and communities in cocoa-growing countries, including the Vision for Change mission in Côte d’Ivoire. Vision for Change “builds self-sufficiency through education and support, and systematically initiates changes that provide long-term solutions to the problem of poverty in ways that build prosperity, and economic opportunities and enhance the general well-being of all residents.”
Mars also implemented the application of its formidable cocoa science toward the improvement of cocoa yields. Coupled with its aforementioned improvement of cocoa communities with education, equality and empowerment programs, the company anticipates little difficulty in keeping consumers in chocolate. Mars is a founding member of CocoaAction, “an important and innovative industry-wide effort to help 300,000 farmers in West Africa become more productive and help improve their communities,” adds Harner.
To learn more, check out Mars Inc.’s “Principles in Action” annual report.
Salt, especially with the many versions available, can impact flavor nuances of sweet formulations due to its various minerals and tastes. Sea salt, for example, could be easily added, post-production, to affect the chocolate’s sweetness. But care has to be taken here to ensure the particle size of the salt used is less than 30µ (microns), otherwise the texture is gritty. Chocolate is typically refined to particles of 8-20µ.
Chefs have been pushing the envelope of combining chocolate and vanilla in savory formulations. The history of chocolate’s usage in this manner is long, stretching back to Meso-America and the use of unsweetened cocoa paste to complement dried, mild chili peppers in molé sauces.
Unsweetened cocoa has been used in dry rubs for meat and game, and vanilla has proven to be a sublime aromatic in seafood formulations. Cookbook author and expert on Italian regional cuisine Fred Plotkin notes that his best-seller La Terra Fortunata (Clarkson Potter 2001) features a recipe from Friuli Venezia-
Giulia that combines vanilla with cod.
Recent worries about chocolate supply made the news last fall, igniting something of a media panic. Pundits were predicting a collapse and sky-high prices for chocolate bars—if they could be found. Citing everything from global Climate Change to increased consumption in the developing world to the ebola virus, the popular press was painting a grim, flavorless future indeed.
The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) responded to the wave of fearful reports in a widely released press statement, noting that it found said reports to be “overstated in the extreme.”
In its release, the ICCO provided facts “to ensure, as far as possible, an informed assessment of the current situation and future prospects for the supply of cocoa to the chocolate confectionery market and to other cocoa ingredient applications.”
According to the ICCO, “in the past 10 years, the cocoa market experienced five years with production surplus and five years with production deficit. The last cocoa season (2013-2014), just ended in September 2014, experienced a production surplus, with the two leading producing countries, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, each posting record production.”
ICCO’s current projections show “there is no immediate cause for concern about the supply of cocoa for the next five years,” and that its projections show that, while “supply deficits are likely to occur during the next several years, stocks of cocoa beans should cushion this development before production growth accelerates.” The organization states that, “There is no threat to the supply of cocoa for chocolate manufacture.” The organization also noted that the price for cocoa beans “is currently below the historical median level in real terms (adjusted for inflation).”
The release concluded: “The ICCO continues to make projections and forecasts based on the actual supply situation in the cocoa-producing countries and the ongoing demand from the cocoa-consuming nations, and will report on any significant change if and when it occurs. In the meantime, it believes that there is no cause for alarm regarding the availability of chocolate for consumers to enjoy.”
Robert Boutin, CFS, president of confection manufacturer Knechtel Inc., is a chemist and certified food scientist with decades of experience in the development and manufacture of baked goods and confections. He’s on the advisory board of the National Confectioners Assn. Knechtel is a full-service international consulting firm supporting innovation and product development with specialization in baking and confectionary. Boutin can be reached through Knechtel’s website, www.knechtel.com.