Monday, August 19, 2013
Lily’s Dark Chocolate sweetened with Stevia
Lily’s Dark Chocolate Sweetened with Stevia is a fair trade chocolate bar that contains no added sugar. It’s 55% cocoa solids and has all natural and non-gentically modified ingredients. It’s part of their introductory line that includes four bars.
I’ve seen them in a few stores now, including Whole Foods. I understand that it’s particularly difficult for diabetics and others who wish to avoid refined sugar to find chocolate that truly tastes like chocolate. This bar sparked a lot of reading on my part, which means a lot of thoughts that I’ll express here on the subject of non-nutritive sweeteners and what constitutes a satisfying chocolate experience.
The Lily’s Sweets website has this to say about the chocolate bar:
I have no problem with stevia in concept, it’s similar to licorice in that it tastes sweet and comes from a plant but has no calories. However, both in their natural form, have a noticeable aftertaste. In the case of stevia, I find it metallic and bitter, but not all people experience that; the newer stevia-enhanced sweeteners include erythritol as a base to combat those aftertastes. The extract, known as steviol glycoside, is 300 times sweeter than sugar.
Let me back up for a moment to address what’s in regular chocolate and why. In an ordinary dark chocolate bar that’s 55% cocoa solids, the other 44% is made up of sugar. (The remaining 1% may be emulsifiers and flavors such as vanilla.) For many people, anything over 70% cocoa solids is not just bitter, it’s too intense. In higher cocoa percentages, chocolate makers sometimes increase the amount of cocoa butter to dilute the dense flavors of the cocoa itself. But when you’re using a sweeteners that’s 300 times stronger than sugar ... that means that a value for value replacement would give you a 98% cocoa solid chocolate that might be sweet, but incredibly dense.
So when using stevia instead of sugar, confectioners combine it with a low sweetness sweetener that adds bulk - basically it takes up the space that the sugar would have without adding a flavor of its own (milk does a really good job of this, too). Erythritol is only about 60-70% of the sweetness of sugar. Another bulking agent is called inulin, which is a soluble fiber that’s about 10% as sweet as sugar and has a smooth taste and texture.
The majority of the calories in good quality chocolate come not from the sugar but from the fat. But reducing the sugar calories does make a significant difference in the calorie count here. Most solid chocolate is between 140 and 160 calories per ounce. I calculated Lily’s at about 113 calories per ounce, but be careful since 85 of those calories are from fat. What’s truly startling about the bar’s nutritional panel is not just the calories, but the fact that a single 1.4 ounce serving has 50% of your daily recommended fiber.
It’s a little odd that all the press and marketing on this bar talk about the stevia, but note that it’s the second to the last ingredient. The dextrin inulin and erythritol make up more than a third of this bar (from my calculations erythritol is 15% alone, and I reckon, based on the amount of fiber chocolate usually has that the inulin is about 22%).
The chocolate smells very rich, like brownies or hot chocolate. There’s no sweetness note to the smell but there is a hint of coconut. The texture is soft and easy to bite and though the melt is pretty good, it has a sort of gummy texture to it. It doesn’t quite melt like chocolate usually does, and I blame the lack of sugar, which is easily dissolved in water (or saliva) but erythritol is less soluble.
The chocolate profile is on the woodsy side, with notes of smoke and pecans. But the coconut flavors were pretty pronounced as well, though not in a bad way. The sweetness was odd. It was fine at the start of the chocolate melt, as the chocolate flavors are strong, but not too overwhelming. Later the aftertastes kick in. There are several of them, there’s a bitterness that could just be the chocolate, there’s a higher pitched sort of liquid metallic note like aluminum and then there’s a lingering sort of coolness. As long as I kept eating pieces, the aftertaste didn’t bother me, but after about five squares when I gave it a rest, it all came back.
I can acclimate to the aftertastes, I didn’t notice anything else associated with it, like being inordinately thirsty or making other foods taste strange. It is notable that some people are sensitive to erythritol and inulin, especially when consumed in higher quantities than, say, a breath mint. So if you’re considering this bar, start slowly. I can’t say for sure, but I think this gave me stomach cramps. Not the first serving, which was just a few squares when taking the photos. But later when I ate about a third of the bar on an empty stomach, I found it made me uncomfortably gassy.
For diabetics or other folks who need to watch their sugar, it’s a good alternative. I was really surprised that the calorie count didn’t ruin the fat content but it’s still not a magic product that gives you everything you’ve always wanted. There’s always a trade off. I’ll stick with moderate portions of good quality, high cacao chocolate.