Meet Roger Aidoo - food scientist and expert in sugar reduction

Roger Aidoo is head of Bayn studio - our innovation centre in Gävle. He has a great interest and deep knowledge of cocoa, chocolate making and sugar reduction. His interest has brought him from the cocoa-producing homeland of Ghana in West Africa to the quality chocolate homeland of Belgium, where he took his PhD, and then on to the sugar reduction domicile in Gävle.

17 January 2020 •

Our heroes. That is what we call our col­leagues, who work with research and devel­op­ment of our sweet­ened fibres. It is their knowl­edge, expe­ri­ence and dili­gent work that makes Bayn the lead­ing sup­pli­er of sweet­ened fibres. And these peo­ple are the ones that help you choose the right sweet­ened fibres, and fine-tunes the com­po­si­tion for your appli­ca­tion, or cre­ate your own solu­tion for sug­ar reduc­tion. Although they are heroes, they are rarely seen and heard. We should rem­e­dy that. In a series of arti­cles, you get to meet our heroes.

Roger Aidoo grew up in Ghana in West Africa, the home­land of cocoa. During his stud­ies, he became so inter­est­ed in how the bit­ter beans can be trans­formed into tasty choco­late that he took a PhD in Applied Biological Sciences at Ghent University in Belgium. He now lives and works in Gävle, where he leads the research and devel­op­ment busi­ness at our inno­va­tion cen­tre. Meet Dr Roger Aidoo.

How did you get into cocoa and chocolate?

When I start­ed study­ing, I chose nutri­tion and food sci­ence at the University of Ghana. During the stud­ies, I learned what dif­fer­ent foods con­sist of and how foods are pro­duced safe­ly. Studies in chem­istry, phys­i­ol­o­gy, micro­bi­ol­o­gy, cell biol­o­gy and immunol­o­gy pro­vid­ed a sol­id basis for under­stand­ing the com­plex­i­ty of dif­fer­ent types of food.

Ghana is known for its cocoa beans. The qual­i­ty is by far the best in the world, and dur­ing my stud­ies, I focused on cocoa and also got the oppor­tu­ni­ty to work as a pro­duc­tion man­ag­er for a com­pa­ny that exports local foods from Ghana to the UK. My inter­est in cocoa and choco­late prod­ucts grew.

How did you move on?

After com­plet­ing my stud­ies, I con­tin­ued at an advanced lev­el and did my mas­ters in food tech­nol­o­gy at Ghent University in Belgium. During the master’s pro­gram, I gained knowl­edge about the pro­duc­tion of high-qual­i­ty choco­late, which Belgium is known for. The pro­gram was bien­ni­al, and when I was done, I went back to Ghana. There I worked as a research assis­tant for var­i­ous professors.

But then a PhD posi­tion showed up at my for­mer uni­ver­si­ty in Belgium. I applied and got the position.

What did you focus on, during your PhD position?

Now I could focus on cocoa and choco­late again. In the mean­time, I had realised that Ghana has cocoa beans, but lit­tle knowl­edge of choco­late. In Europe, the sit­u­a­tion is reversed: Here, you can make qual­i­ty choco­late, but do not have much knowl­edge about cocoa.

I want­ed to apply these two oppo­sites in my research, to devel­op choco­late of the high­est qual­i­ty. It is a stan­dard pro­ce­dure to mix cocoa beans from dif­fer­ent coun­tries. Cocoa from Ghana is rel­a­tive­ly expen­sive, and it is blend­ed with low­er grades, at a low­er price.

In my stud­ies, I only used cocoa from Ghana and did my research around the oth­er ingre­di­ents that are includ­ed in choco­late mak­ing. In oth­er words, I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to com­bine my knowl­edge from both Ghana and Belgium.

When did sugar reduction come into the picture?

During this time, sug­ar reduc­tion began to rise in inter­est. People in the busi­ness showed inter­est in ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides, which are found in the ste­via leaf. I became inter­est­ed myself and start­ed my research on ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides as a sweet­en­er for chocolate.

