Chocolate reigns king as the flavor of choice among consumers. Despite the best intentions of the food police, chocolate entices its way into the top spot with its obvious charm.

“There will always be a demand for indulgent and premium bakery products,” said Courtney LeDrew, cocoa and chocolate marketing manager, Cargill, Minneapolis. “As an affordable luxury, premium bakery items are one way for consumers to treat themselves.”

Chocolate perseveres through the health trends because it in itself carries some better-for-you benefits and is so conducive to added nutrients. And this once politically incorrect ingredient is jumping on the sustainability bandwagon with gusto as major chocolate suppliers develop programs to aid cocoa farmers in farming sustainably and fairly (see “ ‘Do good’ cocoa”). Nothing, not even the obesity epidemic, seems capable of toppling this king of flavors.

Draped in decadence

The idea of indulgence has evolved in recent years, but chocolate remains a key player. Americans are experimenting, wanting to combine flavors never thought to pair well such as sweet with savory, for example, the recent trend of adding bacon and salted caramel to everything in sight. Chocolate has not escaped this trend and in some ways benefitted. Incorporating chocolate into a food, no matter how mundane, will raise it to decadent. Specifically in the bakery category, Emily Villette, product manager for the Real Chocolate Business Unit, Puratos Group, Cherry Hill, NJ, sees a dominance of chocolate and cocoa flavors, and this prevalence continues to increase.

“Chocolate is used to elevate the appearance of a finished product or add different texture components or flavor,” Ms. Villette said. “A lot of products that traditionally were not made with chocolate now have a chocolate variety.” She has seen combinations of fruit with chocolate in bakery items such as panetone with strawberry and chocolate as well as chocolate decorations on cakes and croissants and shortbread dipped in chocolate.

The National Confectioners Association’s 2009 Trend Report surveyed 40 industry experts who pointed to consumer interest in chocolate flavored with spices, salts, herbs and floral essences, particularly ones with an ethnic flair. Sweet-and-savory also is heavily on the minds of shoppers — pairings like chocolate with cheese. Chocolate in its many forms is being seen in BBQ sauces, rubs and spice blends, carving out a new frontier for the ingredient and proving that innovative possibilities are endless in the bakery and snack categories.

“Consumers are experience-driven; they’re willing to try new things, and they actively seek out exciting and intense flavor pairings and new textures,” Ms. LeDrew observed. This desire for sensory experience provides an opportunity for chocolate innovators.

ADM Cocoa, Milwaukee, WI, focuses its new chocolate ingredients on fulfilling this desire for sensory experience with products that use more intense and indulgent cocoa flavors, even more vibrant colors, according to Adam Lechter, director of product services and development for the company. The company recently expanded its deZaan brand. The line includes an extra-dark black cocoa powder known as deZaan E11EB and the Fresco Cacao range featuring deZaan F11FR, a fruity non-bitter cocoa powder suited to yogurt and fresh fruit applications.

As a part of the line expansion, the company launched deZaan D11SQ cocoa powder having an intense cocoa and chocolaty taste with a complementing dark brown color. “ADM Cocoa has developed these products to meet rising consumer demand for a more intense, indulgent cocoa and chocolate experience,” Mr. Lechter said.

Puratos’ Origin product line tailors cocoa by selecting and combining chocolates from various places around the world with specific flavors. “By selecting cocoa beans that are very different from each other, we can offer a distinct choice of chocolates that reflect the difference of the regions where cocoa is grown and allow differentiation in chocolate applications,” Ms. Villette said.

Coated with nutrition

When it comes to health and nutrition, chocolate wins on all sides. Chocolate brings to the table its own antioxidant power, which consumers find appealing. It is also a source of vitamin A and minerals such as magnesium, calcium and iron. Clinical studies show that cocoa and dark chocolate can decrease blood pressure and the risk of heart attack and stroke.

“Nutritive claims are important because consumers want to be able to indulge while doing something good for their health,” Ms. LeDrew said.

Despite these benefits, chocolate is high in fat and sugar. With obesity and related chronic illnesses such as diabetes on the rise, demand for sugar-free chocolate to use in sugar-free baked goods persists.

“There continues to be demand for sugar-free products on the baking side,” said Tom Parady, associate program coordinator, Roquette America, Geneva, IL. “There is a fairly good bit of business in the area of sugar-free chocolate chips for sugar-free cookies.”

Mr. Parady attributes this demand to the ­diabetic community, and Roquette’s answer has been its SweetPearl maltitol that helps chocolate suppliers replace the sugar in chocolate on a 1:1 basis. Mr. Parady said bakers don’t need to worry about the sensory qualities of chocolate made with SweetPearl straying far from chocolate containing sugar.

“Generally speaking, the sugar-free products won’t behave much differently than their sugar counterparts in most applications,” he indicated. “In the case of ­chocolate chips, you might be able to get a little benefit from ­adjusting your baking conditions. We’ve seen that you get a little better texture in cookies using a higher baking temperature and shorter time.”

Looking for alternative sweeteners to sugar, Barry Callebaut, Chicago, has sweetened its chocolate with stevia extract, which replaces the refined sugar and contains zero calories per g while maintaining taste and texture.

The company also sweetens chocolate in its Sweet by Fruits line with all-natural sugars from fruits such as apples or grapes. This makes the chocolate sweet without the added refined sugar or artificial sweeteners, and the fruit sugar does not compromise taste. 

While some chocolate suppliers may be removing sugar, others are adding protein. Chocolate hides unwanted flavors that can show up when formulators add protein or fiber to the mix.

“Chocolate offers a great way to mask the flavors of added nutrients,” Ms. LeDrew said. “As a result, there are many opportunities for innovative fortified confectionery coatings that will help contribute to a nutrient content claim for protein.”

She also noted that fiber-fortified confectionary coatings have also been showing up, but protein seems to be the trend gaining momentum. 

“Protein is gaining interest, and it is at the convergence of a number of trends including healthy snacking, weight management, sports nutrition and producing food targeted toward aging adults in the US,” she said. “Protein products have now become applicable to a wide audience from aging baby boomers and individuals trying to maintain or lose weight, to athletes and anyone seeking products that keep them fuller longer.”

Cargill developed a number of chocolate ingredients that pair cocoa with protein under its Wilbur brand. The company formulated Wilbur Y854 cocoa confectionary protein wafers and Y855 milk confectionery protein wafers with 20% total protein. The company even developed white chocolate protein drops, Wilbur 7938, which are formulated with 10% total protein while still meeting the Standard of Identity for white chocolate. Wilbur Y958 cocoa confectionery protein drops are formulated with 25% total protein. Ms. LeDrew said all these products can be incorporated into snack bars for added protein while the drops can be used in cookies, muffins, breads and any other bakery application.

Bakers and snack makers may want to reinvent their products by dipping them in a pool of chocolate or a quick drizzle for a garnish. Larger-than-life chocolate inclusions and rich coatings take desserts, breakfast foods and snacks to the next level while promoting antioxidant benefits or added protein or fiber. Chocolate ingredients provide bakers and snack makers the bridge between affordable indulgences and strict nutrition standards.