Sugar Talk Sugar Talk
Around the world in chocolate: sugar applications across the globe
This blog is the latest instalment in our series focusing on sugar applications from across the globe. With Easter fast approaching and retailers now stocking their shelves with a variety of chocolates, we explore how sugars are used in three of the world’s most influential chocolate markets.
Hollow chocolate eggs are popular Easter presents to give and receive in the UK.
Sweet, smooth and creamy chocolate in the UK and Europe
Chocolate consumption dates back more than 4000 years, first consumed by the Mayans as an intensely bitter ceremonial drink. Fast-forward several millennia and its use as a beverage – though not quite as bitter a drink – was how chocolate became popular in the UK and Europe following the discovery of the New World.
It was only in the mid-19th century that cocoa butter was used to combine sugar and cocoa beans to create a solid chocolate bar that could, of course, be eaten. Soon after, the conching process – heating and grinding cacao solids to make them smoother and to develop flavour – was first discovered. Naturally, chocolate’s popularity as a food rather than a drink soared as a result and it has never really stopped growing. In fact, for a sense of scale, consider that the UK now consumes approximately 660,900 tonnes of chocolate per year.
Today, chocolate in the UK and Europe generally tastes balanced, smooth and creamy. Why is this the case? Well, to be sold as chocolate, UK and EU laws state that a product must contain a minimum of 20% and 25% cocoa solids respectively, which is high enough for them to have a distinct chocolate taste but low enough for them to be balanced with other ingredients.
Sugar is one of these other ingredients, however, it is only fine grain sugars that are suitable for chocolate production because their texture means they can be ground down easily in the conching process. White beet sugar is most commonly used in the UK and Europe because sugar beet is grown in these regions and, therefore, it is the sugar most readily available. Its neutral flavour helps it create the sweet, smooth and creamy milk chocolate we know today.
Chocolate-coated soft centres in the UK and Europe
It is important to note that sugar syrups are not used in the production of solid chocolate bars because they contain high water content, which would adversely affect the chocolate-making process. However, that is not to say that syrups do not have popular applications in chocolate-coated confectionery.
Namely, sugar syrups are used to produce the soft centres that are enrobed with chocolate. Think of creamy fondants, truffles, caramels and nougats coated with solid chocolate – it is syrups that develop all of these cores. They stabilise the soft centres and prevent them from draining into the solid chocolate coating which, as we have established, does not react well with water.
Invert sugar syrup is used to stabilise soft centres enrobed with solid chocolate.
In terms of commercial manufacture, invert sugar syrup is the most popular sugar syrup used for this purpose in the UK and Europe. Being a multifunctional ingredient, it is the ideal syrup for developing a sweet and balanced flavour in the soft centre while playing the important role of keeping liquid away from the solid chocolate. So, with Easter just a few weeks away, it is invert sugar that is largely used in the egg-shaped chocolate confectionery lining the supermarket shelves.
Sweeter flavour and chalkier texture in American chocolate
And so, to another influential chocolate market: America. After the invention of solid chocolate bars in the UK in the nineteenth century, the concept spread domestically, then throughout Europe and soon made its way across the Atlantic. Indeed, the godfather of American chocolate production, Milton S. Hershey, first saw chocolate-making machinery at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 and then made subsequent machinery purchases to increase production.
But while he had the required equipment to produce chocolate on a larger scale, European chocolate makers were unwilling to share their recipes and Hershey was forced to create his own. In so doing, he made the formula for American chocolate. The formula involves greater proportions of straight sucrose and lower requirements for cocoa content and remains largely the same today.
This ratio of sugar to cocoa means that American chocolate tends to have a much sweeter taste than chocolate in the UK and Europe. Not only is the taste different, though, the texture of American chocolate is also more powdery and chalkier. And as sugar beet is grown in the northern states of America but sugar cane is grown in the southern state of Florida, both white beet sugar and white cane sugar are used in chocolate production in America.
It is also worth noting that while invert sugar syrup is more commonly used to produce soft centres in the UK and Europe, glucose syrup is more commonly used for this purpose in the US.
Richer and aromatic Ecuadorian dark chocolate
The final chocolate market we are exploring – and we are now referring to dark chocolate rather than milk chocolate – is Ecuador, home to some of the richest and most highly sought-after chocolate in the world. This is mainly due to the South American nation being one of the world’s largest fine cacao producers, with the raw material playing an important part in Ecuador’s cultural heritage. And just to avoid any confusion, cacao refers to unroasted beans whereas cocoa is the product of roasted cacao beans, and fine cacao refers to cacao grown from a specific type of tree.
Beyond being in large supply, though, Ecuadorian fine cacao is also said to be the world’s most aromatic cacao. Using it in production means that Ecuadorian dark chocolate tends to be very rich in flavour. To complement this natural and aromatic flavour, Ecuadorian chocolate is often made with fine grain raw cane sugar, with the taste of this unrefined sugar counteracting the bitter flavour of the dark chocolate and developing a deeper dark Ecuadorian chocolate flavour. Of course, many artisanal dark chocolate producers in the UK and Europe also use raw cane sugar to produce their chocolates, but it is not as widespread a practice as in Ecuador.
A cacao plant and its derivatives.