Naturally sweetened chocolate creates sugar high at candy show

A sugar-free chocolate made with natural sweetener stevia received top honors as the most innovative confectionery product at the largest sweets fair in the world this week, signaling what experts say will become a wider, more popular trend in the chocolate industry.

At the 42nd annual International Sweets and Biscuits Fair in Cologne, Germany this week about 80 food journalists named Belgium-based Cavalier chocolates their favorite confectionery for the quality of the brand's stevia-sweetened chocolate. Overall, 112 products were entered for consideration.

After getting the green light for use in Europe last year, confectionery and food worlds have been introducing a slew of products that make use of the zero-calorie sweetener that is 200 times sweeter than table sugar and has a long history of being used in Asia and South America.

Stevia is also known as sweetleaf or sugar leaf.

The Cavalier brand comes in a range of eating bars that include flavors like milk, dark, hazelnut, rice crisp, barley -- for healthy alternatives -- and praline.

Last year, Cavalier partnered with premium chocolate maker Barry Callebaut to develop a range of semi-sweet chocolates sweetened with stevia which the judges say has resulted in a refined and top quality product.

In the US, Coca-Cola's Odwalla juice line is sweetened with stevia from Truvia, while PepsiCo uses PureVia to sweeten its SoBe Lifewater and Tropicana Trop50.

The journalists were also impressed with ltje Crispers from Germany for their curry sausage and hamburger flavors, developed especially for the European Football Championships which take place in Poland and Ukraine this summer.

The crispy coated peanut snacks will be available in Europe between May and July.

Austria's soft fruit gums from PEZ rounded out the top three most popular and innovative confectionery picks at the show. The gluten- and lactose-free soft chews are made with natural flavorings and colorings.

The New Product Showcase was revealed February 1, the final day of the show.

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