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Chocolate Can Be Made Healthier (And Keep Its Flavor) With Oat Flour

A chocolate.
Credit: Kai Kai Ma /Penn State. Creative Commons
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Many will be receiving the combination of chocolate and flowers this Valentine’s Day.

This sweet gift package could be made a little healthier, however, with the combination of chocolate and flour.

Researchers at Penn State University say their bespoke chocolates, made with 25% reduced sugar and substituted oat flour, were judged equally delicious as standard chocolates by participants in a blind taste test.

The findings were published in the Journal of Food Science.

Oat milk chocolate

Rice and oat flour were chosen as sugar (sucrose) substitutes for their starch content, which would break down into sugar at a slower rate.

“Starch is still a carbohydrate, so it’s not lower calories, but there is an overall reduction in the added sugar content, which has potential health benefits,” said Gregory Ziegler, distinguished professor of food science at Penn State and co-author of the study.

Ziegler and his colleagues made 6 dark chocolates in total: a control with 54% sucrose, 4 sucrose-reduced versions (reductions of 25% and 50%, using either oat or sweet rice flour) and 1 54% sucrose chocolate with reduced refining time.

The researchers then conducted two different blind taste tests. The first, which recruited 66 participants, was to see if participants could notice any differences.

Consumers rated the 25% sugar-reduced chocolates and the reduced refining time chocolate similar to the blind control, but the 50% sugar reduction was rated significantly different in both texture and flavor. The team concluded this was mainly due to texture, as participants reported the rice flour chocolate contained “a chalkier texture,” while oat-flour-containing chocolates were described as “smoother, softer and creamier.”

The second taste test involved 90 participants and gauged consumer acceptability.

The rice flour chocolates were liked significantly less than the normal chocolate control, but the oat flour sample was rated similarly to the control – and, in a few cases, was rated slightly better.

“Our results suggest we can cut back 25% of added sugar to chocolate, effectively reducing the total sugar by 13.5%, if we substitute oat flour,” said Kai Kai Ma, a doctoral candidate in food science at Penn State and co-author on the paper.

“That addition of oat flour is unlikely to meaningfully impact consumer acceptability, which is great news.”

The researchers plan to share their findings with contacts in the chocolate industry in the hopes of inspiring new varieties of sugar-reduced chocolates.

“I’m a big believer in meeting consumers where they are,” said John Hayes, professor of food science at Penn State and corresponding author on the study.

“We've tried for 40 years to tell people to eat less sugar and it doesn't work because people want to eat what they want to eat. So instead of making people feel guilty, we need to meet people where they are and figure out how to make food better while still preserving the pleasure from food.”

The research was partly funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Ma KK, Ziegler GR, Hayes, JE. Sugar reduction in chocolate compound by replacement with flours containing small insoluble starch granules. Journ Foo Sci 2024. doi: 10.1111/1750-3841.16923

This article is a rework of 
a press release issued by Penn State University. Material has been edited for length and content.