By Nikesh Hindocha
Regional Director for SEA & Chocolate & Confectionery Lead for Asia, AAK
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers have been increasingly optioning for affordable indulgence to satisfy cravings and even to relieve stress. Among these affordable indulgences are premium chocolate and hybrid confections.
As lockdowns became the new normal, more consumers started shopping online, a trend that has led to a surge in e-commerce with many promotions, free deliveries and cash rebates offered from e-commerce merchandisers. Offering premium chocolate online poses new challenges for the manufacturers.
Fluctuating temperatures accelerate the bloom issue in chocolates. And 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. Many 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.
More life in filled chocolate
When producing tempting pralines and other filled confectionery products, one of the ingredients that needs special attention is the filling fat solution as it comprises around 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 upon it.
Fat bloom is often the main shelf-life limitation in relation to filled products, it can be caused by fat migration from the filling to the surrounding chocolate layer. The migration process is very difficult to avoid since it is driven by the fact that the filling often contains more liquid fat than the coating.
Consumers may consider buying less chocolate during tough times, but when it comes to indulging themselves, they want to have a quality sweet treat that each bite worth every cent. Consumers seek exciting, new experiences and have a strong desire for high quality products. Thus, the quality eating experience of sweet treat must deliver not only a good unique sensory but visually appealing with prefect gloss in a beautiful packaging. Therefore, chocolate or chocolate gift basket has always been an ideal present or seasonal giveaway for anyone.
The issue of fat bloom
Fat bloom on chocolate is a major problem for the confectionery industry since the unappealing appearance and negative sensory effects lead to rejection by customers. The presence of fat bloom on chocolate confectionery is usually connected to migration of liquid fat due to the difference in composition between fillings, cocoa butter and ingredient such as nuts. Bloom formation in chocolate confectionery is also influenced by several other factors such as processing, delivery process, storage and recipe including the fat percentage in the cocoa powder in chocolate compounds.
Plant-based oils & fats can among others be used to modify chocolate sensory properties and/or extend the shelf life. It is also used to offer important raw material costs savings for the chocolate manufacturer without affecting the properties of the end product.
The need for bloom control
All 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 yoghurt and also including more daring innovations containing crunch, fruit chunks, hot chilli or liqueurs. Other application areas include bar and biscuit fillings.
According to AAK Consumer Survey, nuts is by far the most popular filling, more than half of all consumers would prefer various types of nuts in their chocolate. This is also backed up by data from Mintel GNPD that nut is a popular subgroup ingredient used in confectionery products (2016-2020). Nonetheless, 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.
In an attempt 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 flavor 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 have in mind the confectionery processing equipment that confectioners typically use. Which filling fats provide the optimum processing efficiency? 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 be relied upon to 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, this means chocolate coatings also keep their smoothness and snap, while fillings maintain their indulgent texture and flavour release.
A matter of nutrition
The increasingly health-conscious consumers wanted food that made them feel good, had fewer additives, and was made with quality ingredients.
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. Here, 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 & fats that are not only free of trans fatty acids, but with additional health claims like source of Omega 3 and DHA. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, consumers are increasingly aware of the nutritional needs from their daily food intake, bringing significant market growth and new opportunities for innovative, functional & nutritional sweet treats.
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