Health and indulgence trends have driven the baking industry in recent years, and they come together in one ingredient: chocolate. Usually associated with desserts and forbidden decadent foods, chocolate can turn any product into a treat to be savored. As a preoccupation with health set in, however, its image as a fun indulgence betrayed chocolate.

Long dogged by charges of being too fattening, too sweet and too calorie-laden, chocolate experienced redemption as more and more research began to show that chocolate, especially dark chocolate, can make positive contributions to an individual’s well-being. Antioxidants, calcium, fiber and minerals — such as iron, magnesium and potassium — all contribute to chocolate’s healthy image.

Cocoa’s well-documented and well-known health attributes give this treat of an ingredient a healthy halo. Research has linked cocoa’s high antioxidant content to improved heart and circulation health, higher brain function and reduced cancer risk. Despite these positive aspects of cocoa, many of them are removed during the process that turns cocoa into chocolate. Flavonoids, phytonutrients found in cocoa believed to improve brain function and circulatory health, are lost during cocoa fermentation and processing.

“Typically, you have a 70% loss of flavanols in the process,” says Laura Bergan, marketing manager, Barry Callebaut, Chicago, IL. “I compare it to when people cook vegetables. You’re cooking out the good nutrients.” To counter this loss, Barry Callebaut adjusted its entire cocoa process, including the stage of fermentation and drying, to retain three times the flavanol levels normally retained in its Acticoa chocolate, enhancing its inherent health benefits.

Puratos Corp., Cherry Hill, NJ, developed its conching process to produce its Oxanti dark chocolate from Belcolade. This chocolate retains a maximum amount of antioxidants from the Belgian dark chocolate.

The trouble with chocolate’s health benefits is they come with a lot of baggage in the form of fat and sugar. Reduced-sugar, no-sugar-added and reduced-fat chocolate ingredients from suppliers address this challenge. Barry Callebaut’s Rebalanced line lowers sugar and/or fat levels in chocolate and allows customers to meet nutritional concerns and guidelines while still offering chocolate’s decadent flavor profile. However, the missing sugar or fat must be replaced with a bulking agent. That’s where added functional ingredients come in.

In addition to contributing natural flavonoids and other antioxidants, chocolate and compound coatings are being used to deliver extra fiber and protein, which contribute to digestive health and satiety.

Compound coatings are a great carrier for functional ingredients such as fiber and protein because they mask off notes that can come with these ingredients, said Christie Nagy, territory sales manager for cocoa and chocolate, Cargill, Inc., Lititz, PA. “Functionally speaking, in actual product development, it’s easier to add extra protein to a bar using a compound coating. That’s a carrier for extra protein that isn’t always easy to add into a product,” she added.

ADM Cocoa, Milwaukee, WI, uses the company’s Fibersol line of fiber ingredients to replace some of the sugar and fat in chocolate and attain the added fiber health benefit. “Soluble fiber works well with delivering fiber benefits,” says Neil Widlak, director, product services and development, ADM Cocoa. “It incorporates very easily into chocolate.”

Chocolate is basically composed of chocolate liquor, sugar and added cocoa butter. Fiber works well with chocolate because it can replace some of the sugar easily. Being a dry solid particle, Fibersol blends effectively with the hygroscopic cocoa solids. “It contributes very little to the viscosity of the product,” Mr. Widlak says. “It’s a very friendly product to add because it doesn’t change flavor or performance characteristics dramatically.”

Nutriose soluble fiber from Roquette America, Geneva, IL, allows the supplier to reduce sugar in its chocolate products and add fiber. According to the company, this fiber ingredient offers digestive tolerance, prebiotic, satiety and weight management benefits.

Added protein can come in the form of whey, canola, soy and pea protein isolate. Roquette developed a chocolate enriched with its Nutralys pea protein, which doesn’t require allergen labeling and doesn’t change the chocolate’s texture, melt characteristics or taste. The company uses the protein in powder form for improved dispersibility and boasts 98% digestibility.

