Processors Working to Remove the Guilt From Desserts and Confections
And guilt comes in many forms: unnecessary calories, gluten and "artificial" sweeteners and color additives among them.
By Mark Anthony, Ph.D., Technical Editor | 04/02/2012
It's never a bad idea to remove some of the guilt associated with sweet indulgences if the taste doesn't suffer as a result. Confection manufacturers have spent the past few years learning they can deliver confections that are visually alluring and delightful to eat yet don't break the calorie bank.
Today, they are facing yet another challenge within the same category, that of avoiding chemicals and preservatives consumers have been shunning.
Whether the subject is artificial colors, fake flavors or sweeteners with names torn from chemistry texts, consumers seeking pure indulgence want just that: a pure indulgence, one with a clean label and a hint — just a hint, mind you — of health.
Although many manufacturers would rather not think about this, those who can pull off this triple play have a good shot at gaining home base with a loyal audience. They know they'll have a winner.
Case in point: Belgian chocolate manufacturer Cavalier Chocolatiers (www.cavalier.be), Eeklo, Belgium, offers an extensive selection of milk and dark chocolates that are sugar-free and include healthy mix-ins such as crisped barley, freeze-dried fruits, flax and whole grains.
Cavalier's sugar-free formulation now comes via stevia, and the company is one of the first in the EU to get approval to use the naturally derived sweetener in confections – it was just approved by the European Commission last November.
As with many chocolate products, the company's products are textured with soy lecithin but also include soluble fibers like inulin. The chocolates can claim a good complement of antioxidants from chocolate and some of the other ingredients, such as the fruits.
This type of sweet is right on target with the current general perception of consumer desires in a dessert or sweet snack. Research from the Mintel Group (www.mintel.com), New York, shows that, despite obesity concerns, healthier chocolates with "low-in …" claims are likely to remain niche. This is because chocolate is a classic, affordable and appealing treat. People are more likely to cut back on total consumption than turn to healthier variants that can fall short on taste.
Starting in the 2000s, this made strategies like portion control, lighter formats via aeration and even chocolate-coated nuts or seeds important to building healthier confections. While these remain successful, of the chocolate confectionary products launched on the past six months in North America, only 15 percent carried natural or health/wellness claims, according to Mintel. The most dominant claims were "seasonal" and "Kosher." Of the ones that did have health/wellness claims, "no additives/preservatives," "organic" and "Kosher" topped the list.
Now that stevia has become pure enough — and familiar enough — to consumers as a "friendly" sugar substitute, a floodgate of low- or no-sugar confections might be about to open.
"As the first all-natural, zero calorie sweetener, stevia is a healthier alternative to highly caloric sucrose or undesired artificial sweeteners," says James Kempland, vice president of Sweet Green Fields LLC (www.sweetgreenfields.com), Bellingham, Wash.
"There are a number of high-quality substitutes the confectionary industry has been using for some time with very successful results," he continues. "A number of gums, mints, soft and hard candies and chocolates that use stevia in their formulations are currently available, and more are in development, to respond to the growing consumer demand for healthier, lower calorie, natural products."
The major challenges processors face when they want to launch a low-calorie product include identifying the right stevia product, retaining the physical properties of sugar (crystallization, caramelization, preservative properties), maintain appealing mouthfeel (by blending stevia with bulk sweeteners), managing the regulatory guidelines and positioning the product with respect to the claim, according to Thierry Gay, vice president of natural food enhancement systems for the business unit of Vitiva Ltd., (www.vitiva.eu), Slovenia. Vitiva offers a full range of stevia products based on rebaudioside-A and stevioside without bitterness.
There are some technical considerations a processor has to understand when replacing sugar wholly or in part with stevia in confections. "With stevia, as with any high intensity sweetener, bulking agents must be used to replace the sugar content," Kempland explains. Hydrogenated starches and polydextrose are typical low-cal bulking agents used in the confection industry.
Soy is playing a growing part in modern confections. In addition to lecithin as an emulsifier, soy is a source of the isoflavones, genistein and daidzein, which, along with soy protein, have been associated with lower risk of breast and other cancers in some studies.
"SoyLife is a unique soy isoflavone ingredient manufactured exclusively from soy germ," says Eden Somberg, technical specialist of the health business unit for Frutarom (www.frutarom.com). "Soy germ, rather than either whole bean or the fermented bi-products of extraction, contains the highest natural level of isoflavones combined with more than 40 other phytonutrients."
At one time, consumers who wanted or needed to exclude gluten from their diet found their choices very limited. This is especially true when it comes to baked products, as the properties this versatile protein provides are perfect for baking.