‘All natural’ reduced calorie chocolate can match sugar counterpart, say researchers

By Oliver Nieburg

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Reduced calorie solution? Chocolate sweetened with a stevia leaf and peppermint formula on par with sucrose chocolate, says study
Reduced calorie solution? Chocolate sweetened with a stevia leaf and peppermint formula on par with sucrose chocolate, says study

Related tags Sweeteners Stevia

A formula using stevia leaves and peppermint gives a fully natural-sweetened chocolate that has a similar taste and mouthfeel to a sugar counterpart but with 44% fewer calories, according to research.

A study in the journal Food Chemistry​ by Belščak-Cvitanović et al​. compared 50% cocoa chocolates sweetened with varying combinations of sugar alcohols, dietary fibers, syrups and natural sweeteners to chocolates sweetened with only sugar.

The five sweetener compositions tested were:

Sweetener formulations

  1. Sucrose
  2. Fructose, lactitol, stevioside, inulin, oligofructose and agave syrup
  3. Fructose, xylitol, oligofructose, liquorice root, yacon, rice syrup, dried carrot, black locust flowers
  4. Fructose, isomalt, stevia leaves, oligofructose, lucuma, agave syrup, peppermint
  5. Fructose, maltitol, stevia leaves, yacon, rice syrup

“Formulated chocolates containing stevia leaves and peppermint exhibited the best sensory properties (especially with regard to mouthfeel, sweetness and herbal aroma), as well as the highest polyphenolic content and antioxidant capacity,”​ said the researchers from the University of Zagreb and Croatian chocolate firm Kraš.

Natural sources

They said that most previous research on sugar free chocolates had focused on using artificially derived bulk sweeteners in combination with natural sweeteners.

“The results of this study indicate the potential of using natural sources of sweeteners to completely replace sugar and achieve the desired sweetness of a food product, however further optimizing is required to obtain chocolates with satisfactory textural properties and a balanced aroma profile and mouthfeel that would satisfy the sensory preferences of consumers,”

All samples produced under the study contained soy lecithin and were produced in semi-industrial conditions at Kraš’ confectionery factory in Croatia.

Calories in each 40g sample

  1. 72.2 kcal
  2. 58.5 kcal
  3. 40.5 kcal
  4. 40.5 kcal
  5. 44.6 kcal

Reduced sugar labels

Each of the sugar-free chocolates ensured 20% fewer calories than the conventional sugar chocolate, while  the stevia leaves and peppermint composition had 44% fewer calories.

Under EU rules, none of the compositions could be labeled ‘sugar free’ since they failed to meet the threshold of less than 40 calories per serving. But the samples all met the criteria to be labelled ‘reduced sugar’ products in Europe.


The stevia leaf and peppermint composition had the most polyphenols of all the sugar free chocolates.

Certain ingredients, such as peppermint, stevia leaves and licorice root contain a degree of polyphenols. However, the sucrose chocolate still had the highest total polyphenol content.

That said, the antioxidant capacity of the stevia leaf and peppermint composition, which contained the most plant materials of all formulations, was even greater than the sucrose chocolate and had an improved polyphenolic profile (a better mix of polyphenols).

The flavonoid content was not markedly different between all chocolates since they all content the same level of cocoa, the only source of these compounds.

Sensory Analysis

All sugar-free chocolates were found to be harder than the sucrose reference and the sugar chocolate scored the highest in almost all textural properties by a sensory panel of 20 people with prior sensory training.

However, the panel did choose the stevia leaves and peppermint chocolate as the best for overall acceptability. This sample was also found to be closest to sugar chocolate for mouthfeel and aftertaste.

Food Chemistry,​ Vol. 167, pps 61–70
DOI: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2014.06.064
‘Physical, bioactive and sensory quality parameters of reduced sugar chocolates formulated with natural sweeteners as sucrose alternatives’
Authors: ​Belščak-Cvitanović et al.

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