two pieces of a kit kat bar balanced on mugs of hot chocolate

How to invent new candies for a living

Modern candy aisles contain a seemingly endless variety of classic and limited edition flavor combinations to tempt your taste buds. Along with fan-favorite concoctions (chocolate and peanut butter! Cookies and cream!), The Confectionery Companies are putting up some quirky deals to a clip that looks like the result of a corporate sugar rush. Trend forecasters and market researchers are educating these top pastry chefs with ideas for delicious new treats. But making a product is more complicated than just throwing chili oil or barbecue seasoning down the production line.

Turning those delicious daydreams into sweet realities is the job of food scientists like Daniele Bwamba. A candy researcher at The Hershey Company in Pennsylvania, the store that supplies about 45 percent of the country’s chocolate, she experiments with tastes and colors to create new varieties, including delicacies like Key Lime Pie Kit Kats, Apple Pie Kit. Kats and Salted Caramel Hershey Cookie Bars. “The possibilities are endless,” she says of her palette of chocolate pasta, inclusions (think crisps, chips and cookies) and liquid flavor notes developed by Hershey’s specialists (such as flavors fruit or essences of baked goods such as donuts).

Bwamba, who has always had a sweet tooth, studied food science and nutrition at North Carolina A&T State University. A summer internship at Hershey led to post-graduation employment and ultimately a career in creative confectionery.

[Related: Go full-on mad scientist by making your own fizzy candies and sweet caramels]

His lab is working to implement the ideas of the company’s forecasters, but even seemingly promising mashups can fail. “How do I make it good in chocolate?” She asks herself. Some combos don’t work well with the cocoa mass underlying each bar. Others fail because of adverse reactions between flavors. Sometimes the finished product just tastes weird.

dark skinned haired woman wearing a white blouse is smiling at the camera
Daniele Bwamba gives taste to the world. Hersheys

Feasibility also comes into play. Viscosity determines whether a product is too thin or globular to pass through the production nozzles, and additions like crisps or crackers can make a treat too heavy or crumbly. Solubility matters too, Bwamba says: Because the star ingredient contains a fat-based cream, chocolatiers typically opt for oil-soluble flavors and colors. Aqueous chemicals can produce a “big messy drop” that will dirty factory lines.

Another part of the equation is to make the flavors stick together. A phenomenon called fat migration, for example, causes the essences to move unevenly throughout the candy, changing the balance. Adjusting the ratio of the filling to the chocolate shell helps solve this problem. Water can also migrate. In a process called scattering, which is widely seen in candies with cookies or soft centers, moisture moves into intentionally dry areas, leading to cracks, mold, and other problems. Tinkering with the temperature during production can keep the moisture in place.

Considering all of these factors, Bwamba and her colleagues can take years to perfect a new snack. But cracking the code is really nice. Bwamba relishes these victories, for example when she discovered how to make a Kit Kat taste like fruity milk at the bottom of a bowl of colorful cereal.

As they scan the horizon for potential successes, companies must tap into a range of influences. Bwamba draws on his own imagination to create unique combos. But representation, she points out, is also a key ingredient. She was part of a team of employees who pushed Hershey to sponsor a food science scholarship for students at historically black colleges and universities. “It’s up to companies to intentionally take steps to be inclusive and pursue diversity of thought and context,” she says, noting that diverse culinary roots can lead to ever more interesting confections.

Bwamba’s next flavor is a secret, but she’s considering salty / sweet combos and considering Latino delicacies like churros and chili peppers. Tropical notes, dubbed one of the top candy trends of 2021 by experts, could also make the list. Either way, her love for her sugar-soaked job is impossible to keep a secret. “It’s as fun as you could imagine,” she says.

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