How Sweet it is
by Kathie Canning

Chocolate’s status as an indulgent treat makes it a natural fit for rich dairy beverages and desserts.

Did You Know…
The Mayan Indians ground cocoa beans and mixed them with water, black pepper, vanilla and spices to create a beverage to shared during wedding ceremonies?(1)

Hot chocolate shops were popular in England during the 1700s?(1)

The first milk chocolate was created by Swiss candy maker Daniel Peter in 1876 when he added condensed milk to chocolate liquor?(1)

Americans consumed more than 3 billion pounds of chocolate in 2002?(1)

22 percent of all chocolate consumption takes place between 8 p.m. and midnight?(2)
71 percent of North American chocolate eaters prefer milk chocolate?(2)

Sources: (1). The National Confectioners Association; (2). “The World Atlas of Chocolate,” a Simon Fraser University Student Project, 2003
Few other foods are as tempting or satisfying as chocolate. As an ingredient, it adds decadence to our dairy desserts, a sweet richness to our dairy beverages. Moreover, chocolate is said to contain substances that increase brain activity, contribute to a general sense of well-being and boost antioxidant levels.

Bean Basics
Of course, chocolate and its cocoa cousin owe their existence to cocoa beans, the fruit of the cacao tree. Whether transformed into a richly colored powder or a smooth milk chocolate filling, the plain-looking beans serve as the source of some of our most decadent and palate-pleasing foodstuff.

West Africa supplies the greatest number of cocoa beans, accounting for more than half of the world’s production. Here, the Ivory Coast is the leader, followed by Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon. Other major bean suppliers outside of West Africa include Indonesia and Brazil.

“The best cocoa beans in the world come from the Ivory Coast in Africa,” delivering the “richest, cleanest flavor and the finest color,” says Rick Stunek, marketing director for Cleveland-based Forbes Chocolate. “Brazil also produces some good cocoa beans.”

Although some smaller cocoa and chocolate suppliers have begun to market products made from single-source beans, the majority of suppliers offer a variety of bean mixes.

“Each mix of beans gives a different flavor profile,” says Roberta White, marketing director for OCG Cacao U.S., Whitinsville, Mass., a business unit of Minneapolis–based Cargill Inc. “That is why each cocoa producer has a unique flavor.”

