What is chocolate without sugar?
Long gone are the times when Mayas and Aztecs used to consume unsweetened cocoa drinks. Since the Industrial Revolution, everybody expects chocolate to be sweet. Cadbury and Hershey’s have gotten consumers used to extremely creamy and sugary bars for the past 100 years. But the wind has now changed.
In 2016, consumers are looking for chocolate bars with little to no sugar content. Why?
The last generations have seen their loved ones defeated by cancer, heart disease, cholesterol, diabetes and other health problems. The attention to a healthy diet has reached high levels. Consumers are now interested in reading labels and ingredients’ lists. They ask questions about the origin of their food, stay away from items that they consider unhealthy and avoid consuming certain products. Among these, SUGAR.
Sugar found naturally in wholesome and unprocessed foods is usually of no concern. What consumers worry about is the sugar added as a sweetener. The Nutritional Facts of many packaged products are subjected to in-depth analysis by consumers.
One of their biggest target is now CHOCOLATE.
Chocolate professionals roll their eyes. They offer treats to make life more enjoyable, not medical treatments. But consumers are inflexible: some changes need to be made.
How is the chocolate industry responding to this new demand?
In the fine chocolate industry, the preferred choice is CANE SUGAR.
Extracted from the sugarcane plant that is largely grown in Central and South America, this type of sugar is especially popular among bean-to-bar makers. It caramelizes very well and doesn’t interfere with the flavor of cacao. Chocolate makers aim to bring to the surface the flavor of fine cacao while giving a pleasant mouthfeel, and cane sugar is said to be perfect to reach both goals.
Less popular is instead unrefined cane sugar, that doesn’t caramelized as well as its refined counterpart, leaving the chocolate with a grainier texture not always appreciated.
Some chocolate professionals disagree with the use of cane sugar. Looking for an healthier option, they decide to use COCONUT SUGAR.
Remarkable differences in health benefits between cane sugar and coconut sugar are still to be found and defined. Coconut sugar is a high-quality ingredient though. It is less processed and costs way more than cane sugar. However, it is not east to use in chocolate making.
Unlike many can think, coconut sugar doesn’t give a “coconuty” flavor to the chocolate. It actually gives a hint of caramel. Getting rid of that hint of caramel is the biggest challenge and requires skills and expertise. Some say that the result is worth the effort: when biting, the flavor of chocolate comes first instead of the sweetness from the sugar.
The range of sweeteners used in the fine chocolate industry doesn’t end here.
HONEY is another ingredient taken into consideration to sweeten chocolate.
With its unmistakable flavor, consumers who like honey usually adores it in chocolate. Moreover, it has the perfect texture to maintain a smooth mouth feel without grains. That being said, honey can’t be used as a staple for entire product lines.
Its strong flavor doesn’t combine well with other inclusions and may risk to overcome the peculiar tasting notes of fine cacao. Some consumers don’t enjoy the taste of honey, and chocolate professionals who decide to use honey are also cutting out a growing slice of the market that eats a vegan diet.
By popular demand, some chocolate bars on the market are now made with STEVIA.
Stevia is a sweetener and sugar substitute extracted from the leaves of a plant called Stevia Rebaudiana. It has no calories and it is 200 times sweeter than sugar in the same concentration. No matter the good premises, only few are the brands currently making chocolate with stevia.
Despite its popularity in other products, fine chocolate lovers don’t like the taste of chocolate made with stevia, often described as “too artificial”. Chocolate made with stevia seems to be appreciated only by those consumers ready to deal with its mediocre taste in exchange for no sugar rush.
A new entry in the market of sweeteners for chocolate is also PANELA SUGAR.
Mainly produced in Columbia, panela is on the rise as an alternative unrefined sugar to be used in chocolate making. Its advocates claim that this whole cane sugar is healthier than other sugars and sugar substitutes.
100% unprocessed, it retains much higher quantities of nutrients like magnesium, iron and calcium. What about in combination with cacao? Chocolate professionals have with panela the same concerns they have with coconut sugar. Its caramelly flavor runs the risk to alter the original tasting notes of the cacao used.
Despite the many alternatives on the market, many chocolate professionals are still not convinced. Instead of changing the type of sugar used, they decide to satisfy the low-sugar demand in a more traditional but smart way.
Chocolate makers have started to change the way they produce high-percentage bars to achieve a smoother and more enjoyable texture. A 90% or 100% cacao bar that doesn’t have a dry and grainy consistency has great chances to win over many hearts. In fact, chocolate consumers concerned with sugar content will still feel like they are enjoying a treat instead of just eating something because it is healthy.
The popular demand for healthier sweeteners has brought chocolate professionals to a big dilemma. Sticking to the art of bringing out the best possible flavor or changing their ways to satisfy paying consumers? The choice is their to be made.
What kind of sugar do YOU prefer in 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.