Natural Brown Solutions to Offset Cocoa Reduction

From baked goods to cereals and ice cream, cocoa is a commonly used ingredient across a broad range of food applications. However, there is a lot of concern about the future of cocoa—it’s predicted to be as dark as the bean from which it originates. Threatened by global rising temperatures and drier weather conditions, the survival rate of cocoa plants continues to diminish. As a result, purchasing managers are experiencing dramatic swings in cocoa prices, hitting record highs. Cocoa prices are up over 150% in just the first quarter of 2024 thanks to a global bean shortage resulting from an unfortunate combination of crop disease and adverse weather.

In response to this uncertainty, food manufacturers are reducing cocoa content to their respective points of affordability. To offset color loss and changes in taste profile, many product developers turn to brown colorants and chocolate flavors.

Correcting Color Loss After Cocoa Reduction

From a shade standpoint, chocolate colors are not overly challenging. There’s a natural solution for just about every application where cocoa reduction could be a possibility. Sensient’s Sienna™ fruit juice would offset color loss relatively easy in lighter brown shades in most baked and dry grocery goods, and industry innovations would close the gap on more of the complex applications like icings and cereals.

Let’s look at some examples on bringing cocoa alternatives to life…

For dark chocolate shades in baked good applications, a common caramel-free approach would be a combination of a natural red like beets or anthocyanins, a natural yellow, such as beta-carotene or turmeric, and a natural blue source. This blend produces excellent dark brown shades assuming the pH is above 4. Given the heat processing associated with baked goods and especially extrusion, heat and pH stable components are essential for these applications. Fortunately, Sensient has a novel blue vegetable juice that works very well in this scenario, as well as a heat-stable beet.

There is one drawback to this approach. Natural blue color sources can be less cost-effective than some other natural color sources due to their rarity in nature, so cost-in-use for this strategy tends to be a bit higher when compared to costs associated with caramel. In these instances, the Sienna™ fruit juice, although lighter in brown, could be used to bulk the base of the color solution to lower the usage rate of the blue component. Sienna™ is a great option for milk chocolate shades and provides cost-in-use advantages, as well as excellent heat, pH and light stability.

If cutting back on cocoa in compound coatings or frostings and icings is a possibility for you, formulating with natural colors is a little more complex. However, unique solutions are available. For example, when dealing with water-soluble natural colors, a natural dye will lead to an undesired outcome. There simply isn’t enough water in the application to hydrate the powder, so you run into specking issues. Traditionally, the way to overcome this issue is to increase the usage rate. However, this approach will quickly increase cost-in-use and adversely impact texture and taste.

Plating grade natural colors that perform like synthetic lakes are the most ideal solution for coatings, icings and frostings. Sensient’s Microfine™ natural color line is a great example. To ensure homogeneity, a high level of mixing is usually required for the Microfine™ powders. I would consider the oil-based dispersions of the Microfine™ portfolio to be the optimal solution in this case, as they require less mixing than the powders. Either way, the powders and dispersions eliminate specking entirely. The Microfines can hit any shade in the brown spectrum without using caramel colors.

Since an ice cream’s cocoa content provides majority of its color, decreasing the cocoa matter would most likely change the overall apperance and color uniformity. Developers can use natural browns like Sienna™ or simple blends of natural blues, yellows and reds to either darken the base or enhance color uniformity. Standard yellow carotenoids within a brown blend would require emulsification like Sensient’s Advanced Emulsion Technology (AET™) for optimal performance and stability, since they are inherently oil-soluble.

While we certainly hope science can help save the future of the world’s cocoa plants, food manufacturers have the option to lean on alternatives if necessary. If you are planning to partially or completely remove cocoa, the good news is there are natural color options to offset any changes to your product’s overall appearance. If interested in trialing any of our natural brown solutions, you can request samples here.

Did we miss your chocolate application? You can schedule a private consultation for us to discuss here.

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