Sweeteners in chocolate – the highs and lows

Posted: 15 September 2022 | | No comments yet

Daniela Quintero Fernandez from Luker Chocolate shares the opportunities and challenges of working with less sugar for great taste.

cacao beans

As a new product development lead working with chocolate, it’s safe to say I have an unusual job. At Luker Chocolate, we work with exciting challenger brands to create new chocolate products, so tasting and experimenting in our factory in Colombia is part of my daily routine.

The global sugar-free chocolate market is expected to grow by 5.7 percent between now and 2028, reaching a value of $621.5 million. This presents plenty of growth opportunities for companies and chocolatiers looking to create healthier chocolate with less sugar, and this demand means we’ve seen an increase in clients looking to create products in this space.

While this can be a challenging process, it also affords the opportunity to experiment and create new offerings, as sweeteners change the way the chocolate behaves and tastes.

To develop a great-tasting chocolate using an alternative to refined sugar, we must first understand why we use sugar in chocolate and why consumers are looking for alternatives. From there, we can experiment and explore how sweeteners affect the experience of eating chocolate, from texture to flavour and mouth feel.

Why do we use sugar in chocolate?

Sugar is one of the core ingredients of traditional chocolate. The compound adds bulk to the product, which affects how it feels in your mouth, helping the chocolate feel smoother and providing most of the sweetness that we taste. These combined elements create that indulgent experience.

Changing how we farm cocoa

Replacing or reducing sugar therefore creates challenges for our clients who want to develop a great-tasting product that creates a similar experience for consumers but has less impact on their health. We’ve spent four years experimenting with and sourcing different sweeteners and have developed a new range that includes a careful balance of erythritol and stevia to create indulgent chocolate products with no sugar-added, that doesn’t sacrifice on consumer experience.

Why are people replacing sugar?

Over the last few years, sugar reduction and replacement has become a worldwide trend in confectionery. Health savvy consumers are looking to make everyday choices that reduce their sugar intake rather than committing to the next fad diet. These consumers still want a product that feels like a treat but with the knowledge that it contains less sugar. In response, many chocolate makers are looking to create a chocolate that strikes the perfect balance between sweetness and reduced sugar.

Non-sugar sweeteners like stevia and erythritol have fewer calories than traditional refined sugars. Stevia only has two calories per gram, and erythritol has zero calories, making them great alternatives for anyone looking to craft low or no sugar chocolates. We’ve developed low-sugar covertures in our Balance range in both milk (40 percent) and dark chocolate (70 percent) – with dark chocolate having ‘sugar-free’ status, while the milk chocolate is considered ‘no sugar-added’ due to the natural sugars in milk.

Changing tastes: understanding sweetness

The experience and feeling you get when you taste chocolate is what makes the chocolate industry so exciting; each new product creates a unique sensation for the consumer. Sugar and sweeteners play a vital role here, and if they’re not balanced correctly, they can adversely affect the taste of the end product.

For example, erythritol can be substituted 1:1 in chocolate as the polyols behave in a similar way to sugar, but the flavour will change the taste of the end chocolate product. Erythritol has a lower sweetening power (approximately 70 percent that of refined sugar), which is why we mix it with stevia to create a lower sugar coverture that has a more rounded flavour profile.

The shift in consumer demand for healthier snacks creates new challenges, but also provides us with the opportunity to experiment and create new products. Each new chocolate created in this sector is daring to be something completely different from other products on the market. We approach this challenge from both the technical perspective while also considering how to help brands craft innovative products that appeal to all chocolate lovers. 

About the author

Daniela Quintero Fernandez is Luker Chocolate’s Research and Development Lead. Her role involves heading up the creation and innovation of new chocolate products. Working with Luker Chocolate’s fine cocoa, Daniela and her team build new products with clients around the world.

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