Chocolate Challenges

Using cocoa ingredients in dairy requires careful selection and a delicate balance.
by Lori Dahm
Chocolate will never go out of style, and as the trends of indulgence and decadence continue to impact the nation’s eating habits, chocolate continues to be a predominant flavor in new dairy products.
The newest milk beverages and ice creams that pander to the ubiquitous chocoholic often boast amplified chocolate flavors, such as “super fudge chocolate” or “double chocolate” varieties.
Using cocoa ingredients in these products can be difficult. Cocoa powders vary by fat content, particle size and alkalization levels, and these parameters must be in balance for a dairy formulation to function ideally.
For example, cocoa powder settling out of solution can occur in chocolate milk, so stabilization of the cocoa powder in a milk beverage often requires experimentation with the different cocoa ingredients. In frozen desserts, the flavor and color effects of cocoa powders are affected by many variables in the ice cream mix.
Because the delicacy of formulating with cocoa ingredients has been an issue in the food industry for decades, suppliers have become experts at helping manufacturers choose the proper chocolate ingredients. Formulating with cocoa powders requires navigating through the parameters of cocoa ingredients — fat content and degree of alkalization — and understanding how these elements work in particular dairy applications to yield the chocolate-laden products that consumers are craving.
Color, Flavor and Fat
The processing of a cocoa bean yields cocoa powder and cocoa butter, with a certain fat level in the resulting cocoa powder. These fat levels fall into ranges such as 10 to 12 percent, 16 to 18 percent or 22 to 24 percent. Some rare cocoa powder ingredients are even 34 to 37 percent fat, although such a high fat level in a cocoa powder is extremely rare, used primarily in high-end dairy desserts.
Most cocoa powders used in food and beverage applications are of the 10 to 12 percent variety. Some premium products, such as super premium ice creams, may use a 22 to 24 percent cocoa fat ingredient.
Alkalization — or dutching — is a heat-processing method applied to cocoa powder to deepen the color and flavor. Some food or beverage applications use a “natural” cocoa powder, which has not been alkalized.
“There are natural cocoa powders, medium or lightly alkalized cocoa powders and red alkalized cocoa powders, which are more alkalized than others. The premium alkalized powders are the red alkalized cocoas, which are in the ideal range for achieving the finest flavor and color,” says Rick Stunek, director of marketing at Forbes Chocolate, Cleveland. “Alkalization brings out a stronger taste and a brighter color, but there is a point at which you want to stop on the degree of alkalization. For example, the super alkalized cocoa powders have a lot of color but the flavor becomes not as desirable.”
The red alkalized powders, or premium alkalized powders, are usually of Ivory Coast origin. This region of western Africa has the ideal environmental conditions for yielding the best-tasting cocoa beans, and these beans have become accepted as the finest beans in the world.
“The Ivory Coast produces approximately 44 percent of the world’s cocoa bean harvest, but the political unrest in that country is always under the surface and a mild threat to procurement of these beans,” says Kurt Scaturro, purchasing manager at Givaudan, Bridgeton, Mo. “But they always seem to get the cocoa beans out of the country come harvest time. The revenue generated by beans is a major part of their economy, and these cocoa beans are highly valued ingredients.”
Got Cocoa?
Chocolate milk is one of the most common and best-loved uses of cocoa ingredients in a dairy product. Many consumers instinctively shake a bottle of chocolate milk before opening the cap — a habit that results from the product’s historic struggle with stabilization.
Today, shaking a chocolate milk product is likely to be unnecessary. The use of carrageenan as a stabilizing agent has become widespread and is very effective in keeping the cocoa ingredient bound to the milk protein.
“Stabilization is the most critical element in chocolate milk — keeping that cocoa powder in suspension. One of the considerations in dairy processing is that every plant is different,” Stunek says. “The different equipment, different procedures and different parameters all impact the way a chocolate milk product is processed, so you have to carefully develop the correct stabilization system for every unique situation.”
For example, the pasteurization process affects the selection of the cocoa ingredients. Although UHT or ESL processing can enhance the flavor of the cocoa ingredient in chocolate milk by imparting a more malt-like flavor, certain cocoa ingredients should be avoided for UHT or ESL processing.
“The granulation of the cocoa powder is another key attribute in developing a chocolate milk product, because a fine powder should be used to disperse optimally,” says Sylvie Morisset, technical and regulatory affairs manager at Barry Callebaut, Canada. “We usually target powders that have 99.8 percent of the solids larger than 200 mesh.”
And another factor that influences stabilization is the pH of the milk beverage. The alkalization of the cocoa powder affects the pH of the system, and the solubility of the milk protein depends upon the equilibrium of the proteins in the product.
“Only about 35 percent of cocoa powder is naturally soluble, so keeping those particles in suspension is a delicate balance between the milk protein, the carrageenan and other factors like heat and pH,” says Leanna DeMuijnck, product service and development manager at ADM Cocoa, Milwaukee. “It is important to choose a cocoa powder with an alkalization that will help keep the product’s pH close to that of milk, around 7.0.”
