By NIKESH HINDOCHA, Regional Director for SEA & Chocolate & Confectionery Lead for Asia, AAK
SINCE the outbreak of COVID-19, consumers have been seeking affordable indulgences to satisfy cravings and to relieve stress. Chocolates are one of these indulgences. But amidst lockdowns, offering products such as premium chocolates to online shoppers poses challenges for confectionery manufacturers. How can they maintain product quality when fluctuating temperatures accelerate the bloom issue in chocolate?
In warm climates, manufacturers struggle with heat-induced fat crystal transformation as the fat separates and rises to the surface, negatively affecting appearance and texture. Premium indulgences like pralines, truffles and hybrid confections contain fillings. According to an AAK Consumer Survey in 2018, three out of four consumers chose a type of filling for their “perfect chocolate”. Therefore, the filling fats used must deliver not only delicious taste but an appealing texture with a steep meltdown traditionally obtained by tempering.
Bloom-retarding filling fat can help extend the quality and shelf life of filled products. (Photo: AAK)
More life in filled chocolate
When producing filled confectionery products, manufactures have to pay attention to the filling fat solution as this comprises about 30% of the filling. The kind of fat chosen has far-reaching impact on the processing and sensory quality of the pralines, not to mention storage and shelf life. The appeal of the final product depends on it.
Fat bloom, often the main shelf-life limitation of filled products, is connected to the migration of liquid fat due to the difference in composition between fillings, cocoa butter and ingredients such as nuts. The migration process is difficult to avoid since fillings often contain more liquid fat than the coating.
Bloom formation in chocolate confectionery is also influenced by other factors such as processing, delivery process, storage and recipe including the fat percentage in the cocoa powder in chocolate compounds.
Plant-based oils and fats, among others, can be used to modify chocolate sensory properties and/or extend the shelf life. It is used to offer important raw material costs savings for the chocolate manufacturer without affecting the properties of the end product.
These considerations have created a growing role for the bloom-retarding filling fat in a wide range of soft chocolate fillings, such as nut, nougat, truffle and yogurt and also including more daring innovations containing crunch, fruit chunks, hot chili or liqueurs. Other application areas include bar and biscuit fillings.
In the AAK Consumer Survey, more than half of surveyed consumers said they prefer various types of nuts in their chocolate. Data from Mintel GNPD also says nuts are a popular subgroup ingredient used in confectionery products (2016-2020).
Where nuts are involved, rapid bloom formation on the chocolate coating is more or less inevitable, compromising praline shelf life as a result. Although the pralines are still safe to eat, nut oil migration into the coating causes a loss of visual appeal, which most consumers find unacceptable. For the manufacturer, that brings a high level of returns and creates a negative impact on consumer loyalty to the brand.
To achieve a balance, the liquid fat migrates into the costing. Instead of trying to hinder migration, most recent filling fat product development has focused on gaining control over migration effects. Confectionery fillings need to have the right hardness, consistency, meltdown properties and flavour release. AAK have spent years working with such properties in chocolate labs, building up an extensive knowledge of how different fats work in combination and in the presence of other ingredients. Nuts and nut oil in particular require special attention.
It is also important to note the confectionery processing equipment that is used; which filling fats provide the optimum processing efficiency; and how fats react under varying storage conditions. High and fluctuating temperatures are still among the biggest hurdles to overcome when maintaining the quality of chocolate confectionery over time.
No sensory change after 12 months
In the chocolate labs at AAK, CHOCOFILL™ BR has been tested in pralines with nut fillings. The results showed that, even after 12 months’ storage at 18°C, the pralines were just as fresh and appealing as on the day they were made – proof of a high nut tolerance. A similar praline made with a standard hydrogenated filling fat, however, was covered with an unsightly layer of white surface bloom.
While it can be expected that bloom will develop faster at a higher storage temperature, CHOCOFILL™ BR can still deliver the best shelf-life performance compared with standard alternatives. In many cases, pralines gain a shelf life twice as long as before. Extended praline shelf life is not only about good looks; chocolate coatings also keep their smoothness and snap, while fillings maintain their indulgent texture and flavour release.
A matter of nutrition
Rising consumer demand for confectionery with an improved nutritional profile on the one hand and more premium quality on the other presents a whole new set of formulation challenges. Again, the choice of filling fat defines the sensory and functional success of the final product.
The nutritional aspect of confectionery has led manufacturers to search for additional functional plant-based oils and fats that are not only free of trans fatty acids, but with additional health claims like source of Omega 3 and DHA. Since the pandemic, consumers have become increasingly aware of the nutritional needs from their daily food intake, bringing significant market growth and new opportunities for innovative, functional and nutritional sweet treats.
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