Don’t mess with perfection – we dive deep into the difficult art of making sugar free chocolate

Making sugar-free chocolate is a difficult challenge. Roger Aidoo, who has dedicated his life to sugar-free quality chocolate, knows this. He moved from Ghana to Belgium in search of the perfect solution. For the past few years, Roger is the chocolate expert and research leader at Bayn.

8 December 2020 •

Few things are as loved on this earth as choco­late. In Europe, we eat 5 kilos of choco­late per per­son each year. Experts go on choco­late tast­ing and dis­cuss the dif­fer­ence between Valrhona and Godiva. How can you improve what is already per­fect? What ingre­di­ents are opti­mal for mak­ing sug­ar-free choco­late as good as pos­si­ble? We’ll find out. But first, let’s find out more about choco­late and its history.

The history of chocolate

It is not easy to know how long cocoa trees have exist­ed, but they may have been cul­ti­vat­ed for 3,000 years in Mesoamerica’s first high culture.

The word cocoa comes from the cacáua of the Aztecs and cocoa came to Europe by the Spaniards. The Aztecs called their drink xoco­latl, which means ‘bit­ter water’. It has giv­en us the word chocolate.

The Aztecs con­sid­ered choco­late to be an aphro­disi­ac, a rumour that accom­pa­nied choco­late to Europe in the 16th cen­tu­ry. The drink quick­ly became pop­u­lar, and soon choco­late hous­es appeared in Holland, France, England and Italy, among oth­er places.


Discoveries and development

Chocolate was devel­oped dur­ing the 19th cen­tu­ry and new dis­cov­er­ies and prod­ucts saw the light of day.

The mod­ern choco­late was born in 1828 when the Dutch choco­late man­u­fac­tur­er Coenraad Johannes van Houten came up with the method of squeez­ing a large part of the cocoa bean fat into cocoa but­ter – and then grind­ing the remain­der into cocoa powder.

The mod­ern choco­late cake and pra­line was invent­ed in 1847 in England by the com­pa­ny Joseph Fry & Sons. There they mixed cocoa but­ter, sug­ar and cocoa into a mass that solid­i­fied. Voila, the choco­late cake was born.

In 1875, the Swiss Daniel Peter added con­densed milk (made by Mr Nestlé) and thus the milk choco­late was invented.

By the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry, large choco­late com­pa­nies had emerged and mass pro­duc­tion was in full swing. Surely names like Tobler, Nestlé and Lindt sound familiar?

Some people love chocolate, others dedicate their lives to it.

If any­one knows how to make good choco­late with­out sug­ar, it’s Roger Aidoo.

He was born in Ghana, one of the world’s most impor­tant pro­duc­ers of cocoa beans. He lat­er stud­ied nutri­tion and food sci­ence at uni­ver­si­ty and then moved to Belgium where he took a master’s degree in food technology.

– In Ghana, they know every­thing about cocoa beans, but not so much about choco­late. In Europe, much is known about choco­late mak­ing, but not much is known about cocoa beans. So I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to com­bine my knowl­edge from both Africa and Europe, says Roger Aidoo.

Around the year 2010, sug­ar reduc­tion began to come into play, but the sug­ar-free choco­late that exist­ed at that time was not good. Roger Aidoo decid­ed to cre­ate an opti­mal solu­tion to replace sug­ar in chocolate.

Roger Aidoo with full enthusiasm in the chocolate kitchen
Roger Aidoo with full enthu­si­asm in the choco­late kitchen.

The solution for sugar-free chocolate is completely natural

– Making sug­ar-free choco­late is dif­fi­cult, real­ly dif­fi­cult. What many don’t think about is that sug­ar is the main com­po­nent in choco­late. It adds not only sweet­ness but also tex­ture and bulk. Sugar is like the build­ing blocks of a house. If you remove them, every­thing falls apart, says Roger Aidoo.

So how to pro­ceed if you want to replace sug­ar in choco­late? Roger worked on that issue as a doc­tor­al stu­dent at his uni­ver­si­ty in Belgium. For those who want to delve into the sub­ject, there is one sci­en­tif­ic arti­cle that Roger Aidoo wrote about the top­ic (down­load pdf).

– First, you have to find some­thing that gives bulk to get the right tex­ture on the choco­late. It must not be too thick and not too thin. Sugar also con­tributes to the vis­cos­i­ty of the choco­late, which must be tak­en into account. The best bulk­ing agents I have found are inulin and poly­dex­trose or a com­bi­na­tion of both. There are oth­er fibres as well, but you will always find them togeth­er with one of these two, says Roger Aidoo.


