Colors & Flavors Special

Going natural doesn’t mean compromising on color or flavor

By Wouter Stomph

- Last updated on GMT

Olam’s TrueDark cocoa powder for premium brand deZaan is the world’s first ever natural, non-alkalised dark cocoa powder. Pic: Olam Cocoa
Olam’s TrueDark cocoa powder for premium brand deZaan is the world’s first ever natural, non-alkalised dark cocoa powder. Pic: Olam Cocoa

Related tags: Color, Flavor, Cocoa

Cocoa has a natural and familiar flavor,and has a huge role to play in meeting the consumer demand for natural flavors and colors … Just take a look at the shelves of your local supermarket.

Healthy snacks, which trade on their natural ingredients, now often take up as much shelf space as traditional confectionery giving a substantial boost towards healthy eating and concerns around artificial additives.

The trend for natural flavors

Today’s health-conscious consumers want to know exactly what is in their food. They want products with only ingredients they know and understand on the label, and wherever possible, they want fewer ingredients in their food overall. Simplicity and familiarity are often equated with health and quality. So much so, that two in every three consumers worldwide now say they specifically avoid buying products with ingredients that are difficult to understand.

Cocoa powder, for example, is a great way to add flavors and colors to desserts without having to use artificial colors and unfamiliar ingredients that can be perceived by consumers to have adverse effects. 

This is just as true in confectionery, where taste is king, as it is in other categories. The latest figures suggest that some consumers are buying less but, when they do, they look for better quality and health credentials. For makers of snacks and confectionery, this desire for natural ingredients and fewer processed components presents both a challenge and an opportunity. Clean labelling is already starting to become a significant competitive advantage.

Cocoa – the natural solution

As consumers search for more recognisable ingredients in their products, cocoa is a natural solution. Each cocoa powder, cocoa liquor and cocoa butter offers a unique taste profile that enhances the sensory experience of any given product. The growth in premium products with higher cocoa content has helped customers to recognise and enjoy its unique taste, but there is still far more that can be done to capitalise on the differentiated flavor and color it brings as an ingredient.

Olam Cocoa - Wouter Stomph
Wouter Stomph with colleague in the Olam Cocoa lab. Pic: Olam Cocoa

Cocoa powder, for example, is a great way to add flavors and colors to desserts without having to use artificial colors and unfamiliar ingredients that can be perceived by consumers to have adverse effects. For example, cocoa can replace 4-MEI which is a carcinogenic caramel coloring. Cocoa powder can come in a range of colors, from vibrant reds to dark browns and blacks, and it can help to improve the flavour of products that use sugar alternatives – all helping to create a delicious product that appeals to the growing ranks of health-conscious consumers.

Intense dark cocoa tastes

Darker cocoa powders offer the greatest intensity in color and flavor – and are packed with minerals like magnesium, potassium and zinc – making them in high demand. However, most dark cocoa powders go through the process of alkalisation or ‘dutching’ which changes the acidity of the cocoa nib. While this can help to develop the cocoa powder’s flavor profile and reduce the need for additives, the additional processing runs counter to the clean label trend.

That’s why Olam’s TrueDark cocoa powder, crafted by the innovation specialists at our premium brand deZaan, created the world’s first ever natural, non-alkalised dark cocoa powder – a direct response to consumer demand for simple and recognisable ingredients.

One of TrueDark’s key benefits is that it can be listed simply as ‘cocoa’ on product labels, rather than ‘cocoa powder processed with alkali’. This allows manufacturers to have simpler, more straightforward ingredient labels that are far more appealing to consumers.

A change in industry mindset

Taking advantage of cocoa and the natural trend requires a change of mindset. The food industry still largely thinks of cocoa as a traded commodity; a one size fits all ingredient. Differentiation is to be done down the line by adding colorants and flavorings. But cocoa has a powerful, natural flavor in its own right and it is one of the most economical “bulk flavor” ingredients you can add to a recipe.

Even the cocoa industry still has a way to go to better see and benefit from the huge potential cocoa can provide as an ingredient as opposed to just a flavor or colorant. In a similar way to spices, each individual cocoa powder has a distinct impact on the final product. Things are changing and many more products are coming to market, but this is still a battle to be won – and one that I personally feel very passionate about.

Achieving the right balance between natural ingredients and the taste that consumers come to expect from their confectionery will always require time and thought. But with cocoa it is possible to use natural ingredients without compromising on flavor, color or texture. Find the right cocoa powder for the particular application, and you can create products that offer consumers an indulgent taste experience, while also giving them confidence in the transparency and by using familiar ingredients.

  • Wouter Stomph, is head of North America Ingredient Development and Innovation, Olam Coco​a

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