ETH Zürich researchers work with Koa on healthier profile chocolate

Specialists at the federal technology institute, ETH Zürich, in Switzerland, have worked on an innovative project with supported by Swiss-based cocoa brand, Koa, exploring production of whole-fruit chocolate with a healthier profile, writes Neill Barston.

As Confectionery Production has previously reported, the forward-thinking confectionery business has already made headlines for its successful use of traditionally discarded cocoa pulp as a sweetener in chocolate bars for Lindt, with the latest research taking its work even further.

At the heart of the latest ETH study, which also saw it work with Swiss chocolate manufacturer Felchin, researchers developed recipes that were reportedly considered more sustainable and nutritious than conventional ranges.

The core of the project uses a cocoa fruit jelly replacing sugar, while enhancing its nutritional value, with a considerable amount of research required in order to balance the flavours to ensure it was comparable to traditionally made product ranges.

Whereas conventional chocolate making uses purely the beans, the fresh research followed a path already explored by businesses including Koa and others, in seeing to make use of the pulp of the cocoa flesh, which typically leads to over 30% of cocoa fruits being wasted.

In making use of the pulp, farmers can create a valuable additional income sidestream, which will be particularly valuable at a point when many agricultural workers in the cocoa sector have faced major challenges with crop deficits, adverse weather conditions in West Africa, as well as the impact of crop disease and lack of affordable fertilisers have meant many within the industry have failed to earn a living income from conventional cocoa farming methods.

As the latest study noted, finding the right recipe balance required experimenting with how much fruit juice from the cocoa fruit to retain, to ensure the optimum level of sweetness.

Kim Mishra, the lead author of the Nature Food journal study, commented: “Conventional chocolate only makes use of the beans, but the researchers were able to use the flesh and parts of the fruit shell – or the endocarp, to use the field-specific term – for their cocoa-fruit chocolate recipe. They process it into powder and mix it with part of the pulp to form cocoa gel. This gel substance is extremely sweet and can replace the added powdered sugar that is normally part of the chocolate experience.

As well as reducing required sugar levels, the study recipes found that the use of cocoa gel as a sweetener, cocoa fruit chocolate also held a higher fibre content than many European dark chocolates, put at around 15 grams against 12 grams per 100g, with saturated fat also said to be cut to around 23grams compared against 30per cent in standard bars.

The ETH study concluded; “Although the high sugar and SFA content of chocolate confectionery and associated adverse effects on public health are well known, awareness of chocolate’s potentially high global warming potential is low.

“Consequently, there is an urgent need to transform the cocoa value chain addressing the nutritional and environmental problems while respecting the socio-economic boundary conditions. As shown, alternative chocolate value chains can help mitigate these issues that are inherent in the traditional cocoa value chain.

Our production technique efficiently exploits cocoa pod biomass by combining the endocarp and part of the pulp juice to create sweetening gels. Empirical evidence shows the effectiveness of these gels in reducing thickening effects when combined with cocoa mass.”

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