Tag Archives: polyphenols

Health vs. Profit – The Conflicting Responses by Scientists and Chocolate Companies to Advances in Scientific Understanding

Nutritionists and those in the food industry often find themselves with opposing opinions with regards to health and nutrition. It is often argued by chocolate companies that scientists do not have as strong of a grasp on the science of chocolate as they would lead you to believe (Nestle), and scientists argue that the food companies are too concerned with profits to care about the health of their consumers. Currently, nutritionists suggest limiting the consumption of candy and other high-in-sugar products. However, the scientific community’s stance on chocolate consumption has shifted with time – new advances in scientific understanding cause nutritionists to update their previous suggestions to better reflect the information available. Chocolate companies, in turn, are quick to point out how rapidly the nutritionists’ suggestions change, neglecting to mention how minute their updates may be. As the understanding of the nutritional effects of chocolate and sugar on humans has evolved, the scientific community has updated its suggestions on what individuals should be eating; however, chocolate companies have put much efforts into undermining the scientific advancements, both by attacking the credibility of scientific advancements, and by trying to persuade their customers that their products are healthier than they are.

To better understand the science of chocolate, it is important to discuss the perceived health benefits chocolate has had historically. Societies native to Mesoamerica, such as the Olmec and Mayan societies, consumed chocolate as early 1100BC (Squicciarini). The Aztec society thought cocoa pods were able to provide nourishment, fertility, and even an increased sex drive (Squicciarini). However, while “chocolate” in name, this chocolate is notably different than the chocolate we think of today. As the Mesoamerican chocolate migrated to Europe, chocolate began its human-induced evolution, as the Europeans added their own elements to chocolate, to fit their sweeter appetite, and extracted cocoa products (Squicciarini). Even still, this chocolate is not the chocolate we typically see in grocery stores. In the 17th century, European academics began considering chocolate as a remedy for certain illnesses. It is important to note here, however, that the illnesses of seventeenth century Europe were vastly different than those of modern day America. Twenty-first century health in America is characterized by obesity, diabetes, and other illnesses associated with overeating. However, in the seventeenth century, Europe often faced food shortages, and a much more common ailment was undernutrition (Lyons). Chocolate was considered a high-caloric food, and as such was able to fight malnutrition. Since the hallmark health characteristics of the seventeenth century are different than in today’s society, it seems rather silly to suggest that our chocolate could serve as a medicine in the same way. Moving into more modern times, chocolate has undergone even more changes. As our society built up a taste for sweetness, sugar was added in high amounts to chocolate, reducing its bitterness. Before 1914, hot chocolate drinks had nutritional value of high fat content and protein content, and were among the only hot drinks to have such properties (Squicciarini) Then, the Spanish started sweeting it with sugar cane, vanilla, and cinnamon, increasing its popularity drastically (Squicciarini). And even then, there were health concerns regarding chocolate. A characteristic ingredient of chocolate is theobromine, which is classified as a psychoactive alkaloid. This is the same class of molecules as nicotine, caffeine, and cocaine, and is often attributed to their addictive properties (Clarence-Smith). Let us take a look at both theobromine and caffeine.

Caffeine vs. Theobromine
Caffeine vs. Theobromine (Holsclaw)

Caffeine is a compound that is thought of as addicting (as well as vital for most college students). Its effect is greatly due to the fact that it greatly resembles the molecule cyclic adenine monophosphate (cAMP). cAMP helps expedite the process of delivering oxygen to the brain, and maintains blood pressure, both of which are important for remaining alert (i.e. feeling awake). The enzyme cyclic nucleotide phosphodiesterase (cAMP-PDE) recognizes cAMP as its substrate, and will break the molecule down, resulting in the feeling of drowsiness. The enzyme cAMP-PDE has evolved to recognize the cAMP, a naturally-occurring molecule in our bodies (unlike caffeine), (Spoto). Since cAMP and caffeine resemble each other chemically, cAMP-PDE is not able to distinguish the two, and thus can spend its time breaking down caffeine instead of cAMP (Montoya). In other words, the part of our body that is responsible for making us tired (cAMP-PDE) has to waste its time breaking down the wrong molecule (caffeine), so our bodies can maintain higher levels of the molecule that helps maintain alertness (cAMP). This is actually how many psychoactive alkaloids work in terms of alertness (Horrigan). When the similarities between caffeine and theobromine were first discovered, many nutritionists compared chocolate to cocaine, and suggested minimizing its use (Wilson). Despite its similar structure, however, theobromine is unable to perform this same function. Theobromine and caffeine do look very similar to humans, and have somewhat similar reactivities, yet are not the same molecule, (Beckett). cAMP-PDE is not able to recognize theobromine, in part because it is a smaller molecule, and unable to fit into the enzyme as well as caffeine, or its natural substrate cAMP, (Spoto). The addictive properties of chocolate have previously been placed on theobromine’s classification as a psychoactive alkaloid, but this is not able to cause the explained effect.

