The health benefits of cocoa flavanols such as improvements to cardiovascular health have received much recognition in recent years, with positive findings from a number of studies impacting on consumer awareness. But manufacturers have struggled with consistency, reliable measurement methods and communication of the flavanol benefits and content of foods.
Mary Wagner, chief technology officer for Mars Botanical, a scientific division of Mars Inc, said that while flavanols are naturally abundant in cocoa, unless a processor is specifically measuring and carefully handling a product throughout the manufacturing process, there is no guarantee the product contains meaningful levels of the flavanols.
Mars and Barry Callebaut have both been aware of the detrimental effects of processing on the final flavanol content of products, prompting them to research new processing techniques to maximise the retention of cocoa flavanols and to quantify their levels.
And Gaby Tschofen, head of communications for Barry Callebaut, told this publication that as a result of combining the findings of their research the two chocolate makers have already jointly defined what the minimum content of flavanols should be in a final product - at least 140mg of cocoa flavanols per proportional serving of 50g.
“This level is consistent with the flavanol content in the Barry Callebaut Acticoa chocolate range,” she added.
The two companies will now share insights into the process of measuring the antioxidant-rich compounds to guarantee reliable flavanol levels in chocolate products globally, continued Tschofen.
“There has been a lot of consumer confusion in relation to cocoa flavanols and the positive impact they have on health due to the fact that no common standard exists within the industry for measuring and indicating adequate levels of these compounds inside a product," she said.
She added that the two chocolate makers also intend to harmonize their marketing materials over the next few months to aid consumer understanding of the compounds.
Barry Callebaut's Acticoa dark chocolate, which contains 500mg of cocoa flavanols, was the focus of a study last year conducted by Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh. Findings of the research, reports the chocolate supplier, suggest that the eating 17g portions of the Acticoa chocolate on a daily basis for two weeks helps to maintain healthy blood pressure.
Currently, about 30 chocolate products containing Acticoa cocoa ingredient are dotted on the supermarket shelves, in over ten countries around the world.
However, with the aspect of the EU 2006 nutrition and health claims regulation yet to be resolved in regard to the nutrition profiling scheme it will be difficult for products high in sugar, saturated fat and salt from making health claims of any kind.
But the double-digit growth seen in the functional category over the past five years does make for compelling figures and an understandable motivation to drive new product development further down the functional chocolate path.
One in four Western consumers are interested in chocolate with physical or emotional health benefits, according to data gathered on behalf of Barry Callebaut in Belgium, Switzerland, France, Germany, the UK and the US.
The survey revealed that 27 per cent of consumers in these countries buy chocolate to promote a feeling of well-being and to boost their mood. Further, about 21 per cent of consumers across the six countries are now interested in chocolate that has added functional ingredients.
This area and many others will be considered in more detail at the upcoming NutraIngredients Antioxidants 2010 Conference.
For more information and to register, please click here. http://www.ni-antioxidants.com/page/home.html