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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