Barry Callebaut will this week launch a new probiotic confectionery bar, claiming that chocolate is a better carrier of intestinal 'good' bacteria than more traditional dairy products.
The new product is the latest one released by the Switzerland-based company as part of its strategy to create a healthier chocolate bar. Sales of "traditional" chocolate are dropping because of an unhealthy and fatty image.
The product, set to be launched at the Food Ingredients Europe show in London this week, contains probiotic micro-organisms that restore the pH balance of the intestines, the company claims.
"Probiotics are widely thought to aid in restoring the balance of the intestinal flora, providing protection against infection while improving metabolism," said Hans Vriens, chief innovation officer at Barry Callebaut.
In order to create probiotic chocolate on an industrial scale, the company had to develop a production method that did not destroy either the probiotics or the taste or texture of the product, Vriens explained.
"The challenge is to ensure the survival and activity of the orally ingested microorganisms within the harsh environment of the human digestive tract," he said.
The company cooperated with functional food company Lallemand to create the technology. The venture involved using two specific bacteria strains, and a patented micro-encapsulation technology, branded as Probiocap, already developed by Lallemand.
"The patented Probiocap technology involves applying a protective shield around the probiotic bacteria, ensuring their survival in the digestive tract and thus optimal activity in the gut, their site of action." said Bruno Delattre, business director at Lal'foods, a subsidiary of Lallemand.
The production method is so effective, Vriens claimed, that the chocolate-embedded probiotics had significantly higher survival rates than those in milk based carriers, when tested on simulations of the human stomach and small intestine.
In fact, the tests suggested that probiotics in chocolate are four times less likely to perish on digestion, he added, and so a consumer would only need to eat 13.5g of the product per day.
Probiotics are bacteria commonly added to food products, as manufacturers claim that they can help improve both gut and immune health.
They are commonly added to dairy products, such as yoghurts of milk drinks, because the chilled conditions needed to store them creates an ideal habitat for the bacteria.
However, data drawn from Mintel's Global New Products Database (GNDP) in Febuary from Mintel suggests that manufacturers are increasingly investigating ways to boost probiotic survival and make them suitable for use in other product types.
Listings in the GNDP of confectionery products containing "healthy" bacteria such as probiotics went from one in 2004 to 11 in 2006.
The number of functional snack products went from zero in 2004 to 25 in 2006, while new baby food products containing probiotic, prebiotic or symbiotic bacterial jumped up from three in 2002 to 27 in 2006.
Other additions Barry Callebaut's healthy chocolate portfolio include Acticoa, an antioxidant rich cocoa.