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Healthy cocoa butter alternatives show novel food applications

By Nathan Gray , 26-Aug-2010
Last updated on 26-Aug-2010 at 17:51 GMT

Sustainable, healthy, cost-effective cocoa butter equivalents may be produced from enriched sunflower oils, and enable formulation of chocolates with higher melting points.

Sunflower oil enriched with stearic and oleic acids could produce cocoa butter equivalents with higher melting points, according to new research published in Food Chemistry.

“These fats could be used as confectionery products when higher melting points are required, as is the case of cocoa butter improvers,” reported the researchers, led by Joaquín Salas from the Instituto de la Grasa (CSIC), Spain.

Valuable fats

Cocoa butters are valuable fats, extracted from the seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree. The authors state that the tropical nature of cocoa butter, and susceptibility to pests, can make cocoa supply uncertain and variable.

The rising the price of cocoa butter has also increased interest in developing cheaper, more readily available alternatives.

Cocoa butter equivalents (CBEs) are fats with a similar composition and melting profile as cocoa butter, and are usually prepared by blending palm oil fractions and stearate-rich tropical butters.

CBEs are healthier and more promising as a cocoa butter alternative than other options such as lauric acid substitutes and hydrogenated oil replacers - known to raise levels of LDH cholesterol and be associated with risks for atherosclerosis.

It would be of great commercial interest to source triglyceride (TAG) rich oils from reliable, sustainable sources – such as oil crops in temperate climates, rather than realying on palm oils and tropical butters.

Enriched oils

The new study assessed the potential of high stearic and high oleic (HSHO) sunflower oils as a producer of CBEs.

Enriched sunflower oils were fractioned using solvents, to produce solid fractions that could be used in CBE formulations.

The research used 17 and 20 per cent stearic acid enrichments and studied properties of the oils and oil/solvent ratios. The resulting solids were isolated and chemically compared to CB and CBE sources like mango and shea butters, as well as also determining the melting intervals of the resulting fractions.

The authors found oils with different stearic acid contents produced similar stearins but at different yields depending on the initial TAG content.

They reported solid fractions containing between 65 and 80 per cent saturated-unsaturated-saturated (SUS) displayed properties similar to cocoa butter - consistent with the characteristics of CBEs.

Additionally, mixtures of sunflower CBE and CB were observed to be “fully compatible”, indicating they could be suitably used as cocoa butter equivalents.

Researchers concluded that HSHO sunflower oils could be used as confectionery products, especially when higher melting points are needed as these could be used in products to avoid chocolate blooming.

Source: Food Chemistry
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2010.06.053
“Production of stearate-rich butters by solvent fractionation of high stearic–high oleic sunflower oil”
Authors: J.J. Salas, M.A. Bootello, E. Martínez-Force, R. Garcés

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