Choco Evolution in India

Till few years back chocolate products in India were primarily meant for the consumption of children. Since the mid ‘90s, chocolates began to get popularity among the adult population in urban India. Today, the growth of modern retail is giving an impetus to the adult chocolate consumption in the country. With wide range of locally made and imported chocolate brands visible on retail shelves and large population travelling abroad and getting exposed to world of chocolates, Indians are now getting more aware and thus engaging more with chocolate.

Chocolates are known for their rich, sweet lingering taste. The next stage in the evolution in the consumption of chocolates in urban India was the graduation of chocolate products into gift items in celebrations and festivities. This trend coalesced during the first decade of the twenty-first century. 

In urban India, the concept of gifting chocolate products instead of traditional mithais, especially during festive occasions is becoming popular. This could be because of the relatively longer shelf life of chocolates as compared to traditional mithais and the ease of delivery that chocolate products can offer along with novelty, which the traditional sweets do not generally offer. 

Parallel to the trend of chocolate products being used in celebrations, the trend which is gaining in developing Indian chocolate market is that chocolate products boost energy or satiate hunger. They also supply nutrients and work even as medicine. 

Handcrafted and customised chocolates are gaining currency in the upper echelons of urban Indian society in a big way. Now one’s imagination can be reflected in chocolates, which can enhance the celebratory mood in birthdays and festivities. 

The Health Factor 

But there is also a stigma attached to chocolates. People believe that chocolates affect your health adversely. However, any chocolate connoisseur will tell that this confectionery whose appeal transcends age groups and geographies can uplift your mind and your spirit; in a way very few foods can. Many researchers, which include nutritionists, food scientists and cardiologists, have shown that chocolate is good for your body.

The sweet taste of finished chocolates is contrasted by their bitter origins. And the wonderful present of chocolates is complemented by their fascinating history. The chocolates of the world owe their birth to the cocoa beans, which are dried and fully fermented fatty seeds of the cacao trees. The seeds of cacao tree are intensely bitter in taste. The cultivation of cacao can be traced back to around 1100 BC. The tropical rainforests of South America, Mexico and Central America have been the traditional cultivators of cacao tree.

Though the commercial production of chocolates is a twentieth century happening, the history of chocolates dates much beyond a mere hundred years. The knowledge of chocolate’s health benefits is not new. The ancient Aztecs discovered a ‘divine drink’, which builds up resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of the refreshing and nourishing drink, made by crushing the seeds of the Theobroma cacoa tree, permitted a man to walk for a whole day without food. Thus the idea that chocolate is bad for health seems to be a misconception. 

Chocolates are not bad for health as is the popular opinion. In fact, chocolate with high cocoa content is quite healthy and has nutritional value. When eaten in moderation and supplemented with regular exercise, chocolate can contribute to a healthy overall diet. Research has also shown that chocolates can facilitate blood flow and reduce cholesterol levels.

The high content of antioxidants of Theobroma cocoa beans has been considered to be responsible for the health benefits of chocolates. 50 gm of dark chocolate contains about 19 mg caffeine and 250 mg theobromine. Cocoa products, which are rich sources of flavonoids, have been shown to reduce blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular disease. Although in short-term intervention trials, dark chocolate has been reported to reduce total and LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) with no major effects on HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol), its regular consumption has been found to be useful in increasing the HDL cholesterol, and producing favourable effects on lipoprotein ratios and inflammation markers. 

Throughout the years, chocolate has received bad publicity because of its fat content, and its consumption has been associated with acne, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and diabetes. However, the recent discovery of biologically active phenolic compounds in cocoa has changed this perception and stimulated research on its effects in ageing, oxidative stress, blood pressure regulation and atherosclerosis. Today, chocolate is lauded for its tremendous antioxidant potential.

Dark and Healthy 

With the demand for chocolate products increasing in small but significant pockets of urban India, consumers with greater health consciousness are going for dark chocolates. In fact, dark chocolates can present the chocolate lovers who are determined to curb their cravings for creamy chocolates; scared of the ill effects of chocolates, to satiate their sweet tooth in a healthy manner. 

Dark chocolates are especially healthy. They are rich in anti-oxidants and are rich source of nutrients. The benefits of dark chocolates are innumerable. It can improve brain functionality, can lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases, and can improve weight loss. They can also act as foe of diabetes. 

Dark chocolate has Theobromine, which acts as a mild stimulant. It can help to suppress coughs. Dark chocolate is nutritious. It contains a number of vitamins and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, copper and iron which are useful for the body. The copper and potassium in dark chocolate help prevent against stroke and cardiovascular ailments. The iron in dark chocolate protects against anaemia, and the magnesium in dark chocolate helps prevent type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Dark chocolate also contains several chemical compounds that can have a positive effect on your mood and cognitive health. 

