Sugar is today’s scariest bogeyman.
Since sugar-free diets have become popular, every category of food has suffered the consequences. Sugar-free yogurt, sugar-free jam, sugar-free cereals, sugar-free even food that didn’t contain sugar in the first place.
The sugar-free trend actually started way back in the 1980s in the U.S., and unfortunately managed to make the nation fatter than ever. Regardless, consumers are still obsessed with the purchase of products low in sugar.
In the search for healthy food, consumers now pay attention to the sugar content of their purchases. The “sugar-free” claim is among the labels that attract them the most. In fact, products with low sugar content are naively believed to be healthy food by default. And chocolate is no exception.
This trend is a powerful marketing weapon for both big and small chocolate companies. However, they are approaching the challenge differently.
When it comes to sugar-free chocolate, big manufacturers rely on sugar substitutes. To make their products palatable without sugar, they use alternatives with lower calories but higher sweetening power. Sorbitol, maltilol, inulin and xylitol are just a few of the ingredients found in mass-produced sugar-free chocolate. They are cheap, produced in laboratories and easy to source in big quantities. Unfortunately, these substances come with contraindications for the human body, like abdominal pain and diarrhea.
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Big manufacturers are also bulking up their alternative products with all kinds of questionable oils to replace the sugar. This way, the fat content in this kind of chocolate ends up being higher than in regular chocolate.
So let’s admit it. Even without sugar, the result is some sort of cacao product that can hardly be called chocolate or healthy.
What’s the alternative?
Mass-produced chocolate definitely can’t satisfy the sugar-free demand without compromising on quality. Lucky for consumers, craft makers have a better answer: 100% cacao chocolate.
It’s not that 100% cacao chocolate bars were invented in 2017. Craft chocolate brands have always carried at least one sugar-free option in their assortment. However, only in the past few years this kind of chocolate has stepped outside the shadow and has arrogantly taken the front seat. Previously at the corners of retailers’ shelves, now consumers are constantly asking for 100% cacao chocolate.
But what is it exactly?
100% cacao chocolate doesn’t contain sugar. Every ingredient comes from the cacao beans. The percentage is divided between cacao solids (the “brown” part that contains health properties and chocolatey flavor) and cacao butter (the “white” part which is the fatty component of the chocolate). The ratio in a bar is approximately 50/50, but will vary depending on the producer.
It is also a similar product to unsweetened chocolate. The difference is that unsweetened chocolate is meant for cooking and baking. While 100% cacao chocolate is meant for tasting and savoring.
When made by craft makers, 100% cacao chocolate is the best alternative to mass-produced sugar-free chocolate. It contains only one ingredient and welcomes no chemical additions. Unfortunately, consumers are usually afraid of its potential taste. They tend to see 100% cacao chocolate more like a punishment than a pleasure. Mostly because they believe it is going to taste like the most bitter thing they have ever eaten. And here comes the challenge also for craft makers.
How to make 100% cacao chocolate enjoyable?
Instead of using chemicals like big manufacturers do, craft makers rely on smarter choices. To satisfy the demand for sugar-free chocolate, they are making their 100% cacao bars:
- SMOOTHER. Adding cacao butter is the most used strategy to make chocolate creamy and smooth. The percentage of cacao still remains the same. But by tweaking the ratio between cacao solids and cacao butter, makers manage to give a more pleasant texture. This is an important technique when it comes to 100% cacao chocolate. If consumers can’t fully enjoy the flavor, at least they can get pleasure in the texture. A veteran chocolate maker that uses this strategy is French maker Chocolat Bonnat. His bars are known to be some of the most buttery on the market. Some consumers enjoy them, some others don’t. But the strategy works well with his 100% cacao chocolate, one of the most sold bars in the craft sugar-free category.
- CRUNCHIER. When consumers bite into a 100% cacao chocolate, they don’t expect much excitement. To give it a “twist”, craft makers have started including cacao nibs in their bars. Cacao nibs are bits of roasted cacao beans. This addition doesn’t interfere with the 100% definition, as cacao nibs don’t contain sugar. However, they manage to give a crunchy texture to the chocolate. Some chocolate brands on the market that use this technique are Akesson’s, with its 100% Forastero Cacao & Cocoa Nibs, and PACARI, in its 101% Cacao Bar.
- MORE FLAVORFUL. Consumers accustomed to craft chocolate know the different flavors that chocolate has to offer. Depending on the origin and on a million other factors, chocolate can taste fruity, floral, spicy, earthy, nutty. With 100% cacao chocolate made by craft makers, the flavor is never flat and bland. This is because they buy the best cacao beans on the market. These give chocolate a remarkable flavor even without the addition of sugar. Moreover, the chocolate doesn’t taste bitter, defeating all the misconceptions about 100% cacao chocolate tasting bitter.
With these strategies, craft chocolate makers manage to offer sugar-free chocolate that is high-quality and pleasant to the palate. Consumers don’t have to ingest weird ingredients, and can enjoy real chocolate even without sugar.
Also, 100% cacao chocolate has a bigger social impact. The cacao used is much more than the one used in milk chocolate or bars with lower percentages. When consumers choose 100% cacao, they are encouraging the purchase of more cacao from farmers in developing countries.
Just like the demand for sugar-free chocolate, 100% cacao chocolate will only rise in popularity among consumers. And craft makers will find more strategies to make it as enjoyable as possible. Should we expect flavored 100% cacao chocolate bars in the near future? Time will tell.
Do YOU buy 100% cacao chocolate?
I did NOT get paid and did NOT receive any kind of favor for writing this article. These are my honest opinions at your service.