Sugar-reduced chocolate with oat flour just as tasty as original, study finds

The secret to making delicious chocolate with less added sugar is oat flour, according to a new study by Penn State researchers….

In a blind taste test, recently published in the Journal of Food Science, 25% reduced-sugar chocolates made with oat flour were rated equally, and in some cases preferred, to regular chocolate.

The findings provide a new option for decreasing chocolate’s sugar content while maintaining its texture and flavour.

“We were able to show that there is a range in which you can manage a sizeable reduction in added sugar and people won’t notice and don’t care, in terms of liking,” said John Hayes, professor of food science at Penn State and corresponding author on the study.

“We’re never going to make chocolate healthy, because it’s an indulgence, but we can successfully take out some of the sugar for consumers who are trying to reduce their intake of added sugars.”

Hayes explained that chocolate is about half sugar by weight, with the rest being fat and cocoa solids, so reducing the amount of sugar by any amount can drastically alter the texture and flavour profile of the chocolate.

“The function of sugar in chocolate is both sweetness and bulking, so if we take that sugar out, we have to put something else in that will do the job just as well, or consumers will notice,” said Gregory Ziegler, distinguished professor of food science at Penn State and co-author on the study.

Ziegler had the idea of testing two different grains, rice and oats, which contain fine granular starches as replacements for sugar in chocolate.

The end result would still contain carbs, which eventually break down into sugar, but the speed of absorption may be slower.

“Starch is still a carbohydrate, so it’s not lower calories, but there is an overall reduction in the added sugar content, which has potential health benefits,” Ziegler said.

Series of blind taste tests

The team conducted two different blind taste tests using dark chocolate made with varying levels of sugars and grain flour.

The first test, conducted with 66 participants, was designed to evaluate whether consumers would notice a difference between six varieties of chocolates: a control with a normal 54% level of sugar, four sugar-reduced versions with reductions of 25% or 50% sugar and additions of oat or rice flour, and one 54% sugar chocolate with reduced refining time to test if the grinding time would affect the texture.

Consumers rated the 25% sugar-reduced chocolates and the reduced refining time chocolate similar to the blind control, but the 50% sugar reduction was rated significantly different in both texture and flavour.

The team concluded this was mainly due to texture, as participants reported the rice flour chocolate contained “a chalkier texture,” while oat-flour-containing chocolates were described as “smoother, softer and creamier.”

The second blind taste test involved 90 participants and gauged consumer acceptability for 25% reduced sugar chocolates made with oat and rice flours compared to regular chocolate, the control, made with 54% sugar.

Each participant was served one square of each chocolate for a total of three samples and was asked to rate overall liking, flavour liking, texture liking and sweetness liking.

The rice flour chocolates were liked significantly less than the normal chocolate control, but the oat flour sample did not differ from control — and in some cases was rated slightly better.

“Our results suggest we can cut back 25% of added sugar to chocolate, effectively reducing the total sugar by 13.5%, if we substitute oat flour,” said Kai Kai Ma, a doctoral candidate in food science at Penn State and co-author on the paper.

“That addition of oat flour is unlikely to meaningfully impact consumer acceptability, which is great news.”

Hayes, who also directs Penn State’s Sensory Evaluation Center, said he plans to reach out to some of his former students who are now working in the chocolate industry to share the findings and hopefully spur new varieties of sugar-reduced chocolates by providing a proof-of-concept that oat flour can effectively do the job of added sugars.

“I’m a big believer in meeting consumers where they are,” Hayes said.

“We’ve tried for 40 years to tell people to eat less sugar and it doesn’t work because people want to eat what they want to eat. So instead of making people feel guilty, we need to meet people where they are and figure out how to make food better while still preserving the pleasure from food.”

The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture funded this work.

Story Source: Materials provided by Penn State

  1. Kai Kai Ma, Gregory R. Ziegler, John E. Hayes. Sugar reduction in chocolate compound by replacement with flours containing small insoluble starch granules. Journal of Food Science, 2024; DOI: 10.1111/1750-3841.16923

Will chocolate manufactures reduce the amount of sugar in their products?

Many manufactures across the food industry have already started to reduce the amount of sugar in their products as the subject of sugar consumption, or rather overconsumption, has been dominating for some time now. So, will chocolate manufacturers follow suit?

Well, the answer is that some already have. Brands such as Cadbury, with the Cadbury Dairy Milk 30% Less Sugar (now discontinued) and Mars with the Snickers Milk Chocolate Low Sugar Protein Bar are just a few of the examples on the market, as confectionery manufacturers respond to the demand for lower-sugar items.

And the opportunity to reduce the sugar content of chocolate is also good news for the manufacturers themselves as the cost of sugar has risen sharply ​in recent months.

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New Barry Callebaut chocolate dubbed ‘a paradigm shift’

The chocolate ingredients powerhouse has unveiled Second Generation Chocolate, which uses a customised process to produce a more natural and clean label confection with 50% less sugar.