But outside of the stabilization issues that necessitate the use of certain cocoa powders, the desired color and flavor also drive the cocoa ingredient selection. For example, certain chocolate milk products are designed to be sweeter or less sweet, darker or lighter, according to which cocoa powders are used.
“Generally, the chocolate milks for children use the mid-range alkalized cocoa powders with a more mild taste, while products targeted to adults use the stronger flavors imparted by higher alkalization. Although sometimes a dark flavor is desired for a kids’ product, so you play with the various factors,” says Morisset. “Preferences vary widely and it is important to understand the target market. For example, in Europe they perceive the cocoa at the bottom of the milk product to be a sign of high quality, so we use cocoa ingredients for that market which will result in those particles settling out of solution.”
In the United States, regional taste preferences are distinct, and dictate the cocoa powders used in chocolate milks designed for the South versus the Northeast versus the Midwest.
“In the South consumers like really, really sweet chocolate milk, which can be a deep brown in color, but ultimately is super sweet. In the northeast we tend to see flavor preferences for rich and indulgent chocolate milk flavors,” says Dawn Manthei, applications manager of the dairy business unit at Givaudan. “The Midwest is pretty ‘plain Jane’ in their flavor preferences, desiring good flavor and mild thickness, and this area of the nation is characterized by milk products that are cost-efficient. And anything goes in the West, where chocolate milk products are all over the board.”
Ice Cream
The most commonly used cocoa ingredients in chocolate ice creams are of the 10 to 12 percent fat variety, although some superpremium ice creams use cocoa powder with a higher fat level such as 22 to 24 percent.
“Obviously, you will realize more texture with the higher-fat cocoas, but there are other ways to achieve that which are much more efficient. Because fat has no flavor, using a 22 to 24 percent fat cocoa may result in about 10 percent less flavor,” says Stunek. “We suggest the premium red alkalized cocoas for the indulgent items, because they provide a more chocolaty taste than the natural or less alkalized cocoa powders, and then the cream in the ice cream imparts the desired fat content and resulting mouthfeel. And the use of inclusions or variegates can deliver that double fudge-type effect.”
The type of cocoa ingredient used in an ice cream will affect the structure of the ice cream, which in turn affects whippability. High alkalization or a large particle size can negatively affect whippability.
“A chocolate-flavored ice cream mix has a slightly higher viscosity and is more difficult to whip compared to other ice cream mixes,” says Rikst Bootsma, R&D semi-finished, Barry Callebaut France. “By adapting the freezer capacity and the quantity of air introduced, the overrun of chocolate-flavored ice cream can be improved. Adding citrate or phosphate to the chocolate mix may reduce the viscosity and improve whipping time.”
The Future
While the trend toward indulgent chocolate flavors in dairy products continues, some interesting developments include the use of complementary flavors, like vanilla, to enhance those chocolate notes.
“Vanilla is almost always used to balance cocoa flavors. In addition, there are a lot of creative ideas regarding top-noting like malt or fruit flavors which can make a chocolate beverage or ice cream distinctive,” says Katy Cole, technical sales manager at Wilbur Chocolate and Gerkens Cocoa, Cargill Inc., Lititz, Pa. “And with the growing Hispanic market, we see customers also playing around with things like cinnamon and hot peppers at very low levels which are barely perceptible but create a unique profile.”
Another interesting development corresponds to the current food trends wherein American consumers are starting to appreciate dark chocolate more than ever, and akin to the gourmet coffee market, single-origin chocolate is becoming the rage with chocolate aficionados.
“We are starting to receive requests for single-origin cocoa powders, particularly for European markets. Another innovative new development is that some chocolate milk drinks are being marketed with the cocoa content percentage on the label,” Morisset says. “Traditionally, chocolate has been considered a luxury here, whereas in Europe chocolate is perceived as a ‘basic’ food. But now the perception of chocolate in North America is going in a new direction that holds a lot of possibility.”
This trend toward more European-style chocolate appreciation is in part fueled by the growing appreciation of artisan foods in the United States overall. But another factor is the recent publicity given to the health benefits of chocolate. With a higher concentration of polyphenols than many fruits, the cocoa bean is a polyphenol powerhouse. In fact, Barry Callebaut will introduce an innovative chocolate product to the retail market in Germany with a higher polyphenol content made possible by altering the cocoa bean processing method. Nonetheless, consumers will probably always associate chocolate with indulgence.
“Chocolate is healthy, and when used in a milk beverage the nutritional benefits of the overall product can be significant due to the calcium delivered by the milk. But while consumers will always chase diets, there are still certain items that they will always use to treat themselves, no matter the latest fad,” Stunek says. “Chocolate is one of those items, so it is important to deliver to consumers the indulgent treat they are expecting when they purchase that chocolate product.”