What about sweetness?

When you have found a good bulk with a nice tex­ture, we come to sweet­ness. Here one must take into account that dif­fer­ent sweet­en­ers are cov­ered by dif­fer­ent rules in dif­fer­ent parts of the world. Some are not allowed every­where. Many sweet­en­ers also have a bit­ter after­taste or taste of liquorice.

– A com­mon way to reduce sug­ar in choco­late is to use sug­ar alco­hols, main­ly malti­tol. But some peo­ple are a lit­tle sen­si­tive to sug­ar alco­hols, it may cause flat­u­lence and bloat­ing. Therefore, you can’t use too much sug­ar alco­hols, just a pinch to bring up the sweet­ness. To real­ly get the sweet­ness up, you need a high-inten­si­ty sweet­en­er such as ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides, says Roger Aidoo.

Taste tests that impress

– Different pro­duc­ers have dif­fer­ent wish­es, and there­fore I don’t always use malti­tol but also oth­er sug­ar alco­hols such as ery­thri­tol or xyl­i­tol. However, the basic recipe con­sists of dietary fibres, sug­ar alco­hols and ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides, says Roger Aidoo.

– When we did taste tests where par­tic­i­pants got to taste choco­late with sug­ar and com­pared it with sug­ar-free choco­late, only 30 per cent could detect a dif­fer­ence, and many of them pre­ferred the choco­late with­out sug­ar. When we did tests where the par­tic­i­pants were only allowed to taste the sug­ar-free choco­late, very few could deter­mine that it was sug­ar-free, says Roger Aidoo.


How to make chocolate?

Wouldn’t you like to make your own choco­late? First, you trav­el to a coun­try where you will find cocoa trees. They thrive in warm cli­mates with a lot of rain.

The largest cocoa-pro­duc­ing coun­tries are Mexico, Brazil, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Cameroon, Malaysia and Indonesia. Of these coun­tries, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire pro­duce the most. They account for close to half of all world production.

When you have trav­elled to any coun­try and found a cocoa tree with yel­low fruits (then they are ripe), you open the cocoa fruit and pick out the seeds. These seeds are called cocoa beans.

The author him­self once had the priv­i­lege of doing just that. That time, they put the cocoa beans in their mouths and sucked in the good pulp around them, after which the cocoa beans were spat out on the ground.


Cocoa nibs

Pick up these pre­cious cocoa beans imme­di­ate­ly and leave them to fer­ment in the sun under a palm leaf for about a week. Then roast them at 100–150 degrees for between 20 and 40 minutes.

Crush the roast­ed cocoa beans and blow off the skins. What is left is called cocoa nibs.

A Tip! Cocoa nibs can be bought in stores if you want to jump straight to the next step in the process.

Mix the cocoa nibs into a cocoa mass. If you do this at home, you’re fin­ished by now. Mix with sug­ar and it’s done. If you own a fac­to­ry, go to the next step.

Set aside some of the cocoa mass. It may be as it is. The rest of the cocoa mass is fur­ther processed. It is fed into a press that squeezes out a large part of the fat. This fat is called cocoa but­ter. It is steamed in a vac­u­um so that it doesn’t taste bad.

Three ingredients

What is left of the cocoa mass is cooled and fine­ly ground into cocoa pow­der. What is left of the cocoa bean now are three ingre­di­ents: cocoa but­ter, cocoa pow­der and the part of the cocoa mass that you put aside.

Now you can final­ly cre­ate what we all long for: choco­late. In the sim­plest basic recipe, you mix cocoa mass and cocoa but­ter with sug­ar. Clear!

You can also add cocoa pow­der to reduce the amount of sug­ar and make the choco­late dark­er. Chocolate with 80 per cent cocoa con­tent and more, always comes with added cocoa pow­der. If you want to cre­ate milk choco­late, add milk pow­der. You get white choco­late by mix­ing cocoa but­ter and sug­ar (no cocoa mass) with milk powder.

From here, it is only the imag­i­na­tion that sets the limits.

Further reading!

Find out more about Roger Aidoo in the arti­cle series Bayn’s heroes. If you want to know more about the dif­fer­ent ingre­di­ents men­tioned in this arti­cle, we rec­om­mend the arti­cle series From Seed to Eureba and Sugar Reduction in Practice.

Enjoy the reading!

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