Chocolate’s main draw will always be its indulgence. Consumers see chocolate as a treat to enjoy, and bakers use chocolate in creative ways to catch shoppers’ attention. New flavor combinations, textures and premium products give bakers the opportunity to add some flair.

When Roquette’s team traveled to Las Vegas, NV, for the Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting and Food Expo this year, it brought new flavor concepts for chocolate. Among its samples were crème brûlée and spicy Thai flavors.

“Consumers are looking for new experiences, and I think we see influences from different cultures in the world,” says Philippe Levresse, technical sales, confectionery, Roquette. “In the chocolate area, the range of flavors has grown. There’s more fusion with savory flavors than we've seen in the past.” 

Widlak says ADM Cocoa is playing with flavors such as peanut and butterscotch for its chocolate and is receiving requests for incorporating sea salt and caramel. The company makes yogurt-flavored white chocolate and coating. Adding flavors, though, comes with the challenge of retaining flavor identity in mixed flavor systems.

“Yogurt by itself stands out, but once you start blending it with a stronger flavor like chocolate, it becomes a challenge,” he says. Using the right chocolate — in yogurt’s case, a more mellow chocolate — at the right quantities, makes the added flavors more noticeable to the consumer. Stronger flavors such as peanut stand on their own, so adding them to chocolate is easier.

Blommer Chocolate Co., Chicago, IL, developed its new low-melt cream cheese drops to help release the added cream cheese flavor. This compound coating melts at a lower temperature than other coatings. The end product is softer than traditional chips, which allows the flavor to shine brighter than it would in a traditional chip.

To offer bakers new textures to play with in chocolate, Barry Callebaut developed its new Micro chips (an approximate 60,000 count chip). The Micro chip can serve as a topping and provides different visual and melt characteristics. “It gives you much more coverage of chocolate,” Bergan says. “If you’re displaying it on top of an item, you can use less chocolate with more coverage. It can give you a more indulgent look.”

Suppliers tap into chocolate’s decadent image by developing premium products, chocolates and cocoa powders with flavor depth and improved physical characteristics.

Some take a subtle approach. For example, Barry Callebaut’s signature chocolate line features unique flavor profiles that can be exclusive to a company or retailer. This unique profile provides a signature un­detectable flavor note to a product.

“It can provide more depth to a baked application, and it provides more depth in flavor, but nothing that someone might detect,” Bergan says. These chocolates can be exclusive to a specific baking company and differentiate a product from the competition.

A higher percentage of cocoa solids cannot only make a chocolate more premium but also adds some health benefits. Cargill extended its Peter’s line of chocolate with a 62% semisweet chocolate. It has strong flavor impact because of its high cocoa solids content: 62%.

Cargill also improved the physical characteristics of its Gerkens Dutch Dark DB82 Premium cocoa powder. The alkalization process used to heighten cocoa flavor normally leaves the powder with a red color. According to Nagy, Cargill’s new processing technique produces a dark brown cocoa powder without the burnt off-notes that come with over-alkalization.

Consumers may be obsessing over health and wellness, but chocolate suppliers ensure they can both enjoy health benefits while indulging at the same time, thanks to the latest innovations in chocolate and compound coatings. Whether manufacturers enhance chocolate’s natural goodness or add functional ingredients, chocolate can sneak in good-for-you benefits under the guise of decadence.

At the same time, suppliers are keeping things light and fun with new flavors and textures. Combinations such as salted caramel and chocolate tap into the sweet and salty craze, and suppliers have met the demand for chocolate bursting with new flavors with more mellow chocolates and low melt points to help that burst forth.

Of course, there’s always the upscale class that premium chocolate automatically confers to bakers’ products. As a functional coating, decorative inclusion or decadent flavor, chocolate brings indulgence and healthy attributes to any baked good that includes it.