Instead, the reason chocolate can seem so addicting lies in a different class of molecules, called saccharides, more commonly referred to as sugar. Americans are commonly said to be addicted to sugar, and add excessive amounts of sugar to everything. Sugar is commonly being added to more and more foods, and those foods are increasing in their sugar content over time (Hyde). Our chocolate products’ sugar content is increasing (Hegelman), and our modern-day scientists and nutritionists are alarmed (Nestle). Scientific studies have consistently warned us of the dangers of excessive sugar (diabetes, obesity, etc.), and as new research is performed, the results are increasingly worrying (Squicciarini). However, chocolate companies put an interesting spin on this – they claim that the new results in the scientific research must contradict each other, and as such are unreliable (Nestle). They also point out that different studies measure health through different techniques, and since it isn’t uniform, it must be open to interpretation. It is a quite brilliant strategy actually, to claim that the data presented by the scientific community, the data which scientists themselves admit to updating, is too inconsistent to be worth reducing chocolate consumption. These chocolate companies rely on the consumers to not fully understand the research, and agree with their argument that the scientific figures change with each update, instead of realizing that each update creates further evidence for limiting our chocolate intake. They are thus able to present themselves as more easily understood, and no less credible. This allows these companies within the chocolate industry to claim that no foods are inherently “bad,” and that dieting and nutritional advice is too variable by the individual to be applied so broadly. This continues the theme of scientific advancement reshaping the nutritional food pyramid into the future, as the chocolate companies are attempting to immobilize our consumption patterns, in direct opposition of nutritionists creating a change over time in our consumption patterns to help keep us more nourished.

However, this is not to say that chocolate companies are totally void of arguments involving science. Many chocolate companies use science in their advertisements to attempt to trick the consumer by using scientific and nutrition buzz-words that actually have very little meaning. First, to discuss this point, it is necessary to distinguish between two terms: chocolate and confectionery. Chocolate companies advertise themselves as chocolate companies, but focus most of their attention on chocolate confectionery. Chocolate is defined as “A preparation of the seeds of cacao, roasted, husked, and ground, often sweetened and flavored, as with sugar and vanilla,” (Martin), while confectionery refers to sweet foods, often sweetened with sugar. A more representative title of companies such as Hershey’s and Mars would be “confectionery companies,” rather than chocolate companies. This distinction is important because there are health benefits associated with chocolate that are not associated with confectionery. For example, chocolates have high polyphenol and methylxanthine contents (Ackar), both of which are antioxidants, and associated with antiviral, antiallergenic, and anti-inflammatory properties, among other beneficial characteristics (Manach). This is something which chocolate companies love to advertise, but is less significant than they claim (Squicciarini). By using chocolate in their confectionery products, these companies are accurate in claiming their product has these properties. However, when discussing this feature in chocolate in their advertisements, they fail to establish that the “chocolate bar” they are selling is not entirely chocolate, but instead has a certain (and often small) amount of chocolate in it. Looking at this Hershey’s advertisement shows how they use this sneaky tactic in promoting their brand.

