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Flexible refining of cocoa butter could boost chocolate quality: Study

1 commentBy Nathan Gray , 25-Jun-2012

Global decline in cocoa butter quality, coupled with growing demand for high quality cocoa butter mean that more robust but flexible refining technologies are required, say researchers.

The study – published in the Journal of Food Engineering – investigated the impact of the cocoa butter refining process on milk chocolate quality, finding that a ‘flexible’ process that involves the option of pre-treatment with silica and the ability to refine at varying temperatures could help to boost the quality of milk chocolate products.

The team, led by Nathalie De Clercq of Ghent University, Belgium, subjected a crude cocoa butter to a steam refining process at different temperatures, in addition to testing the effects of using silica pre-treatment.

Because cocoa butter forms the continuous phase of chocolate, it has a major influence on the quality of the final product, said the researchers.

“Therefore, it is crucial that the cocoa butter has an optimal quality,” they revealed. “Many processing steps precede the final cocoa butter pressing but it may still contain undesired components sometimes making it necessary to refine the product.

The team found that high temperatures used to refine the cocoa butter reduced the levels of free fatty acids – which in turn influenced the crystallisation process.

“By tuning the refining conditions (pre-treatment or no pre-treatment, temperature of the refining process) the cocoa butter properties could be manipulated to suit the desired chocolate properties,” they said.

“Reduction of free fatty acids positively influenced the crystallization kinetics and the formation of the crystal network, resulting in differences on a macroscopic scale.”

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Prior science

The described cocoa butter pretreatment and refining/deodorizing process has been known for decades. The method is regularly used/applied by specialty fats and oils processors to purify cocoa butter for their chocolate and confectionery manufacturing clients. High free fatty acids (FFA) and partial glycerides (mono and diglycerides) are the result of triglycerade (lipid/fat or oil) breakdown. FFAs are easy to detect and measure, and always signal a presence of partial glycerides. The partial glycerides have a direct, negative influence on the rate of crystallization of cocoa butter. It is not unusual to find both, FFA and diglyceride content specified by chocolate manufacturers. The silica pretreatment is expensive but effective way of removing diglycerides. The oils and fats industry uses several other methods to achieve the same results. This is not a new science, but a prior knowledge and regular industrial practice.

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Posted by Josipa Paska
25 June 2012 | 18h48

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