Elimination of trans fats as well as improved functional capabilities dominate cocoa butter alternatives’ development. 

By Carla Zanetos Scully

Health and nutrition continue to be on the minds of consumers. That’s why fats and oils suppliers are continually developing products that have lower saturates and no trans fatty acids.      

“Manufacturers continue to look for new confectionery fats that have a reduced saturated fatty-acid content, but still provide the structure and melting characteristics consumers desire in a confectionery coating,” says Adam Lechter, product services and development manager at ADM Cocoa.      

Noting the interest in sugar reduction as well, Lechter says, “ADM Cocoa has made formula and process changes to meet these requirements, such as utilizing different sweeteners, fat and emulsifier systems that can help achieve these requirements.” 

The Milwaukee-based company uses palm kernel-based oils as the predominant confectionery fat because of the low trans fats and its ability to mimic the melting profile of cocoa butter.      

The level of trans fats in cocoa butter alternatives (CBAs) remain a big issue, says Rick Schwartz, technical service manager at Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate. 

“More and more companies are asking for it and requiring it,” he says. “Most companies require both no trans and no hydrogenated fats or oils in their products. (So) it is a growing market.”      

“With regards to CBAs, the emphasis has been on cocoa butter substitutes using fractionated blends of palm kernel and palm oil that have a steep melting point,” he adds. “This combination meets the no trans and no hydrogenated requirements but still have slight performance issues - shine, gloss and release from the mold - when compared to blends of fractionated palm kernel oil and hydrogenated palm.”      

Ed Wilson, AAK’s v.p. of sales and marketing, sees gradual acceptance of cocoa butter equivalents (CBEs) when pure chocolate is not the main selling point. “I see this continuing if cocoa butter prices stay at these levels or climb even higher,” he adds.      

Another factor, Wilson notes, is the ability of CABs to acclimate to warmer climates or even poor distribution issues. 

“Real chocolate couldn’t stand up to the rough distribution streams in food and drug chains,” he says, noting the higher and fluctuating temperatures can be minimized a bit with CBAs.      

“We have seen a general trend toward using compound coatings as a way to reduce the cost in many applications that historically utilized chocolate,” adds Lechter, of ADM. 

“However, consumers still look for the flavor and mouth-feel of milk chocolate and bittersweet chocolate, and manufacturers prefer to label products as such, according to the Standards of Identity; something that the use of CBAs does not permit.”        

Cocoa butter replacers (CBRs) have more tolerance for real chocolate, says Ed Finchum, director of quality assurance for Anthony-Thomas Candy Co., Columbus, Ohio, but don’t the same mouth feel and are waxy. CBSs have a good melting profile, he notes, but aren’t tolerant with the cocoa butter and can bloom faster.      

CBEs are most capable of cocoa butter-like hardness at room temperature, yet provide that melt-in-your-mouth feel similar to cocoa butter because they are made from fat similar to cocoa butter, which needs to be tempered like real chocolate, continues Finchum. They are also compatible with real chocolate, unlike CBSs, and can be called chocolate in some parts of the world, but not in the United States. 

But as Bill Dyer, of Blommer Chocolate Co., of Chicago, will attest, no CBA will compare with real chocolate. Yet he acknowledges there is a place for compound coatings, for instance, in the health food segment. Nutrition bars with compound coatings can load up on fiber and protein, Dyer notes, whereas you can not add these to real chocolate because of the U.S. Standards of Identity for chocolate.      

Blommer has recently created a butterscotch-flavored coating and a caramel-flavored coating. “It’s a big challenge to deliver a caramel or butterscotch flavor,” Dyer continues. “They’re always associated with water-based products and chocolate and compounds have zero water. So, we mimic their flavor from a water-based application to an oil-based application.”      

And even though there is the same challenge with fruit flavors, Blommer has come up with a lemon-, strawberry- and orange- flavored compounds. “People are always looking for something new,” Dyer says.      

Another area of interest, according to AAK’s Wilson, is with filling fats. One reasons, he says, is due to substituting current filling fats for more compatible blends. Other reasons include delivering a more powerful flavor component and increasing shelf life.     

“Many new products in this category have been developed with nutritional parameters in mind as well, meaning non hydro, zero trans, and in some cases, low saturates as well,” Wilson adds.      

Seven different premium filling fats have come out of this interest, from AAK, under the Confao and EsSence names, each tailored to specific applications. All have no trans fats and no hydrogenation. The EsSence brand is also lower in saturated fats to give customers the “good-for-you” foods they want.      

Where manufacturers may choose to use Confao for their boxed chocolate fillings or truffles, Wilson notes other companies may choose EsSence for its nutritional profile in snack products. He also says the Confao has more functional attributes, specifically it is more capable of becoming solid and holding more structure.      

“Vegetable oil suppliers, especially those with a wide product range, have done an excellent job for the most part in developing a great number of fat systems from a lot of different raw materials for many food applications,” adds Anthony-Thomas’s Finchum. “There are many different CBS, CBR, CBE and filling fat systems out there so end users can find many alternatives depending on the advantages and disadvantages of each particular fat system that ultimately suit their particular application.”      

“It’s not as much of an issue in the candy industry as in other industries,” he continues. Even CBAs with trans fats would be added at such low levels that it wouldn’t provide enough trans fats to be an issue, he notes, because it would be lower than the 0.5 grams per serving required to be contained in the nutritional profile.       

“Candy is candy,” adds Dyer, noting there may be too much emphasis on it being nutritious. “It’s an indulgence product. It’s supposed to give you pleasure.”