Frank O'Kelly Written by Frank O'Kelly

Manufacturing chocolate: sugars role beyond flavour

As further legislation is coming into play to reduce sugar consumption, we explore the shortcomings of techniques employed by popular brands to reduce sugar in chocolate. Sugar remains an intrinsic part of chocolate beyond flavouring and a product with a number of versatile yet vital functions that cannot easily be replaced.   

Is reducing sugar really the answer?

In 2016, Public Health England proposed that Food and Beverage companies should aim to reduce the sugar in their products by 20% by 2020, yet many companies have found the reality of this endeavour far from simple.

pictures of various cadburys chocolate snacks in bags

Invert sugar syrup is used in chocolates with fillings.

Sugar plays a much more significant role in food products than just adding flavour and attempts to reduce it would have many more ramifications on the formulation and structure of these popular products than at first glance.

Sugar in chocolate: applications beyond taste.

When we think of sugar’s role in chocolate, most of us will assume it is just used to achieve a sweet taste. In the UK and Europe, this comes mainly from a neutrally flavoured white beet sugar. However, it’s crucial to note that there are many additional uses of sugar in chocolate production.

Invert sugar syrup plays an important role in enrobing chocolate, as its base of equal parts glucose and fructose means it prevents crystallisation. Invert sugar syrup itself is very sweet, up to 40% sweeter than sucrose, giving it the ability to provide a full sweet flavour without adding extra sugar. Although not used in traditional block chocolate bars, invert sugar syrup is imperative in chocolates containing fillings such as truffles and caramels, as, through its ability to control crystallization, it keeps the fillings separate from the hard exterior shell, giving a smoother texture and retaining the structure of the chocolate. 

Using dark cane muscovado sugar in a chocolate recipe introduces the unmistakable flavours of caramel and toffee. It can also add moisture and richness to chocolate cake within the baking industry. Its rich flavour and dark colour come from the high levels of molasses retained during the manufacturing process.

How has sugar been reduced in chocolate?

With the above in mind, since 2016 many large manufacturers have explored the feasibility of reducing sugar in their popular chocolate bar formulations, all with very little success.

‘Hollow Sugar’ technology devised by Nestle.

In March 2018 Nestle released their ‘Wowsomes’, a white chocolate with 30% less sugar than their traditional Milky Bar. This product was developed using ‘hollow sugar’ technology which is described as ‘an aerated, porous sugar that dissolves more quickly in the mouth’.

white chocolate being poured in a factory

Nestle’s ‘Wowsomes’ were released in 2018.

Nestle’s team took just over a year to make the scientific and technological breakthrough, however despite high hopes for this release after only two years on the market the product was discontinued in 2020 due to lack of demand.

Addition of maize fibre to create a reduced sugar ‘Dairy Milk’.

Mondolez opted to add another functional ingredient, additional maize fibre, when reformulating their much-loved Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate bar. The finished product would have 13g of sugar in comparison to the original 25g.

dairy milk chocolate bar on a wooden board

‘Dairy Milk’ is known as the nations favourite chocolate treat.

‘Taste-tests’ of this product have been mixed, and the main complaint that consumers had was that a smaller size bar was being sold at the same price as a regular bar of Dairy Milk. Mondolez explained that the manufacturing process was more arduous that a regular chocolate bar, and that the technology and research required was both costly and time-consuming.

Artificial sweetener used by Lindt & Sprungli has limitations.

Lindt & Sprungli attempted yet another method. In 2018 they began using maltitol, a polyol (also known as a sugar alcohol) that has been used as a bulk sweetener for many years, in combination with lactose. Whilst successful in achieving the aim of reducing calories, the method also came with limitations. Firstly, maltitol cannot be marketed as a natural product as it is hydrogenated and when constituting more than 10% of a product must also be labelled with a laxative warning, something that is unattractive to consumers.

lindt chocolate with fruit and nut

Sugar has applications in both the flavour and formulation of chocolate.

The versatility of sugar: a crucial ingredient.

With all these methods – except artificial sweeteners which pose their own problems – reducing the sugar within a product does not inherently reduce its calorific value, as the average consumer might assume.

Replacing sugar in food products can even have an adverse impact on the body.  For example, affecting the production of leptin in the body – a hormone that helps to maintain your normal weight – which can only be controlled with natural sugar consumption. Leptin resistance can lead to an inability to control feelings of hunger and therefore to over-eating, emphasising the ramifications that comes with replacing sugar.

Sugar is a product with a variety of important functions in the production of chocolate and other foodstuffs. It serves as both a main and a supporting ingredient in a range of applications, from taste, to texture, and even extending the shelf-life of products. The natural product performs a key role in the production of goods for a number of different industries and is a crucial ingredient for manufacturers.

At Ragus we are experts in food formulation and food chemistry, utilising pure sugars for their taste, texture, and appearance. Including fine raw sugars which provide colour and flavouring as well as sugar syrups for bulking, sweetness and preserving properties.

Ragus has over 90 years’ experience creating a variety of sugar and syrup products, meaning we are experts in understanding why sugar has a continuing role in chocolate formulation. Contact us on +44 (0)1753 215424 or enquiries@ragus.co.uk to talk to a member of our team directly and we will be able to assist with your enquiry. For more sugar news and Ragus updates, follow Ragus on LinkedIn.