Ivory Coast beans are known for their “very deep chocolate flavor,” says Sylvie Morisset, new business development manager for Barry Callebaut, St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, Canada. Ghana beans have a fruitier, more flowery taste, she says, while South American beans tend to have smoky off-flavors.
Many suppliers are able to combine beans from different cocoa-growing regions in varying proportions to deliver the exact flavor profile the processor desires in the final chocolate product.
A Versatile Powder
Many a dairy product owes its chocolaty flavor to one of a wide variety of cocoa powders available today. A number of cocoa-processing factors, including bean origin and roasting, combine to influence cocoa powder attributes.
To create a cocoa powder, processors first must clean the beans well, removing all extraneous material. They usually remove the shells before roasting the “nib,” which is the remaining portion of the bean. The nib then is ground into cocoa “liquor.”
Most of the cocoa butter then is removed from the chocolate liquor through a pressing process. The remaining cake, still containing a varying percentage of cocoa butter, is broken into smaller pieces to be sold as cocoa cake or ground into a fine cocoa powder. The cocoa butter is filtered and sold for chocolate-making and other applications.
Two basic types of cocoa are derived from the beans: natural and alkalized. Alkalized or “dutched” cocoa is treated with alkali to “bring out the best color and flavor of the cocoa,” says Stunek. Although processors can alkalize either the nib or the cake, the former produces the best cocoa for dairy applications, he says.
“Cake-alkalized falls somewhere in between natural and nib-alkalized on the quality scale,” says Stunek. “It can be confusing, but if you are looking to spec out the best cocoa for your product, make sure to request nib-alk.”
To get a “rich, milk chocolaty taste,” dairy processors are encouraged to choose a moderately alkalized cocoa powder for both beverages and ice cream, says Mark Freeman, vice president of sales for Wilbur Chocolate and Gerkens Cocoa, both Cargill subsidiaries.
“Sometimes a more highly alkalized powder like Gerkens Garnet cocoa powder is used to produce a more intense dark chocolate flavor,” says Freeman. “As a soft chip or variegate, we often end up with natural powder to maintain the fruity, acidic note, which is distinctive from the sweet ice cream base. Many of these products, if eaten outside of the sugary ice cream complex, would be very bitter and unpleasant. However, once they are incorporated into ice cream, they taste delicious.”
Because cocoa does not dissolve, highly dispersible products work better for dairy applications, says Stunek. “Alkalized cocoa, particularly nib-alk, seems to have the best dispersion properties for incorporation into milk and ice cream mixes, although almost all cocoa will disperse eventually,” he says. “The nib-alk gives you more bang for your buck. It delivers a better flavor/color combination than other cocoas. This can be particularly important in chocolate milk where, in many cases, the product is in a clear container that allows consumers to ’taste’ with their eyes.”
The fat content of a cocoa also matters, notes White. “Lowfat cocoa powder works well in dairy drinks,” she says. “Dark chocolate and high-fat cocoa powders work well in ice cream.”
Bill Ryan, vice president of confectionery marketing for Milwaukee-based ADM Cocoa, a unit of Archer Daniels Midland Co., Decatur, Ill., says the majority of today’s ice creams contain an alkalized cocoa with a fat content of 10 to 12 percent, although some super-premium ice creams still incorporate cocoa with a higher fat content.
Specialized cocoa powders that contain lecithin are “very handy” in dairy beverages, says Morisset, helping to disperse the solids through the milk.
In addition, stabilizers such as kappa carrageenan help prevent the cocoa particles from settling out in chocolate milk, and gums also can improve product viscosity and mouthfeel. According to ADM Cocoa, carrageenan reacts with milk proteins and cocoa particles to form a three-dimensional network that holds the particles in suspension. Cocoa powders with a relatively low alkalinity and pH will interact most effectively with milk proteins in dairy beverage applications.
In dairy desserts such as puddings and mousses, the desired texture and air content determine the type and amount of cocoa powder to be used. The lighter the texture and the higher the air content, the more concentrated the color and the flavor of the cocoa powder need to be, reports ADM Cocoa.
The degree of cocoa alkalization is important, too. For instance, in gelled desserts based on kappa-carrageenan, gel strength decreases when cocoa powder is used. The decrease is minimal with lightly alkalized cocoa powder, but with strongly alkalized powder, the gel strength is significantly reduced. In this case, the carrageenan dosage would have to be boosted or a more powerful gelling agent used to obtain the desired gel strength, according to ADM Cocoa.
Proper storage is essential to maintaining cocoa powder quality for later processing. “We definitely recommend an air-conditioned environment,” says Morisset. “You don’t want it too warm because (the cocoa) can contain high amounts of cocoa butter and you don’t want the powder to cake or to develop off-flavors. … It will absorb anything that’s around it because it’s a high-quality fat.”
Moisture also can adversely affect product quality, notes Stunek. “If you have a good (low-standard-plate-count) cocoa powder to start with, it will last for years if it is kept dry,” he says.
The Real Thing — or Not
Varying forms of finished chocolate also are used in dairy applications.
To make chocolate, processors mix the cocoa liquor with cocoa butter, sugar and, to create milk chocolate, different forms of milk. The mixture is refined via rollers to improve its texture and then conched, or kneaded under heat, to smooth it out. It then either is stored or shipped in tanks, or it goes through a tempering process — heating, cooling and reheating — to ensure lasting color and prevent “fat bloom” before the product is molded into bars or blocks.
Variegates and inclusions destined for frozen dairy desserts are more likely to be labeled as “chocolate flavored” than “real” chocolate. Essentially, the cocoa butter is replaced by vegetable oil to improve the eating experience.
“The cocoa butter in ice cream becomes very, very hard,” explains Morisset. “So you blend your chocolate with softer fats — vegetable fats like soybean oil or coconut oil — and it makes it much softer to your palate.”
Chocolate variegates, or soft chunks, could be made from pure chocolate to which vegetable oils have been added, says Morisset, or could be created through compounding, “where you start with powder and (add) some vegetable oils to make it whatever texture you need for your ice cream.”
