Research & development

Bensdorp cracks the code to deliver flavorful, 100% natural, dark cocoa powder for first time

By Anthony Myers

- Last updated on GMT

Bensdorp's new 100% 'Natural Dark' cocoa powder. Pic: Barry Callebaut
Bensdorp's new 100% 'Natural Dark' cocoa powder. Pic: Barry Callebaut

Related tags Cocoa Barry callebaut European union Food

New 'Natural Dark' cocoa powder set to create a new standard ‘for years to come', after breakthrough at Barry Callebaut’s Research & Development Center.

Almost two years to the day after the launch of Ruby chocolate, Barry Callebaut (BC) has successfully launched another sweet innovation with a significant breakthrough in the cocoa market.

Labeled ‘Natural Dark’ and introduced to the baking and confectionery trade through its premium cocoa brand Bensdorp, the new powder is 100% natural, flavorful and with ‘a superior taste experience obtained without being processed with any additives’.

Steven Retzlaff, president global cocoa at Barry Callebaut Group, said: “We believe that this powder will set a new standard in the years to come​.”

During an interactive launch ahead of its premiere at the International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE) in Las Vegas (September 8-11), Bas Smit, BC’s global vice president of marketing, said: “Until today, there hasn’t been any type of cocoa on the planet that has delivered on the health promise, as well as taste and flavor impact​.”

For the first time in cocoa powder history, Natural Dark enables food manufacturers to have a clean label ingredient that delivers an intense chocolate taste in all major application segments such as bakery and pastry creations, cold drinks and beverages, and ice cream, said Smit.

The challenge for BC’s research and development team, some of whom worked on the Ruby breakthrough, was to combine texture, flavor and taste, in a natural cocoa powder that omits the ‘Dutch process’ or alkalization stage, which up until now, cocoa has relied on to give it a darker color hue.

Leanne de Muijnck, head R&D director at Barry Callebaut, said the process took over two years to develop, and the team was able to draw on R&D knowledge and technology generated over a long period to enable to tap into consumer needs, which these days are for a more healthier product.

'Everything starts with the cocoa bean'

De Muijnck has been involved in the research field for 28 years at Barry Callebaut. “Everything starts with the cocoa bean​,” she said. “First, we need to find the right cocoa bean, it’s very important to get the right color and flavor potential. Then we break the beans and separate the shells from the nibs, which are the cocoa kernels.

Next, there are two options: one is to go to a natural process, which means that the nibs go straight to the roaster. The second part is an alkalizing process also known as ‘Dutching’, where you mix alkaline in a big mixer with the nibs and cocoa water, let it cook and then you get white developments in terms of color and flavor​.

So there's a range of colors when you go through the different degrees of alkalization, that affect how it also tastes. Our challenge was to take the best of both worlds - take the natural impact, but still have a dark color and a really intense flavor and then have it applicable to a wide range of products​. “

De Muijnck said Natural Dark is an addition to BC's portfolio. “It gives the benefits of a dark color and intense flavor and a clean label, but it doesn't take away any of the benefits of traditional cocoa powders​.”


Barry Callebaut is the world’s leading manufacturer of high-quality chocolate and cocoa products and says it is introducing its cocoa powder at a time when 'health-focused consumers are increasingly seeking out premium products that are tasty and have a short, recognizable ingredient list’.

Today’s consumers are looking for something with a clean label, something very simple and something natural looking, but it's very important for you as a marketing person that you can use the name and the claim ‘natural’ on  the packaging​,” said Smit.

In a consumer test, the new Natural Dark cocoa powder was approved by consumers from all over the world, and BC says the new powder “enables food manufacturers to deliver a rich and chocolaty flavor in all major applications while offering a clean label​.”

To make it a really attractive product, we needed to improve the flavor and fine tune the process, and that's where we are today

De Muijnck said the process was long and sometimes arduous, and many times the team had to go back to the drawing board after initial feedback from customers suggested they were happy with the color, but not the flavor.

To make it a really attractive product, we needed to improve the flavor and fine tune the process, and that's where we are today. We were able to optimize the flavor get it more intense, more chocolaty, by maintaining the color and really get the triple play of texture, color and flavor​,” she said.

De Muijnck also revealed there was a lot of interaction between the different researchers that work on various projects, including the Ruby innovation. “They were two separate projects and really two different targets and different objectives, but there was some cross collaboration, as both projects started with a natural, but highly complex, product [the cocoa bean] that has over 20,000 molecules.”

With close to 180 years of heritage and mastery in crafting the finest cocoa powders, Bensdorp has a reputation for rich flavors and colors made with the highest quality standards globally.

Like Ruby chocolate, Smit is the person responsible for marketing the new cocoa powder to chocolate makers and manufacturers and their consumers.

He said the new Natural Dark will become the norm for cocoa powder in years to come. “We know from consumers that the most important driver for them is that products are natural. This kind of powder is more expensive than other powders and for this reason, not all brands are going to be interested in it.”

In general, food and drink will have a better nutritional profile in the future, but legislation differs in the United States and Europe, which brings it own problems in marketing terms.


In the United States, if you use a powder, which is processed with alkali, but it's below a specific threshold, then you need to declare that it is not natural. But, in Europe, you don't have to comply with this legislation. In Europe, it basically implies that you can have a brand made with cocoa powder, which is not 100% natural but can still be perceived to be natural since you don't see any e-numbers on the ingredient list​,” he said.

Smit believes that, if the legislation in Europe becomes more like the United States, then brands will need to communicate better with consumers about its ingredients.

Bensdorp is quite a distinctive brand; it’s been around over 180 years; it has a unique proposition product intrinsically, with the functional benefit of superior flavor and coloring. With a long-standing heritage of mastering the cocoa bean, we have a global reach with a wealth of knowledge from many years of R&D​,” Smit said.

You don’t win the Tour de France with one training session. The struggle between producing natural cocoa powder with the right texture, color and flavor has never been achieved before, until now - they could deliver the texture and the color but they never managed to get the flavor right, and that of course, is the reason why you eat chocolate​.”

The industry will have the opportunity to experience Bensdorp’s Natural Dark in various bakery applications at IBIE from 8 to 11 September.

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