Demand for premium real chocolate — whether alone or in baked foods, snack mixes, frozen desserts or other foods — is at an all-time high. Thanks to increased consumer awareness of the health benefits of flavonoid-rich cocoa and artisan producers raising awareness of sustainable cocoa bean farming programs, chocolate is in the spotlight.

Sometimes, however, real chocolate does not make economical or functional sense in formulations, and instead, compounds or coatings are used. These chocolate-like ingredients provide suppliers flexibility in formulation, which enables bakers to get more creative in product innovation. Choosing between the real and compound varieties can be a challenge.


Layers of understanding

Chocolate is derived from the cocoa plant. In the United States, the Code of Federal Regulations defines three basic types of chocolate: dark, milk and white. The law mandates that milk and dark chocolates must contain chocolate liquor, while all three must be made with cocoa butter. The regulations are very specific regarding the other optional ingredients — sugar, milk/whey solids, flavoring and emulsifiers — that may be included in each of the three types of real chocolate.

“While compounds resemble and deliver the sensory properties of chocolate, they do not meet the standards of identity for chocolate products,” said Marret Arfsten, cocoa and chocolate, product line and marketing leader, Cargill.

Barry Callebaut recently brought to market ruby chocolate, which the company described as the “fourth” chocolate. Introduced in September 2017, ruby chocolate has a berry-type fruit flavor and reddish color from the ruby cocoa beans from which it is derived. It took many years for Barry Callebaut to design a process that unlocked the ruby beans’ unique attributes. Already being used in Japan and South Korea, it will be some time before retail products launch in the United States, as the Food and Drug Administration has yet to issue a standard of identity for the new chocolate. It can, however, be used in retail bakeries and confection shops.

To better understand the varied tastes of real chocolate, Barry Callebaut introduced a sensory lexicon, which includes a chocolate sensory language and a tasting ritual. It was inspired by what exists for wine, coffee and craft beer categories.

“Containing more than 20,000 identifiable chemical compounds, cocoa is one of the most complex foodstuffs on earth,” said Pablo Perversi, chief innovation, quality and sustainability officer, Barry Callebaut. “The sensory language that we have developed for chocolate will allow consumers to share their passion for a specific chocolate taste much more accurately.”

Pairing cocoa and chocolate sensory research with consumer understanding, the company developed the “consumer chocolate sensory wheel” with 87 descriptors covering the flavor, texture and aroma. A tasting ritual requires the five senses — sight, touch, hearing, smell and taste — and enables professionals and consumers to discover new dimensions of the chocolate experience. This could also help compound manufacturers better replicate the desirable sensory attributes of real chocolate while providing improved functionality and a better nutrition profile.


Creating the compounds

The Code of Federal Regulations refers to compounds as “cocoa/chocolate and vegetable fat coatings.” The law specifies the minimum amount of cocoa or chocolate liquor required in the compound and allows for an array of optional ingredients, namely vegetable fats.

“The most significant difference between chocolate and compound is the fat,” said Zachary Freed, customer innovation applications specialist-confectionery, AAK. “In the U.S., cocoa butter is the only fat, outside of the milkfat in dairy ingredients, allowed in pure chocolate. In compounds, there are a variety of options, including, but not limited to, palm, palm kernel, soy, coconut and shea. These vegetable fats allow for a wide range of melt points and melting curves.”

Compounds still contain some cocoa butter, which is inherent to the cocoa ingredient. Additional cocoa butter is usually not added, as there are compatibility issues with cocoa butter and most of the vegetable fats used to make compounds. The addition of vegetable fats rather than cocoa butter typically makes compounds more cost-effective than chocolate in many applications.

Compounds may be designed to provide a better sensory experience than chocolate in snacks and baked foods, said James Jones, vice-president of customer innovation at AAK. Compound manufacturers can choose vegetable fats to create an ingredient that prevents moisture, flavor, color or fat migration, as well as attain specific melting properties.

“Since real chocolate contains cocoa butter, it needs to undergo a process of tempering to ensure a nice shine and snap,” said Jessica Blondeel, product manager for chocolate, Puratos Corp. “Tempering requires special labor or specific equipment, which is why real chocolate is not suited for every company to use. Since compound chocolate contains vegetable fats instead of cocoa butter, it does not need any tempering and can simply be melted and applied.”

Chocolate and compounds are processed differently, and this can impact sensory attributes.

“Real chocolate should be processed on a high-end, five-roll refiner to reduce the particle size and eliminate any grittiness,” Ms. Blondeel said.

In general, compounds are much more adaptable to baked goods and snack foods. That’s because there’s less limitation on added ingredients, and they can be designed for better compatibility with the product’s composition. This includes delivering a more intense flavor.

The standards of identity, for example, limit the flavoring ingredients that can be added to chocolate. Allowed ingredients include spices, natural and artificial flavorings, ground whole nut meats, ground coffee, dried malted cereal extract and salt. Also included are other seasonings that do not either singly, or in combination, impart a flavor that imitates the flavor of chocolate, milk or butter.

“Unlike chocolate, compounds may also contain flavors to enhance the chocolate or dairy flavor,” Mr. Freed said. “Such flavors are not allowed in real chocolate.”


New tastes and functions

Beyond chocolate and compounds, there’s a non-regulated category of ingredients generically referred to as fabricated particulates. Within this category, there are fat-based ingredients designed to resemble compounds without the required cocoa or chocolate liquor content. These ingredients provide the most flexibility in terms of innovation.

“Our lipid-based inclusions go beyond chocolate,” said Andrew Hart, technical sales manager for encapsulates and inclusions, SensoryEffects, a Balchem company. “They are designed to add a burst of flavor and visual appeal into any bakery item, whether it be a chocolate hazelnut-flavored inclusion in a muffin or a caramel chocolate piece for snack bars.”

Unlike chocolate, compounds and inclusions may be colored. This not only helps convey the added flavor, but also creates the opportunity for seasonal and limited-edition innovations, such as red and green chips for Christmas or blue ones for Hanukkah.

“Inclusions allow for drop-in versatility when developing new products,” Mr. Hart said. “They are ideal for limited-time offerings and short development turnarounds. They can be custom designed to fit your flavor, color and ingredient statement needs, something that chocolate cannot do.”