Barry Callebaut currently is the largest soft-chunks supplier for the ice cream industry, notes Morisset. “These chunks are produced and stored and distributed in refrigerated storage to maintain their solid state because they are made to be softer in ice cream,” she says.
Freeman notes: “Real chocolate flakes have a melt point near body temperature, so the eating quality is not great in the ice cream. Wilbur Chocolate offers a number of soft inclusions that have a lower melting point than real chocolate. These need to be kept at near-freezing temperatures all the time.”
“Real” chocolate products best maintain their quality when stored at temperatures between 60 and 65 degrees F, notes White. At that temperature range, in a dry environment, the products should enjoy a shelf life of approximately 12 months.
Meeting Trends
Chocolate remains the flavor of choice for flavored dairy beverages.
“Dairies have been improving the quality of the chocolate milk they are producing,” says Stunek. This fact, combined with single-serve bottles and strong marketing, have “helped boost sales of chocolate milk over a wide variety of packaging,” he says.
Although vanilla is still the No. 1 flavor for ice cream, says Stunek, chocolate is a “solid two.” In addition, he says, chocolate is enjoying increased use as a base flavor for variegates and inclusions.
Ryan says: “We like to think that chocolate is making some inroads,” noting that many people refer to dark chocolate as “vanilla chocolate” because vanilla or vanillin often is used to flavor it.
Although the U.S. population as a whole still prefers the milk chocolate flavor, dark chocolate is gaining ground.
“Some regions of the country prefer dark chocolate and others favor milk chocolate,” says Freeman. “There are some parts of Western Pennsylvania and Ohio where they prefer a very light milk chocolate. The Northeastern United States and the Pacific Northwest including the San Francisco Bay area tend to favor the harsher dark chocolate notes.”
Like wine or gourmet coffee aficionados, many chocolate lovers are beginning to recognize different flavor components, notes Freeman. As a result, he says, he is starting to see an increase in requests for beans from specific regions.
Another trend, says Freeman, is the demand for more and more chocolate in dairy products, particularly in ice cream. “People want more inclusions, more gooey variegates and more variety,” he says. “There are a lot of directions you can take with chocolate — starting with dark, white and milk, looking at Dutch, Swiss, Belgian, playing on double, triple and in forms of chips, chunks and flakes.”
Processors not only are combining different forms of chocolate to create decadent dairy desserts, but also are continuing to introduce dairy desserts and beverages with complementary flavors that further boost chocolate’s appeal. Although the traditional chocolate companions — ingredients such as caramel, peanuts, marshmallow, malt and mint — remain popular in the dairy arena, a few other flavors also are proving worthy chocolate partners.
“There are some nutty top notes that are interesting combinations in ice cream,” says Freeman. “One we see gaining in popularity is hazelnut.”
Mocha, the coffee-and-chocolate combination, works well in dairy applications and continues to grow in popularity, says Stunek. “After chocolate, mocha is one of our most popular flavors,” he adds.
“I think coffee and cappuccino-type flavors are becoming popular for dairy beverages,” says Ryan. “Processors are coming up with a lot of drinks that incorporate various flavors of coffee.”
Fruit-and-chocolate blends also are trendy, but not all fruits are created equal when it comes to chocolate dairy blends.
“Chocolate/cherry and chocolate/raspberry are natural combinations that work extremely well,” says Stunek. “When it comes to fruit, the berry family seems to work best with chocolate, while the citrus flavors are best avoided.”
A citrus top note, however, “can help a chocolate ice cream stand out,” says Freeman.
Chocolate also is playing an important role in many of the new ice creams that attempt to capture the flavors of s’mores, tiramisu and other chocolate-containing dessert favorites.
Getting it Right
Ultimately, the type of cocoa or chocolate selected will depend on the type of product the processor wants to create its target market, says Freeman. In other words, the cocoa that works so well in a chocolate-and-coffee concoction geared toward adults could spell disaster in a milkshake destined for the under-10 set.
“There is a saying in the chocolate industry that there is no such thing as a ’good’ chocolate or a ’bad’ chocolate — there is only chocolate which is appropriate for one application and inappropriate for another application,” says Freeman. “Working closely with your chocolate and cocoa supplier’s technical staff can help you create the perfect balance.”
Some applications require customized solutions, notes Freeman. “We tend to work closely with our customers to develop specific solutions to complicated needs,” he says. “Of course, this year we have had a lot of interest in sugar-free and no-sugar-added products. Wilbur has been making sugar-free chocolate for over 20 years and can fashion a product to meet almost every need.”
In addition, says Freeman, Wilbur recently introduced Two-Tone™ inclusions that combine a fudgy chocolate layer with a colorful flavored layer. The products offer consumers a “fun com­bination in every bite,” he says, adding that the most popular version is a mint-and-chocolate combo.
OCG Cacao, which has a full range of chocolate, cocoa powders and cocoa butter, also is able to “tailor-make” products for its customers, says White. “We offer premium cocoa powders and Belgian chocolate,” she says.
Forbes Chocolate not only offers a wide variety of cocoa blends, but also gives dairy customers an easy way to meet low-carbohydrate diet needs.
The company developed reduced-carbohydrate blends that provide “all the necessary components for chocolate milk,” as well as other flavors, says Stunek. “All the dairy adds is the milk.”
The chocolate giant Barry Callebaut recently came out with a lactose-free milk-flavored chocolate for use in a wide variety of applications, says Morisset. In addition, its Bensdorp brand introduced chocolate “crystal” cocoa powder/sugar blends that do not dissolve onto the water-based surface of frozen desserts such as tiramisu. “It’s a new thing technology that was discovered by accident,“ she says. “We have a milk and a dark version.”
ADM Cocoa offers the De Zaan line of cocoa powders, which gives dairy processors a wide range of color and taste-profile choices. According to the company, its “expertise in processing and blending enables fine-tuning of its cocoa products to meet most customer specifications and expectations.”