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Chocolate with less sugar still tastes great with a secret ingredient

For chocolate lovers seeking to indulge in their favorite treat with less guilt, a recent study discovered that oat flour can be used to create delicious chocolate with 25% less added sugar, without compromising on taste or texture.

This innovative approach from Penn State researchers offers a promising avenue for reducing sugar content in chocolate, aligning with growing consumer demand for healthier indulgences.

Less sugar, more flavorful chocolate

John Hayes, a professor of food science at Penn State and the study’s corresponding author, emphasized the significance of their findings.

We were able to show that there is a range in which you can manage a sizable reduction in added sugar and people won’t notice and don’t care, in terms of liking,” said Hayes.

“We’re never going to make chocolate healthy, because it’s an indulgence, but we can successfully take out some of the sugar for consumers who are trying to reduce their intake of added sugars.”

The challenge in reducing sugar content lies in the fact that chocolate is typically composed of half sugar by weight, along with fat and cocoa solids.

Gregory Ziegler, another distinguished professor of food science at Penn State and co-author of the study, pointed out that sugar serves dual roles in chocolate: providing sweetness and contributing to its bulk.

Removing sugar necessitates a suitable substitute to maintain the desired qualities of chocolate.

“The function of sugar in chocolate is both sweetness and bulking, so if we take that sugar out, we have to put something else in that will do the job just as well, or consumers will notice,” Ziegler explained.

Behind the science: Tasting the difference

The researchers explored using fine granular starches from two different grains, rice and oats, as potential sugar replacements in chocolate.

Although these starches do not lower the calorie count, since they are carbohydrates that eventually break down into sugar, they do offer a slower absorption rate and a notable reduction in added sugar content.

In their investigation, the team conducted two separate blind taste tests. The first test involved 66 participants sampling six varieties of dark chocolate, including a control with a normal sugar level, four sugar-reduced versions using oat or rice flour, and one with reduced refining time.

The 25% sugar-reduced chocolates and those with reduced refining time were rated similarly to the control, whereas chocolates with a 50% sugar reduction were perceived differently, mainly due to texture differences.

The second taste test, with 90 participants, focused on comparing 25% sugar-reduced chocolates made with oat and rice flours to regular chocolate.

Replacing the sugar in chocolate with oat flour

The results were telling: chocolates with rice flour were less favored due to their texture, but those made with oat flour were equally, if not more, appreciated than the control.

“Our results suggest we can cut back 25% of added sugar to chocolate, effectively reducing the total sugar by 13.5%, if we substitute oat flour,” said Kai Kai Ma, a doctoral candidate in food science at Penn State and co-author on the paper.

“That addition of oat flour is unlikely to meaningfully impact consumer acceptability, which is great news.”

Hayes, who also directs Penn State’s Sensory Evaluation Center, shared his intentions to collaborate with industry professionals to introduce sugar-reduced chocolates using oat flour. His approach is rooted in practicality and consumer preference.

“I’m a big believer in meeting consumers where they are. We’ve tried for 40 years to tell people to eat less sugar and it doesn’t work because people want to eat what they want to eat,” said Hayes.

“So instead of making people feel guilty, we need to meet people where they are and figure out how to make food better while still preserving the pleasure from food.”

Sweet future: Paving the way for healthier treats

In summary, Penn State’s fascinating study marks a significant leap forward in the quest for healthier indulgences, demonstrating that oat flour can effectively reduce the added sugar content in chocolate by 25% without compromising taste or texture.

This innovation caters to the growing consumer demand for healthier options and expands horizons for the chocolate industry to explore sugar-reduced varieties.

By embracing oat flour as a viable substitute, the study paves the way for a future where chocolate lovers can indulge in their favorite treat with less guilt, aligning indulgence with a healthier lifestyle.

The full study was published in the Journal of Food Science.


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