Hershey's Dark Chocolate Kiss Advertisement
Hershey’s Dark Chocolate Kiss Advertisement (Hershey’s)

Here, Hershey’s states “antioxidants in the chocolate reduce free radicals in your body and keep your skin looking younger longer.” While this information is not false, it is presented in a misconstruing way. The advertisement makes it seem as if their Hershey’s Kiss has a particularly high content of these antioxidants, and discusses their existence rather than their concentration or effectiveness. This is not an isolated incident within the food industry, many other advertising campaigns utilize similar scientific inexactitudes. Many products are advertised as “reduced sugar,” “whole grain first ingredient,” etc. Each of these phrases are buzz-words that seem to imply either an added degree of nutrition, or a lesser degree of unhealthy ingredients. And while these statements are technically truthful, these facts are rarely as relevant as they would appear. For example, when a chocolate company claims that its product has reduced its sugar content, that often means that the products’ sugar has been replaced with a sugar-like ingredient. Let us take the example of Heinz’ Reduced Sugar Tomato Ketchup. While their ingredients list does not list “sugar” anywhere, it instead includes the ingredient sucralose, a sugar derivative (Schober). It even specifies that sucralose is not an ingredient that they regularly include. Sucralose is an artificial sugar whose safety is still disputed within the scientific community: it has been shown to increase the pH level in the intestines (Abou-Donia), and increase body weight, levels of P-glycoprotein, and risk of leukemia (CSPI), and even DNA damage (Sasaki) in rats. And while some of these scientific studies have been contested, they are often done so by those invested in the products. For example, Trevor Butterworth claims, in vague terms, that these studies are inaccurate, and that it is important to “scrutinize the data,” (Butterworth). However, Butterworth has a history of attacking scientific research in the world of nutrition, and is known to have connections with GMO companies, who produce the products he defends (Malkan).

Annotated Reduced Sugar Tomato Ketchup
Heinz’ Annotated Reduced Sugar Tomato Ketchup (Coach Calorie)
Annotated Ingredients of Reduced Sugar Tomato Ketchup
Heinz’ Annotated Ingredients of Reduced Sugar Tomato Ketchup (Coach Calorie)

 

 

 

 

And this brings us back to the chocolate companies. They use scientific wording (inaccurately, mostly) when it suits them, and then attack (with vague wording and emotional claims) any science that opposes their views. This is not a tactic unique to the chocolate industry, but in fact was perfected by the tobacco industry beforehand. Marion Nestle examines the sales strategies within the tobacco industry in her book Food Politics. She states that “Cigarettes use science to sow confusion about the harm that cigarettes can cause,” (Nestle), in addition to techniques of targeting children, the impoverished, and expanding their market globally. This parallels how the chocolate industry, and the greater food industry, market their products. Just as tobacco targeted children in their advertisements, chocolate and fast-food companies do the same, through television advertisements, product placement in media, internet advertisements, and even within their schools (Story). And just as tobacco companies expanded their markets internationally, the chocolate industries are competing for China’s chocolate market (Martin) Just as the tobacco companies had great success, chocolate companies are seeing similar results (Story). As children are making more demands on their parents for chocolate confectionery products they see on television, their parents’ relent with the result that children are consuming much higher levels of sugar (Story) Nestle does discuss how to prevent this, by citing the largely successful anti-smoking campaigns. She discusses the four pillars of the anti smoking campaigns: the firm research base that smoking does cause cancer, the clear message telling consumers not to smoke, the clear strategy for intervention focusing on smokers and nonsmokers alike, and strategies that do more than just address education, but address cultural measures as well (such as taxing cigarettes and preventing them in restaurants). She puts forth a proposal on how to do the same for the fast food and confectionery companies which mirrors the anti-smoking campaign. However, attempts to reduce the appeal of high-caloric food advertising has been met with opposition – the FTC was restricted in their ability to censor TV advertisements in backlash to their proposal to prevent inaccurate claims by food companies directed at children (Story).

The scientific understanding of both chocolate and sugar has grown considerably since the introduction of chocolate in Mesoamerica, yet this science is often overlooked. The companies who stand to profit off of the sales of chocolate confectionery attempt to discredit any science that would hinder their sales, while advertising their own products through the use of overly-simplified, and thus irrelevant scientific oversimplifications. Chocolate is not inherently a toxin to be avoided at all costs (assuming you aren’t a dog), but chocolate confectionery is much more processed sugars than the original cocoa it derives from and is named after. The pursuit of scientific advancement, and of scientific inquiry on the individual level is vital to avoid falling victim to false claims, such that every chocoholic can know exactly what he or she is ingesting.

