Strauss Group has created a milk chocolate bar with 30% less sugar by replacing it with 17% dietary fiber and 5% ground tiger nut flour.
The Israeli company said it took two years of research and development to create the new product, and that the recipe retains a sweet taste while keeping the chocolate's creamy texture.
Tiger nut tubers are naturally sweet, rich in vitamins and minerals and dietary fiber. They contain fats similar to olive oil and have a high amount of resistant probiotic starch that encourages the growth of gut-friendly bacteria.
This innovation could be a draw for consumers who prefer more natural sources of sweetness in chocolate and other food products. Since tiger nut tubers provide that quality, along with added nutrients and fiber, Strauss could see increased demand for its new milk chocolate bar. The tuber also is an ancient food that's gluten-free and tastes like coconut, qualities with additional cachet to some consumers.
Eyal Dror, CEO of Strauss Israel, called the company's new development an "international breakthrough in the field of chocolate."
Most recent efforts to sweeten products using less sugar have focused on adding natural alternatives such as stevia, agave or monkfruit; changing the structure of the sugar; adding low-glucose syrup; or adding flavoring ingredients.
Cargill announced earlier this week that it invested $5 million in its Belgium facility to develop reduced sugar chocolate, according to Food Ingredients 1st. The publication said the investment will help Cargill work on sugar replacers and technology to allow it to cut levels of the sweetener gradually by up to 30% or more.
The challenge is balancing a reduction in sugar with maintaining taste. Makers of confectionery items, baked goods and other products can't just cut back on the amount of sugar in their formulations. Functional qualities such as texture, mouthfeel, volume and weight also must be considered.
It will be interesting to see whether U.S. chocolate makers try to emulate Strauss' approach with their own products. If they do, they might gain a competitive edge since growth in the domestic chocolate market — driven by demand for premium varieties and sugar-free and dark chocolate — could surpass the $30 billion mark by 2021, according to a 2016 TechSci Research report.
It's unclear whether consumers will prefer an inherently indulgent product such as chocolate that lists less sugar, additional fiber and tiger nut flour on the labeling. Some people will likely want the taste of the real thing, even if that means a relatively high amount of real sugar.
Cost is another question mark since Strauss needs to set a retail price for the milk chocolate bar to more than cover its R&D, production, marketing and distribution expenses. Given that the company co-owns Sabra hummus and has a diversified portfolio of coffee, water, dairy, bakery and snack brands, it may be able to tap into its existing synergies to help.