Navigating fats and oils in chocolates comes with a wide set of challenges.

It can be tempting to assume that for today’s consumers, health is the top priority. But any ingredient formulations that don’t factor in taste and texture won’t be well received. Then there’s the impact on the functionality of the fats and oils, which play an important role in making chocolate, well, “chocolate.”

But that doesn’t mean it’s all bad news. According to ingredient supplier AAK, today’s consumers are more open to fats and oils now, and the recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest a healthy eating pattern should include consumption of plant-based oils. And finding the right balance between all that can be extremely rewarding — for both consumers and manufacturers.

One of the most creative solutions comes from AAK, a leading provider of value-adding vegetable oils and fats. The company recently featured an aerated mocha milk chocolate filling during the virtual Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) show.

It was made with AAK’s Confao 82BR specialty filling fat, which can be aerated to almost half the density of non-whipped fillings to create excellent mouthfeel and meltaway with no waxy aftertaste. It also has bloom-resistant capabilities. The company says it offers a reduced guilt experience that still allows consumers to satisfy their confectionery cravings.

“Aeration is a really interesting technology. It creates a mousse-like texture,” said Zach Freed, AAK’s application specialist for confections. He added that the formula also resists bloom.

AAK also featured a chocolate hazelnut butter spread during IFT, which was made with the company’s EsSence 86-33 NH blend of palm, palm kernel and canola oils. The decadent chocolate hazelnut butter spread won’t oil out and will stay silky smooth for months because EsSence 86-33 significantly reduces oil seepage to provide higher quality products with longer shelf life. 

The oil can also be used in products like natural peanut butter to prevent the oil separation, Freed said.

ADM also offers creative solutions. The ingredient supplier has one of the largest edible oil portfolios in the industry, offering corn oil, cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, canola oil, soybean oil — including high oleic soybean oil — flaxseed oil, palm oil, coconut oil and more.

The company’s experts, Michelle Peitz, technical sales, refined oils and oilseeds; and John Powers, director of marketing, ADM Nutrition, shared their insights into the sector.

One of the suppliers most notable solutions is its enzymatic interesterification, which makes it possible to offer customers greater functionality of fat systems in the confectionery space.

“For instance, we can create vegetable fat options with sharp melting profiles through interesterification of lauric fats and blends with different oils,” they said. “We are continuing to innovate and introduce new interesterified solutions with targeted melting points to expand the realm of possibility in confectionery formulations.”

Peitz and Powers said consumers are seeking better-for-you options, even for indulgences. But even just adding in health-signaling ingredients such as probiotics, antioxidants and botanical extracts can come with challenges. They all can greatly impact formulations for confections that are rich in dairy.

And functionality like solid fat content, melt points and crystal behavior can change with different fat sources and pose challenges, particularly when developing candies and chocolates.

"Challenges in confectionery and chocolate formulation can also differ regionally," Peitz and Powers said. "For instance, when creating new chocolate products in the United States, formulations can be even more challenging because of the standard of identity for chocolate. Each region of the world has different labeling regulations."

Creating clean labels

Health and wellness trends also have inspired many consumers to seek out clean-label options.

Peitz and Powers said virtually all food and beverage categories are affected by the increased demand for clean labels.

“While clean label does not have a single definition, most consumers associate the term with products containing a short list of recognizable, close-to-nature ingredients, free from additives and artificial colors and flavors,” they explained. “When it comes to fats and oils in the confectionery space, a clean label can apply to a variety of options. Commonly used oils for clean labels include coconut, palm kernel and palm oil. These come from a singular source and allow for brands to offer straightforward labeling.”

However, options like coconut oil, which is used extensively in the candy industry, can pose formulating challenges.

“It does not have the functional attributes of a standard all-purpose shortening. Coconut oil is solid at room temperature and melts easily at low temperatures, which may not be ideal for certain applications,” Peitz and Powers said.

ADM offers coconut oils that have been created to provide different melting profiles that broaden application possibilities.

“Our custom oil and fat blends, as well as interesterification capabilities, can provide improved functionality while accounting for careful processing conditions that some confectionery items may require,” they explained.