How do you feel about chocolate? Do you love it? It’s a luxury to some, a necessity to a chocoholic. I admit that it’s my guilty pleasure as if I know there is chocolate lurking in the fridge, my mind won’t let me rest until I have either munched a bite or two or made a complete pig of myself and eaten it in one sitting.
A certain world-famous creator of chocolate is about to change its chocolate recipe – and admits shoppers might not like it, but they reckon low-calorie chocolate will become as popular as Diet Coke, and are creating recipes using plant-based fibres to cut up to 75 percent of sugar and fat. But chocolate can’t legally be called chocolate unless it consists of cocoa solids and sugar, and it’s the addition of sugar which makes it chocolate.
Within the last few years, a sugar tax appeared and was levied on soft drinks in the UK, as have many other countries. There is already a complicated levy on sweetened sodas, and in the UK this resulted in more diet drinks appearing on our shelves. A chocolate insider apparently once said you can just add more water to soft drinks to lessen the sugar content, but you can’t do that to chocolate (thankfully).
In readiness, some chocolate manufacturers have launched ‘less sugar’ bars by adding either sugar substitutes or simply air. The issue with some of the former is that they can really upset your gut, as some people react to the sugar substitute, Maltitol, and while it provides bulk and most of the desired sweetness, like other polyols, it has never been regarded as a game-changing solution for a number of reasons. As it is hydrogenated, it cannot be labelled as ‘natural’, and, if it constitutes more than 10% of a product, it necessitates an on-pack warning about possible laxative effects! Another option has been the natural sweetener Stevia, which is approved for sale in the United States and Canada despite some resistance among nutritionists and medical researchers, but the European Union has for decades banned it owing to health concerns. It has possible side effects including nausea, bloating, low blood pressure, and hormone disruption (perhaps they should rename it ‘disturvia’!).
Why chocolate makers’ sugar-reduction quest is so challenging
When the World Health Organization (WHO) halved its recommendations for sugar intake in 2015, food manufacturers have been under constant pressure to reduce the sugar content across every product category, including those where it is a particularly challenging proposition, such as making chocolate. Public Health England wants no more than 43.7g of sugar per 100g in chocolate already. The majority of half-decent chocolate supposedly manages this by now anyway.
There has, nevertheless, been an increasing number of sugar-free or reduced-sugar chocolate products hitting the market, utilising existing and new approaches to sugar replacement.
The hope is that increased attention being paid to sugar and the pressure on companies to reduce sugar content might bring about a game-changing technical breakthrough in chocolate; thankfully this doesn’t rest with just one single company. One big company said they had some exciting reduced sugar products in development, which apparently will involve fermentation.
A marketing conundrum
Sugar may be a specific nutrient of concern to health professionals but many consumers simply look at sugar content as an indication of calories, but lowering the sugar does not equate to a similar drop in calories. If you take 1% of sugar out of chocolate, you change the whole composition of that chocolate bar. Among the suggested changes is one that would allow manufacturers to use vegetable oil rather than the current standard, cacao fat, also known as cocoa butter, to make chocolate. The move, if it ever becomes reality, would strike at the heart of many chocolate aficionados, as many true connoisseurs have been known to choose their chocolate based on cacao content alone.
So I will just say to these manufacturers – don’t mess with our chocolate, it’s just fine the way it is!
Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man.