 

Works Cited:

Ackar, Djurdjica, et al. “Cocoa polyphenols: can we consider cocoa and chocolate as potential functional food?.” Journal of chemistry 2013 (2013).

Abou-Donia, Mohamed B., et al. “Splenda alters gut microflora and increases intestinal p-glycoprotein and cytochrome p-450 in male rats.” Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A 71.21 (2008): 1415-1429.

Beckett, Sheilah. The science of chocolate. Vol. 22. Royal Society of Chemistry, 2000.

Browning, Lynnley. “New Salvo in Splenda Skirmish.” The New York Times: Business Day. N.p., 22 Sept. 2008. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

Butterworth, Trevor. “Controversial Italian Scientist Says Splenda Causes Cancer.” Forbes. N.p., 24 Apr. 2012. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

Clarence-Smith, William Gervase. Cocoa and chocolate, 1765-1914. Routledge, 2003.

CSPI. “CSPI Downgrades Sucralose from “Caution” to “Avoid” – New Animal Study Indicates Cancer Risk.” Center for Science in the Public Interest. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Mar. 2017.

CSPI. “CSPI Downgrades Sucralose from “Safe” to “Caution” – Group Cites Need to Evaluate Forthcoming Italian Study Linking Artificial Sweetener to Leukemia in Mice.” Center for Science in the Public Interest. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Mar. 2017.

Hegelman, Carl. “How the Snickers Bar Changed Over Time.” Web log post. The Billfold. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Mar. 2017.

Hershey’s Dark Chocolate Kiss Advertisement. Digital image. Hershey’s. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

Heinz’ Annotated Ingredients of Reduced Sugar Tomato Ketchup. Digital image. Coach Calorie. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

Heinz’ Annotated Reduced Sugar Tomato Ketchup. Digital image. Coach Calorie. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

Holsclaw, Cindy. Caffeine vs. Theobromine. Digital image. Bead Origami. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017. <http://beadorigami.blogspot.com/2013/03/chocolate-molecules.html&gt;.

Horrigan, Louise A., John P. Kelly, and Thomas J. Connor. “Immunomodulatory effects of caffeine: friend or foe?.” Pharmacology & therapeutics 111.3 (2006): 877-892.

Hyde, Dan. “Does your breakfast cereal contain more sugar than before?” The Telegraph. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

Lyons, Albert S. “Medical History — The Seventeenth Century.” HealthGuidance for Better Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

Malkan, Stacy. “Trevor Butterworth Spins Science for Industry.” Web log post. U.S. Right to Know. N.p., 12 Dec. 2016. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

Manach, Claudine, et al. “Polyphenols: food sources and bioavailability.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 79.5 (2004): 727-747.

Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 1: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.” Harvard, Cambridge, MA. 1 Feb. 2017. Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 6: The rise of big chocolate and the race for the global market.” Harvard, Cambridge, MA. 8 Mar. 2017. Lecture.

Montoya, Gina A., et al. “Modulation of 3′, 5′-cyclic AMP homeostasis in human platelets by coffee and individual coffee constituents.” British Journal of Nutrition 112.09 (2014): 1427-1437.

Nestle, Marion, and Michael Pollan. Food politics: how the food industry influences nutrition and health. Berkeley, CA: U of California Press, 2013. Print.

Sasaki, Yu F., et al. “The comet assay with 8 mouse organs: results with 39 currently used food additives.” Mutation Research/Genetic Toxicology and Environmental Mutagenesis 519.1 (2002): 103-119.

Spoto, G., et al. “Caffeine, theophylline and bamifylline are similar as competitive inhibitors of 3′, 5′-cyclic amp phosphodiesterase in vitro.” INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF IMMUNOPATHOLOGY AND PHARMACOLOGY 10.2 (1997): 153-158.

