Chocolate inclusions bring premium and novelty appeal to burnt-out consumers
15 Feb 2022 --- Inclusions in chocolate are appealing to adventure-hungry consumers who are looking for new experiences in their F&B. Industry experts tell FoodIngredientsFirst how novel textures help to add a premium appeal, while international inspiration is creating unusual twists.
“Inclusions like almonds can be used to improve a chocolate product’s flavor, texture, aesthetic appearance or nutrition appeal,” emphasizes Harbinder Maan, associate director of trade marketing and stewardship at the Almond Board of California (ABC).
“Inclusions enable to live multisensorial experiences and help to imagine new texturized concepts,” adds Christophe Vicente, pastry chef at Prova and responsible for Prova’s atelier.
Maan notes that consumers are hungry for new F&B experiences, especially when it comes to the world of chocolate and confectionery.
According to Innova Market Insights, one in two global consumers agree that in a world post-COVID-19, they’d like to be more adventurous with their food and beverage choices, especially when it comes to adventure in indulgent flavors, textures and format combinations.
“With forms like almond pieces, almond butter and almond paste, it’s possible to achieve exciting and satisfying textures and tastes – while allowing additional flavors to shine,” says Maan.
Achieving crunchy or soft textures
Vicente gives further examples of inclusions that provide a crunchy texture, like nuts, cookies, nougatine, meringue and honeycomb, as well as crystallized flower petals, and even crispy freeze-dried yogurt or honey.
Meanwhile, soft textures can also be obtained with chunks of pastries like brownie, or also candied or dried fruits. Regarding the gelatinous texture, it can be brought by jellybeans or marshmallows.
Adding in confectionery items like cookie pieces or flakes of sea salt can add a layer of depth to chocolate, enhancing the mouthfeel and flavor sensations, chimes in Wouter Stomph, head of cocoa product development and innovation at Olam Food Ingredients (OFI).
“A wide variety of possible inclusions means they can appeal to many consumers, but in general we see the greatest acceptance with the more fun-loving, experimental segment,” he continues.
Taking different applications into account
Frank Graban, global key account manager gourmet and distribution at Cargill, emphasizes that the role that inclusions play is highly dependent on application. “The goal of an inclusion in a chocolate bar will be quite different than a bowl of cereal with chocolate inclusions.”
Additionally, a smaller muffin may be better suited to a smaller chip size, while a high-speed bakery lends itself well to chocolate chips with dextrose, which can help mitigate packaging smearing.
However, when it comes to the gourmet chocolate business, there is more of a focus on indulgence and creating a unique experience. The visual appearance, taste and texture of the product are far more important than the health properties of the inclusions. The more appealing the product, the better.
Bringing premium appeal
Graban continues that inclusions can also have a huge influence on how consumers perceive a product. For example, in baked treats, irregular cut chunks imply an artisan’s touch, while a classic morsel offers a more traditional, familiar appeal.
Maan adds that inclusions appeal to a variety of consumers who want an elevated and indulgent confectionery experience, as they complement luxurious flavors and textures.
Vicente agrees that chocolate with multiple textures and flavors is also associated with the premium space.
“This positioning can be reinforced thanks to salt crystals, like pink Himalayan salt, French salt from Guérande, or also black Hawaiian lava sea salt. Beyond chocolates with salt crystals inclusions, there are some sweet and savory mixes. At Prova, we call this trend ‘Swavory.’”
A host of R&D considerations
However, inclusions bring with them a host of R&D considerations. “From a technical perspective adding inclusions can be extremely challenging. Compatibility of the inclusion with the chocolate matrix is key, especially when working with plant-derived inclusions, as you must ensure to maintain consistency over time,” says Stomph.
For example, it is important that freeze-dried fruit pieces do not taste different from season to season.
Vicente adds that hygroscopy can be another challenge. Some ingredients absorb moisture, like caramel, biscuit or sparkling sugar. To prevent them from being humidified, it is better to coat them with some fat, such as cocoa butter.
Similarly, completely embedding inclusions into the chocolate mass is a good way to protect them from moisture, he advises.
No sinking feeling
It is also important to take fluidity into account to allow the inclusions to be evenly dispersed into the finished product. “When inclusions are too dense, there is a risk that they sink to the bottom of the chocolate,” Vicente notes.
Graban also encounters cereal producers who have issues with chocolate pieces sinking to the bottom of the box.
Therefore, Cargill provides aerated products to prevent the chocolate from sinking to the bottom of the box. This way, the chocolate is spread through the cereal bag, and everyone at the table will have some chocolate pieces.
Another challenge when baking with chocolate inclusions is the potential of burning the chocolate, particularly when the chocolate inclusions are placed on top of baked goods. To minimize this, Cargill makes specific recipes that make the chocolate bake-stable so that no burning effects will occur.
“In truth, we love challenges because that pushes us to find new solutions – like creating a chocolate that can withstand heat. A challenge to be sure, but our chocolate engineers are always excited to push the boundaries of innovation,” highlights Graban.
Kévin Bangratz, marketing researcher at Prova, highlights how embracing technology can move the chocolate sector ahead.
For example, AI can help businesses know more about future trends regarding texture inclusions or flavor pairings. “This is illustrated by the business intelligence company Foodpairing, which uses data science and algorithms to predict upcoming flavor associations,” he states.
He also flags the potential of cellular agriculture for producing chocolate. Notably, the US start-up California Cultured is aiming to make lab-grown cocoa and chocolate.
“It would be interesting to see how lab-grown cocoa impacts the taste of the chocolate, and also what types of flavors and inclusions could go into the final products,” says Bangratz.
Nostalgic choices in demand
Businesses must put themselves in consumers’ shoes to determine the most appropriate inclusions for a specific target.
For example, inclusions of gummies, marshmallows, meringues or cookies are appropriate for a child or teen target, notes Vicente. On the contrary, coffee, cocoa nibs or pretzels are more suitable for adults.
However, nostalgic options like combining popping sugar with a cotton candy taste can bring back childhood memories, thus appealing across the board, he continues.
Stomph also observes consumers hankering after treats that remind them of happy childhood memories, such as the US favorite – s’mores.
“Other popular inclusions for chocolate are also coming in the form of incorporating confectionery and bakery ingredients such as candy, marshmallows or savory cracker pieces into chocolate to create a more indulgent sensory experience.”
A worldwide outlook
Geographic area is also a key determiner of preference. Within Europe, for example, OFI is seeing rising demand for alcohol-flavored luxury chocolates, such as Irish gin and champagne truffles.
Across Europe and North America, ingredients from Asia such as matcha and green tea are also becoming more widely adopted in recipes, notes Stomph.
Meanwhile, in Asia, chocolatiers are playing with flavor “like never before,” combining cocoa with new and surprising ingredients.
From aromatic and botanical ingredients to flowers like rose and lavender and even tea, artisans are discovering new pairings for cocoa that draw out the best of its flavor, observes Stomp.
“Other popular inclusions we’ve been seeing are freeze-dried raspberries paired with a fruity cocoa and matching a more earthy cocoa with spices like ginger or turmeric, to help enhance flavor,” he explains.
Looking ahead, he anticipates that inclusions in chocolate will become bigger, bolder and more widespread as consumer tastes evolve and nations become more economically prosperous.
“However, it remains to be seen as to whether these novelty ingredients will be a temporary fad or have long-term staying power with consumers,” Stomph concludes.
By Katherine Durrell
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