Is it oily or is it chocolaty? Your chocolate may have more vegetable oil than cocoa beans in it

Even as the controversy over the presence of lead and MSG in Maggi noodles is yet to die down, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has reportedly decided to set up a committee of experts which will look not only into packaged food but also items like "sweets and confectioneries" which may be flouting norms.

And among 'sweets and confectionaries' a particular area of interest for the FSSAI is chocolate that is being sold across the. country

According to a report, it has come to light though that well-known chocolate brands are refraining from using the word "chocolate" on their cover to escape trappings of a legal loophole. According to this report in The Times of India, as companies are using higher levels of vegetable oil in chocolates, manufactures are steering clear of using 'chocolate' on the cover.

 Is it oily or is it chocolaty? Your chocolate may have more vegetable oil than cocoa beans in it

Reuters image.

The level of vegetable oil allowed in a bar of chocolate is 5 percent instead of the 20 percent that the manufacturers feel free to use, the report added.

Thanks to rising levels of global warming and rising cost of ingredients, manufacturers have been replacing cocoa bean with cheaper substitutes. Also, cocoa bean crop yields have dropped as temperatures rose over the past few years.

Earlier reports have pointed out that manufacturers are increasingly using vegetable oil in chocolates as a substitute for cocoa beans.

In 2008, Hershey's replaced its key ingredient cocoa butter, which gave Hershey's the creamy flavour and "melt-in-your-mouth texture", with vegetable oil. By substituting the ingredients, Hershey's violated the laws set by FDA and to escape legal hassles the company went a step ahead and instead of calling the product 'milk chocolate' labelled it 'chocolate candy.'

Hershey's defended their stance at the time and said that the vegetable oil they're using in their products are high quality and a few are more nutritious and even better than cocoa butter.

Hershey's move came almost a year after the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, whose members include Hershey, Nestlé, and Archer Daniels Midland, were lobbying the FDA to change the legal definition of chocolate to let them substitute cheap vegetable oils for cocoa butter.

Mars, one of the largest chocolate manufacturers, disclosed the company's opposition to cocoa butter substitutes in 2013, an Associated Press report had said.

"Changing the definition of what chocolate is would be a mistake," said Todd Lachman, president of Hackettstown, New Jersey-based Mars Snackfoods US, had told AP.

Mars' products include M&Ms, Dove Chocolate, Snickers, Milky Way, 3 Musketeers and Twix. The announcement had come amid a push by a dozen food industry groups to change long-established federal standards to allow for replacing cocoa butter with another vegetable fat, up to a level of 5 percent. The groups say the change, which would save money for manufacturers, would allow more flexibility and innovation.

US chocolate manufacturers were split on whether to back a change in chocolate standards. While the financial savings would have been substantial, consumers and some within the industry have been outspoken in their support for genuine chocolate and not a cheaper substitute.

With the US trying to substitute cocoa butter/cocoa beans with vegetable fat or oil in their products, it could be only a matter of time before the Indian market is taken over by the same trend. In India, the debate has already taken place but it was in the case of Kwality Walls and Amul, and the definition of what can be called an 'ice cream'.

In 2012, Amul complained against Kwality Walls alleging that they used 'vegetable fat', and not milk fat, to make their ice creams. According to Amul, this meant Kwality Walls products couldn't be called ice creams -- they were merely frozen deserts which were sold by other brands like Vadilal, Lazza and Cream Bell. Food authority officials and ice cream makers like Amul and Mother Dairy, had alleged that this amounted to cheating the customers.

But while use of vegetable oil in chocolates isn't illegal, the permissible level is a contentious topic.  Reports suggest that excess consumption of vegetable oil could cause a host of problems, like increased chances of heart disease. Excess use of vegetable oil could create an imbalance in the body messing up the fatty acid composition in the body.

As experts have noted, vegetable oil can't even match up to a suitable substitution to cocoa butter because the latter has many health benefits. Cocoa butter protects anti-oxidant properties of chocolates and does not raise the levels of cholesterol over regular consumption.

While the FSSAI has chosen to keep the names of the brands under wraps for now, the presence of high oil content is something that would worry consumers, especially if it is above permissible limits. Is there another Maggi in the offing?

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Updated Date: Jun 08, 2015 14:18:17 IST