Studies Boost Chocolate's Popularity

Recent studies are giving chocolate a further boost in popularity.

By Mark Anthony, Ph.D.

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Nearly everybody loves chocolate, but it's beginning to look less like an indulgence and more like health food. How did that happen? The simple answer is phytochemicals. Chocolate is a rich source of polyphenols (including flavonoids such as epicatechin and gallic acid), a class of compounds that act as potent antioxidants.

The latest news in chocolate, however, may be its potential to lower blood pressure   at least according to a July study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In this study, 44 adults aged 56 through 73 years with untreated, upper-range prehypertension ate either 6.3g (30kcal) of dark chocolate containing 30 mg of polyphenols or polyphenol-free white chocolate. The polyphenol-rich dark chocolate efficiently reduced blood pressure and improved formation of vasodilative nitric oxide. These results were consistent with a previous analysis of the compiled data from five similar studies.

CocoaVia, from Mars Inc. (www.cocoavia.com), Hackettstown, N.J., was one of the first major "functional" chocolate products, specifically targeting heart health. The products are portion/calorie-controlled, with added plant sterols and 100mg of cocoa flavanols, plus natural calcium, folic acid and vitamins C, E, B6 and B12. But most of the energy in chocolate-for-health since CocoaVia's launch two years ago has been toward high-end, fair-trade, organic, non-GMO dark chocolate which only incidentally trades on the health aspects already inherent in chocolate.

That changed with the recent introductions of chocolate products building on the CocoaVia model. One example is Lynden, Wash.-based Flora Inc.'s (www.florahealth.com) Bija Omega line of chocolates. The organic, non-GMO chocolate truffles contains 13g per serving of a blend of omega 3, 6 and 9 oils.

Barry Callebaut (www.barry-callebaut.com), Wieze, Belgium, just released a chocolate line combining two proprietary strains of microencapsulated probiotic microorganisms to help restore the balance of the intestinal flora. The company's product is capable of resisting the normal chocolate production process and allows for a long shelf life.

According to Hans Vriens, chief innovation officer for Callebaut, "Initial studies also confirm that chocolate is a superior carrier for the intestinal delivery of probiotics, ensuring the survival of up to four times as many beneficial probiotic bacteria as those contained in milk-based substrates."

Callebaut also developed its "Acticoa" process to preserve concentrated amounts of the polyphenols naturally present in cocoa beans. The process involves "growing, harvesting and treating the beans in such a way that a maximum amount of polyphenols in the beans is preserved, together with the taste and aromas."

Irvine, Calif.-based Cyvex Nutrition Inc. (www.cyvex.com) released its Cocoanol cocoa polyphenol heart health ingredient for the functional foods industry. Cocoanol is a polyphenol extract derived from non-GMO cocoa beans containing a minimum of 20 percent polyphenols.

Joanie's Smiles (www.joaniessmiles.com), Malibu, Calif., merges the tea extract trend with the chocolate trend for a high-quality, kosher-certified Belgian white, dark and milk chocolate-bar line. Organic teas are infuse into chocolate to enhance both flavor and the nutraceutical profile.

Thompson Brand Inc., Meriden, Conn., has enjoyed success marketing its Adora chocolates (www.adoracalcium.com) as "calcium supplements," targeting bone health. They also contain vitamins D and K, which play an important role in the body's ability to absorb and utilize calcium. Around the same time Adora hit the market in 2006, Ecco Bella (www.eccobella.com), Montclair, N.J., rolled out its Beautiful Bones Bar . Certified organic and Fair Trade, Beautiful Bones Bars also have added calcium and vitamins D and K.

Consumers can also enhance beverages such as coffee, tea or cocoa with Pure Inventions LLC's (www.pureinventions.com) extract supplements. The Little Silver, N.J., company introduced its "Antioxidant Cocoa Collection," a trio of antioxidant-rich liquid chocolate concentrates. The line includes regular, vanilla and mint chocolate flavors.

We can expect the trend toward "superchocolates" to continue for as long as people crave chocolate. The cdhallenge for processors is to remember that the driving force behind thelove of chocolate is its indulgent and addictive flavor.

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