The most famous chocolatier of all time, Mr Willy Wonka, chose to protect his chocolate inventions with trade secrets. However, this necessitated the use of an entirely non-human workforce. Modern day chocolate companies, on the other hand, make ample use of the patent system. As it is Christmas, Rose Hughes takes a break from lengthy UK patent decisions to once again indulge in some tasty food tech.
Chocolate – the basics
Chocolate is generally defined as “[a] food in the form of a paste or solid block made from roasted and ground cacao seeds, typically sweetened and eaten as confectionery”. The main ingredients are cocoa solids, sugar and cocoa butter, the required percentages for various types of chocolate being specified by Annex I of Directive 2000/36/EC.
Chocolate is made from the ripe cocoa beans of the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao). The beans are extracted from their pods, naturally fermented for a week and then dried. The dried fermented beans are roasted for about 2 hours at 140°C. Fermentation of the cocoa beans begins the process of generating both the dark colour and the complex flavour profile of chocolate. Roasting further darkens the beans and develops the flavour profile.
The tough outer coats of the roasted beans are removed (“winnowing”) leaving the crushed inner nibs. The cocoa nibs are then ground and liquefied into chocolate liquor. The chocolate liquor contains about 50% cocoa butter (a yellowish fat, also known as theobroma oil) and 50% cocoa solids.
To produce the final chocolate product, chocolate liquor is blended with sugar and extra cocoa butter (in amounts dependent on the desired type of chocolate). Chocolate may also contain additional fats, emulsifiers and flavourings. Modern chocolate making involves the further processes of conching and refining. Conching mechanically works the chocolate to reduce the solid particle size, disperse the particles homogeneously through the fat and reduce the viscosity of the mixture. Conching also further develops the flavour profile of the cocoa.
Good quality chocolate has that craved, melt-in the mouth feel. Cocoa butter is solid at ambient temperature (20–25°C) and melts at mouth temperature (37°C). When you place a piece of chocolate in your mouth, the suspension of particulate cocoa solids in the melting cocoa butter and milk solids provides the smooth feel on the tongue.
However, the low melting temperature of chocolate also has disadvantages. Chocolate is sensitive to changes in temperature and must be stored in carefully controlled conditions. Storing chocolate at too high a temperature leads to unattractive chocolate blooming: the formation of white crystals of cocoa butter or sugar on the surface of the chocolate. Blooming can also be caused by heating or cooling chocolate too quickly. Rapid changes in temperature cause the formation of large crystals that predispose the chocolate to blooming. Commercially, chocolate is therefore heated and cooled very slowly in tempering machines.
Chocolate, of course, is also high in both sugar and fat, and is therefore generally considered the opposite of a health food. Particularly active areas of R&D in choco-tech are therefore healthier chocolate and temperature-resistant chocolate that still retain the taste and mouth-feel of conventional chocolate.
Green tea is considered healthy. A Japanese company therefore had the idea of improving the healthiness of chocolate by adding green tea powder (WO2018168669). Yogurt is also considered healthy. The same Japanese company therefore has also filed an application to chocolate containing the same live bacteria as yogurt (WO2018030505).
A US applicant has filed an international application for chocolate, which causes a lower increase in glucose blood sugar than normal chocolate, without the laxative effects associated with conventional sugar-free chocolate. The claimed chocolate (“ChocoPerfection”) is a mixture of glycerin liposomally formulated glutathione (WO2018191721). The description urges us to “Indulge in [ChocoPerfection] after a meal or any time you need a little moment of bliss”. The University of Birmingham has also recently filed an application for low-sugar chocolate (WO2018185502). The specification describes a process for making chocolate, wherein fat crystals are produced by adding water to the cocoa butter instead of sugar. Sugar is added at a later stage.
Cocoa beans are naturally full of beneficial nutrients and antioxidants. Mars has developed a method for making chocolate that limits the refining process and thus preserves more of the natural goodness of the beans (WO2018125963).
Going a step further, WO2018087305 relates to chocolate that is actively good for you. The application claims a cocoa bean product comprising a polyphenol-rich plant extract. The description explains that the chocolate may provide “antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-hypoxic, vascular supporting and/or other health benefits”.
The commercial benefits to be gained from temperature-tolerant chocolate seem clear. Temperature-tolerant chocolate has a longer shelf-life, is resistant to blooming and can be sold in warmer climates, facilitating expansion of the chocolate market to hot countries. However, the fatty acid additives often used to produce temperature-tolerant chocolate reportedly give it an unpleasant waxy texture. Recent years have seen a race between the large chocolate manufactures to develop temperature-tolerant chocolate that retains the melt-in-the mouth feel of conventional chocolate.
Hershey‘s temperature-resistant chocolate contains nanoparticles of a “nutritive carbohydrate sweetener,” e.g. sucrose, glucose or honey (US2016324181). Mondelēz‘s recently allowed EP application for temperature-resistant chocolate (EP2755493) claims a process for making heat resistant chocolate comprising mixing a chocolate mass with water and a surfactant/emulsifier at a temperature of 30-55°C for at least 10 minutes. Cadburys has recently been granted a patent for temperature-tolerant chocolate (EP2701529). The claimed process for producing the chocolate involves mixing conched and non-conched chocolate. The specification suggests that the temperature-tolerance of the chocolate is due to the presence of a greater number of sugar coated particles in the chocolate. However, it seems that none of these chocolates is yet available for purchase (this Kat would be interested to hear otherwise).
Business to business chocolate manufacturers have also developed strategies for increasing the temperature-resistance of chocolate. The Swedish-Danish co-development company AAK, for example, has developed a process for making heat-resistant chocolate by optimizing the tempering process. AAK markets it heat resistance chocolate as TROPICAO (“A tropical revolution in chocolate production”). The chocolate appears to be produced by mixing solid (non-melted) triglycerides into liquid chocolate in carefully controlled conditions such that the triglyceride seed is only partially melted. AAK also has a pending application for a temperature-resistant chocolate product (EP3307077).
Barry Callebaut has developed what it call a “tool-box” of approaches for increasing the heat resistance of chocolate without sacrificing taste. Callebaut‘s recently granted patent EP2892363 claims a food product based on fat comprising gas micro-bubbles. The micro-bubbles are proposed to inhibit fat blooming.
Weird and wonderful chocolate
An inventor from the Netherlands has reasoned that what the world needs is sour chocolate (WO2018215372). The application claims a chocolate comprising an organic acid. The description indicates that the chocolate has “unique taste and flavour profiles that were highly appreciated by a professional test panel”. Further investigation reveals the applicant to be a producer of pharma-grade lactic acid.
The Belgian innovator ingredient manufacturer Puratos, recognizing the fermented food trend (frequenters of hipster coffee shops will have noticed that kimchi is the new avocado), have filed an application for chocolate containing a dry powdered fermented plant product (WO2018206622).
However, our prize for the oddest chocolate patent application goes to US application (US2006182854), which claims a method for making a chocolate-coated pig skin product (“Pork chocs”…). Do these sound more or less appetizing than the chocolate-coated locusts once suggested as a Christmas treat?
A version of this article was first published on The IPKat.
This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking any action in reliance on it.