Schober, Tony. “10 Ways Food Advertising Tricks are Misleading You.” Web log post. Coach Calorie. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

Story, Mary, and Simone French. “Food advertising and marketing directed at children and adolescents in the US.” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 1.1 (2004): 3.

Squicciarini, Mara P., and Johan F. M. Swinnen. The economics of chocolate. Oxford: Oxford U Press, 2016. Print.

Wilson, Philip K., and W. Jeffrey Hurst, eds. Chocolate and Health: Chemistry, Nutrition and Therapy. Royal Society of Chemistry, 2015.

Functional Chocolate: Health Claims and Marketing Campaigns

One step into Cambridge Naturals, a community natural health store in Cambridge, MA, and the market for organic, fair-trade, vegan, bean-to-bar, local, non-gmo, paleo, environmentally friendly and ethically sourced chocolate products is on full display. A meeting with the store’s manager & grocery lead adds another term to the list of qualities their consumer base is looking for when they step into the store – functional chocolate. This trend shows a probable correlation between what customers are willing to spend on chocolate that makes health claims, based on the way the cacao is processed and additional ingredients added that are promoted to provide nutritional benefits. The functional chocolate trend begs the question – are these health claims regarding various methods of cacao processing and healthful additives substantiated by scientific research, or are they merely a marketing gimmick? This article will analyze recent research on the health benefits of chocolate as a functional food, look at fermentation and processing differences from a nutrient perspective, and consider additional benefits of medicinal additives to chocolate in order to best answer this question.

 

How are functional foods different from healthy foods?

In a study published in the Academic Food Journal/Akademik (2014) that looked at the development of functional chocolate, the differences between health foods and functional foods were defined as the following:

“Functional foods are a new category of products that promise consumers improvements in targeted physiological functions” (Albak, Fatma, & Tekin, 2014, p. 19).

Whereas, “conventional ‘healthy’ foods are typically presented as types of foods contributing to a healthy diet, e.g. low-fat products, high-fibre products, or vegetables, without emphasizing the role of any single product” (Albak, Fatma, & Tekin, 2014, p. 19).

 

Functional foods share these characteristics:

  • Health benefits that can be linked to a specific product
  • Well-defined physiological effects are directly connected with particular components in the specific product
  • Scientific evidence about health effects that is used to develop specific functional products
  • There is novelty for the consumer with the promised benefits
  • Modern technology is often needed to manufacture the functional foods due to specific components being added, modified or removed (Albak, et al., 2014).

 

Demand for Functional Foods

The market for functional foods exists in large part due to the rising popularity of healthier products by consumers (Albak, et al., 2014). One contributor to interest in healthy products is their use as a remedy to detrimental lifestyle factors that can contribute to unyielding high levels of inflammation in the body (Jain, Parag, Pandey, & Shukla, 2015). In the book, Inflammation and Lifestyle (2015), the connection between diet and inflammation is emphasized.

“Our diet is one of the leading sources of these chronic illnesses, and changing the diet is the key to prevention and cure. A number of dietary factors, including fiber-rich foods, whole grains, fruits (especially berries), omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidant vitamins (e.g., C and E), and certain trace minerals (e.g., zinc), have been documented to reduce blood concentrations of inflammatory markers. The best way to correct and eliminate inflammation is to improve comprehensive lifestyle and dietary changes rather than taking pharmaceutical drugs, the latter of which can cause unintended harm in the form of damaging side effects” (Jain, et al., 2015, p. 143).

The authors provide this graphic to illustrate what an anti-inflammatory diet pyramid looks like in terms of specific food groups. Note that dark chocolate is positioned on the top of the pyramid.

 

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 11.51.38 PM
“Anti-inflammatory edible’s pyramid” (Jain, et al., 2015, p. 144)

An introduction to the benefits of superfoods and their role in an anti-inflammatory diet are explained in the publication. “An anti-inflammatory diet is one that is low in processed foods and high in fresh fruits and vegetables, seeds, sprouts, nuts and superfoods. Maca, spirulina, purple corn, wheatgrass, coconut butter and raw chocolate are a few of the health promoting superfoods that are gaining international interest” (Jain, et al., 2015, p. 144). The inclusion of “raw chocolate” in the category of superfoods versus “chocolate” warrants further examination and will be explored later in this article, but the position remains clear that evidence supports the protective benefits of chocolate as a part of a healthy diet.

