Could low-sugar chocolate actually taste better?

By Donna Eastlake

- Last updated on GMT

Could low-sugar chocolate actually taste better? GettyImages/Chris Ryan
Could low-sugar chocolate actually taste better? GettyImages/Chris Ryan

Related tags Sugar Chocolate

Less is apparently more when it comes to the amount of sugar used in the creation of the perfect chocolate bar. So will manufacturers reduce the amount of sugar they use in the making of this sweet treat and will consumers welcome the change?

Lowering the amount of sugar in chocolate results in a richer, more delicious flavour. That’s according to researchers at Penn State University who wanted to address the increasing concern consumers feel about their daily sugar intake. The research team wanted to find an alternative to sweeteners as they do not work as a sufficient bulking agent in the way that sugar does.

“The function of sugar in chocolate is both sweetness and bulking, so if we take that sugar out, we have to put something else in that will do the job just as well, or consumers will notice,” said Gregory Ziegler, professor of food science at Penn State University.

The solution? Replace sugar with a grain, which contains fine granular starches to stabilise the product and maintain the correct and expected texture.

“Starch is still a carbohydrate, so it’s not lower calories, but there is an overall reduction in the added sugar content, which has potential health benefits,” explains Ziegler.

The low-sugar chocolates, made using oat flour in four different volume variations, with reductions of 25% or 50% sugar, were a success and the blind taste test that followed garnered positive results from the 66 participants. 25% of the reduced-sugar chocolates, rated as equal, or preferable to, regular chocolate.

“We were able to show that there is a range in which you can manage a sizable reduction in added sugar and people won’t notice and don’t care, in terms of liking,” said John Hayes, professor of food science at Penn State University. He added, “we’re never going to make chocolate healthy, because it’s an indulgence, but we can successfully take out some of the sugar for consumers who are trying to reduce their intake of added sugars.”

“Our results suggest we can cut back 25% of added sugar to chocolate, effectively reducing the total sugar by 13.5%, if we substitute oat flour,” said Kai Kai Ma, a doctoral candidate in food science at Penn State University. “That addition of oat flour is unlikely to meaningfully impact consumer acceptability, which is great news.”

This provides a new option for manufacturers looking to produce low- or lower-sugar-content chocolate that maintains texture and flavour.

“We’ve tried for 40 years to tell people to eat less sugar and it doesn’t work because people want to eat what they want to eat,” said Hayes. “Instead of making people feel guilty, we need to meet people where they are and figure out how to make food better while still preserving the pleasure from food.”

Chocolate Flavour 2 - GettyImages-Rouzes
Could low-sugar chocolate actually taste better? GettyImages/Rouzes

Why reducing sugar in our diet is important?

As well as the damage sugar can do to our teeth, through tooth decay, excessive sugar consumption can also cause obesity and diabetes. There’s also concern that consuming foods, which are high in sugar such as chocolate and sweets, reduces the intake of more nutritionally balanced foods creating an unhealthy diet. It’s therefore clear that reducing sugar intake lowers the risk of developing obesity and diabetes, and helps to protect teeth from decay.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends less than 10% of our total energy intake should come from sugar, though ideally, it would be less than 5% of our total energy intake. This equates to approximately 25 grams per person per day. However, data from the WHO indicates that the contribution of sugar to the total average daily food energy supply is higher than the recommended in most countries, ranging from 9% to 15%. Furthermore, children, especially school-age children and young adults, tend to have exceptionally high intakes.

Diabetes UK wants to make clear that not all sugar is the same and should be viewed differently. “You don’t have to cut sugar out of your diet completely. Sugar is found naturally in fruit, vegetables and dairy foods. It’s the free sugar that we all need to cut down on. And it’s not just the obviously sweet things like biscuits and chocolate. It’s the hidden sugar lurking in many foods, such as baked beans, pasta sauces, tomato ketchup, yogurts and ready meals. Some drinks are packed with sugar, too. Simple changes can dramatically reduce the amount of free sugar in your diet.”

What is free sugar?

Free sugar is any sugar that is added to a food or drink. Free sugars are also in honey, syrup and fruit juice. They are referred to as free because they're not inside the cells of the food we eat.

Will chocolate manufactures reduce the amount of sugar in their products?

Many manufactures across the food industry have already started to reduce the amount of sugar in their products​ as the subject of sugar consumption, or rather overconsumption, has been dominating for some time now. So, will chocolate manufacturers follow suit?

Well, the answer is that some already have. Brands such as Cadbury, with the Cadbury Dairy Milk 30% Less Sugar and Mars with the Snickers Milk Chocolate Low Sugar Protein Bar are just a few of the examples on the market, as confectionery manufacturers respond to the demand for lower-sugar items. 

And the opportunity to reduce the sugar content of chocolate is also good news for the manufacturers themselves as the cost of sugar has risen sharply ​in recent months.

Get advice on how you can make healthier choices at FoodNavigator's upcoming Positive Nutrition​ event 12-14 March 2024.

Positive Nutrition

Source: Sugar reduction in chocolate compound by replacement with flours containing small insoluble starch granules
Published online: 23 January 2024
Authors: Kai Kai Ma, Gregory R. Ziegler, John E. Hayes

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