At that time, poly­ols were main­ly used as sweet­en­ers in choco­late. Around 2010–2011, I found choco­late sweet­ened with malti­tol and ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides. The choco­late tast­ed… ter­ri­ble. We want­ed to reduce sug­ar, but with bet­ter alternatives.

How did you go about it?

I stud­ied alter­na­tive sug­ar reduc­ing solu­tions and wrote a sci­en­tif­ic arti­cle about it (down­load it as a pdf). We tried to find alter­na­tive com­bi­na­tions that would work in choco­late, and which would taste and give the same expe­ri­ence as added sug­ar. We did this by using ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides, but they were so new to the mar­ket, that we didn’t know how to use them as the main ingredient.

We dis­cussed what we would add to get a sug­ary taste and expe­ri­ence. Our ideas began to revolve around dif­fer­ent fibres and poly­ols. We test­ed inulin and poly­dex­trose, which can be used as a sup­ple­ment to sug­ar in foods, with­out pro­vid­ing the cor­re­spond­ing ener­gy. This com­bi­na­tion became the basis for our sweetening.

Is this when Bayn comes into the picture?

Yes. It was now that I came in con­tact with Sweden. At this time, dif­fer­ent types of ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides were on the mar­ket. The raw mate­r­i­al came from dif­fer­ent vari­ants of the stevia’s leaves, and the after­taste dif­fered from sup­pli­er to sup­pli­er. We want­ed to use Reb A, with as lit­tle bit­ter after­taste as pos­si­ble, and review, which prod­uct worked best in choco­late. We were look­ing for the best suppliers.

Bayn’s ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides were one of the prod­ucts we test­ed. In our research and in our stud­ies, Bayn’s ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides proved to have the absolute best and purest taste. We decid­ed to use them.

How did the contact continue?

When the study was almost com­plete, Bayn got in touch with me. They want­ed to set up more projects, but at that time, the com­pa­ny was not finan­cial­ly sta­ble enough. But they want­ed to expand the research and devel­op­ment team, and I was almost done with my PhD in Applied Biological Sciences.

At this point, Bayn want­ed to move on to appli­ca­tions and not just focus on ste­via. Food pro­duc­ers did not know how to use ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides. We made some pro­to­types to teach how to use ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides in products.

Then Bayn popped the ques­tion: Do you want to join our team? It fit my plan.

I was now inter­est­ed in sug­ar reduc­tion, and it had also devel­oped into a trend in the food indus­try. Instead of just work­ing with choco­late, I could broad­en my knowl­edge. I came to Sweden to research and assist with my knowl­edge. Now I have worked and lived in Sweden for five years.

How does a working day at Bayn in Gävle look like?

Today I am still work­ing with choco­late, but also with con­fec­tionery and baked prod­ucts, and I also spe­cial­ize in grain. In the team, we have dif­fer­ent skills and can share ideas.

On a nor­mal day, I work on devel­op­ing dif­fer­ent prod­ucts. Often we get requests from cus­tomers who want to reduce sug­ar in their prod­ucts. We use dif­fer­ent ingre­di­ents, test sweet­ness, and in spe­cif­ic prod­ucts, we are test­ing dif­fer­ent types of fibres.

What challenges do you have to solve?

The main ques­tion is how we can reduce sug­ar and find dif­fer­ent alter­na­tives and com­bi­na­tions of sweet­ness and fibre to reach a sug­ar ref­er­ence. Sometimes I work with desk-based research to see what’s going on and to eval­u­ate products.

You lecture too?

Yes. My aca­d­e­m­ic back­ground does often lead to invi­ta­tions by Uppsala University, as a lec­tur­er on sug­ar reduc­tion. I am invit­ed to con­fer­ences to lec­ture on choco­late and on my research. It also hap­pens that I review pub­li­ca­tions on chocolate.

I have a lot to, do and the work is evolv­ing. I enjoy it.

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