 

Chocolate as a Functional Food

Under the category of functional foods as previously defined, chocolate, as will be further described, fulfills all the requisite characteristics. Even though the term functional food is relatively recent, the practice of consuming chocolate for its specific health benefits is centuries old. “Chocolate has been consumed as confection, aphrodisiac, and folk medicine for many years before science proved its potential health benefiting effects. Main compounds of cocoa and chocolate which contribute to human health are polyphenols that act as antioxidants and have potential anti-inflammatory, cardioprotective, antihepatotoxic, antibacterial, antiviral, antiallergenic, and anticarcinogenic properties” (Ackar, Djurdjica, Lendić, Valek,… & Nedić, 2013, p. 1). The studied physiological effects of chocolate include “reported health benefits of cocoa and dark chocolate particularly focus on cardiovascular diseases (but also showing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects), including increased blood flow at the brachial artery and the left descending coronary artery, decreased blood pressure, decreased platelet aggregation and increased HDL cholesterol” (Bordiga, et al., 2015, p. 840). Numerous research discoveries have shed light on the complex nature of how these protective benefits of cacao are reduced or encouraged by different methods of sourcing, processing and consuming chocolate (Jalil, & Ismail, 2008).

Polyphenols are found in many food sources including, “vegetables and fruits, green and black tea, red wine, coffee, chocolate, olives, and some herbs and spices, as well as nuts and algae” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). However, “chocolate is one of the most polyphenol-rich foods along with tea and wine” where, “results [have] indicated that dark chocolate exhibited the highest polyphenol content” (Jalil, & Ismail, 2008, p. 2194). In unfermented cacao beans, there are three main groups of polyphenols, “flavan-3-ols or catechins, anthocyanins, and proanthocyanidins” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). Differences in cacao genetics or varieties and country of origin show varying levels of polyphenols by up to 4-fold (Jalil, & Ismail, 2008). “Criollo cultivars contained higher levels of procyanidins than Forastero and Trinitario beans. In addition, crop season and country of origin have impact on polyphenols in cocoa beans” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). Findings regarding polyphenol level by country of origin are contentious but include, “highest phenolic content was in Malaysian beans followed by Sulawesian, Ghanian and Côte d’Ivore” (Jalil, & Ismail, 2008, p. 2201) and “cocoa beans and processed products from Ecuador showed the highest levels of anthocyanins, followed by Nigeria and Cameroon” (Bordiga, et al., 2015, p. 840). Due to additional factors besides country of origin and genetic variation influencing the polyphenols in cacao, inclusion of the effects of processing cacao on flavor and polyphenol content is important to understand health claims made regarding the finished product, chocolate.

Processing cacao beans (namely the stages of fermentation and drying), and roasting in the chocolate making process greatly affect polyphenol content of the finished product (Ackar, et al., 2013; Bordiga, et al., 2015). “Due to these factors, the ratio and types of these components found in cocoa beans are unlikely to be the same as those found in the finished products” (Bordiga, et al., 2015, p. 841). For functional chocolate enthusiasts driving market trends, the balance between healthy and protective benefits of polyphenols and the effects on their levels through processing are of particular interest. “All these processes are needed to develop characteristic cocoa aroma. Polyphenols give astringent and bitter aroma to cocoa and contribute to reduced perception of “cocoa flavour” by sensory panel. However, nowadays processes are conducted in such manner to preserve as much polyphenol as possible with maintaining satisfactory aroma” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). The debate about the purpose of chocolate is hereby noted between the sensory experience – the aroma development, especially in the roasting stages, versus consumption for health effects with less regard to smell, taste and gustatory pleasure.

The search for a sweet spot between these poles is a lucrative area for producers and retail establishments. As described earlier, development of functional food into specific products uses scientific evidence about health effects, where modern technology is often needed to manufacture those products, in order to observe targeted physiological effects or functions (Albak, et al., 2014).