Consumption of dark chocolate, in controlled quantity that is twice or thrice a week, can help lowering blood pressure. Dark chocolate improves blood flow and prevents the formation of blood clots. Dark chocolate may also prevent arteriosclerosis. It also protects skin f r o m UV, can boost appetite. In fact, dark chocolates contain lower sugar. 

Cocoa, which is used to make chocolates, provides phytochemicals. These can improve health by acting as antioxidants.  Darker the chocolate, higher is the phytochemical content.  Eating antioxidant rich foods like dark chocolate can protect f r o m different types of cancer and slow the signs of aging. 

But of course, you cannot go all out and overindulge in chocolate every day. It is evidently loaded with calories.  Dark chocolates contain some sugar, but the amounts are usually small; darker the chocolate, the less sugar it will contain. Moreover, dark chocolate can increase blood flow to the brain as well as to the heart, so it can help improve cognitive function.

Foodservice Market

With many of the Chefs declaring that consumption of chocolate is advisable in measured quantities, what about the desserts that they concoct?  Chefs believes chocolate is the heart of confectionery. Often it is the main ingredient in building up a dessert. With so many single origin chocolates available all around the globe, chocolate has become a niche product like a vintage wine.

The best thing is, chocolates are easily available and one can experiment and give variations while using chocolates in baking and making desserts. 95 percent of cake orders are of chocolate flavour. Moreover, chocolate contains phenyl ethylamine, the same chemical your brain creates when you feel like you are falling in love.

There are three kinds of chocolate in use – dark, milk and white chocolate – for desserts, but dark chocolate has its versatility of use. Dark chocolate is used in most of pastries as glaze, fillings, mousse, fudge ganache, moulded chocolates, garnishes, etc. 

The Commercial Market

Most of the premium chocolate products made in India are made using cocoa butter, which is largely being imported. These chocolate products are sold at a premium because of the high pricing of cocoa butter and due to demand and supply gap. This high price consideration is one of the main factors which motivated researchers to find replacers for cocoa butter.

This led to the development of many other types of replacer fats that were mixed with cocoa components and other materials to make chocolate confectionery. These fats not only reduced the high costs of production of chocolate confectionery but also allowed the manufacture of tailor-made products for specific applications. The replacer fats not only need to be economical, but also need to possess the premium characteristics of cocoa butter with no compromise on taste. These fats came to be termed generally as specialty fats. 

India has become a major hub for production of these specialty fats which are also called cocoa butter substitutes, cocoa butter replacers and cocoa butter equivalents (CBS, CBR, and CBE respectively). These specialty fats are widely used to make economical and affordable confectionery products as they are derived f r o m natural sources and are trans fat free. 

The Challenge

India being a tropical country, experiences extreme weather conditions during summers when temperatures can go as high as 45-48 degree centigrade in some places of the country. At this temperature, if the chocolate products are not stored in cool conditions, they tend to melt and stick to the wrappers. Inadequate cold chains, erratic power supply, other facets of poor infrastructure in rural and semi-urban areas are the biggest challenges that we are witnessing in terms of production and distribution of chocolate confectionery, and these factors tend to affect the business for small and medium scale enterprises in Indian chocolate business. 

These factors have prompted chocolatiers to develop heat resistant chocolates. These contain ingredients (specialty fats) which render the chocolate thermally stable and retain the shape even at high temperature. These chocolates have a good melt profile with excellent flavour release and overall good organoleptic properties. There are many patents published by companies who are proactively working on this concept of thermally stable chocolates that won’t melt in hands but will melt in the mouth instead. 

However, every growth is associated with several challenges. Thus boosting the productivity of cocoa beans, improving the cold chain infrastructure and more research and innovations pertaining to processing and manufacturing of chocolate products are the need of the hour in India. Encouraging small scale industries engaged in the creation of chocolate confectionery by the government is also needed. 

The Law

According to FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India), chocolates are products obtained f r o m cocoa butter only and no other vegetable fat. According to this definition, chocolates made f r o m CBS, CBR and CBE are called compound (imitation) chocolates. These chocolates are chocolate-like but cannot be termed as pure chocolate by FSSAI’s definition and fall under proprietary foods.

In India, representations have been made to FSSAI for allowing CBE to be added at 5 percent level, which is under consideration. The Indian chocolate industry needs to have in place legible declaration on the labels to differentiate imitation chocolates f r o m pure chocolates. 

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