“Generally, as cocoa beans were further processed, the levels of anthocyanins and flavan-3-ols decreased. The largest observed losses of phenolics occurred during roasting. A progressive decreasing trend in polyphenol concentration was observed in the other processed samples as well. Despite the original content of polyphenols in raw cocoa beans, technological processes imply a significant impact on cocoa quality, confirming the need of specific optimisation to obtain high value chocolate” (Bordiga, et al., 2015, p. 840).

In order to preserve antioxidant quality through dark-chocolate products with “high flavonoid contents…these chocolates are produced by controlling bean selection, fermentation, and reduced heat and alkalization treatments” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2201). Although one of the most detrimental effects of processing on polyphenol and antioxidant levels is alkalization (or dutching) of cocoa powder (Ackar, et al., 2013; Jalil, et al., 2008), even the fermentation process significantly reduces flavonoid levels by up to 90% (Jalil, et al., 2008). However, in the search for the sweet spot between flavor and health benefits, fermentation presents a way to reduce bitter compounds due to the presence of flavonoids and polyphenols (Jalil, et al., 2008) and enhance flavor before roasting or further processing like alkalization. For example, some “manufacturers tend to remove [flavonoids] in large quantities to enhance taste quality… the manufacturers tend to prefer Ghanian cocoa beans, which are well-fermented and flavorful than that of Dominican or Indonesian beans, which are considered as less fermented and have low quality cocoa flavor” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2203). In Crafack’s study (2013), besides genetic flavor potentials of cacao beans, fermentation is cited as the most important factor influencing cocoa’s flavor potential.

“A properly conducted fermentation process is considered a prerequisite for the production of high quality chocolates since inadequately fermented cocoa beans will fail to produce cocoa specific aroma compounds during subsequent processing” (Crafack, Petersen, Eskildsen, Petersen, Heimdal, & Nielsen, 2013, p. 1).

In a later study by Crafack (2014), microorganism differences between fermentation practices are shown to produce variations in cacao flavor profiles. “Despite the importance of a properly conducted fermentation process, poor post-harvest practices, in combination with the unpredictable spontaneous nature of the fermentations, often results in sub-optimal flavour development…A microbial fermentation process therefore seems essential for developing the full complexity of compounds which characterises cocoa aroma. In conclusion, the results of the present study show that the volatile aroma profile of chocolate can be influenced using starter cultures” (Crafack, 2014, p. 1). Further research that builds on Crafack’s findings was published by Kadow (2015), explaining the role of multiple factors in the country of origin that characterize the fermentation process.

“During this in most cases spontaneous fermentation of the fruit pulp surrounding the seeds, the pulp is degraded by yeasts and bacteria. This degradation results in heat and organic acid formation. Heat effect and tissue acidification are the key parameters guiding flavour precursor formation. Accordingly, not microorganisms themselves but exclusively their metabolites are necessary for successful fermentation” (Kadow, Niemenak, Rohn, and Lieberei, 2015, p. 357).

This study aimed to further the development of standardization and mechanization of cocoa fermentation for the benefit of cacao production quality purposes. On the ranges of heat tested from fermenting heaps of cacao beans, 30 °C to a maximum of 50 °C was obtained after 24 h of fermentation at the inner part of the heap (Jespersen, Nielsen, Hønholt, and Jakobsen, 2005).

Finally, as an interesting note about polyphenol changes in cacao during fermentation, although “unripe and ripe cacao pods contain solely (−)-epicatechin and (+)-catechin. During fermentation, levels of both of these compounds were reduced, but (−)-catechin was formed due to heat-induced epimerization” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). These findings warrant more studies on the changes that happen during cacao fermentation, where although certain protective antioxidant levels decrease, other chemical compounds are formed due to the process of heat due to microorganism metabolites and acidification to the bean tissue.

After fermentation, the beans are dried to reduce water content for safe transport and storage of the cacao before further processing by chocolate manufactures. “During drying, additional loss of polyphenol occurs, mainly due to nonenzymatic browning reactions” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2) where “high temperatures and prolonged processing times will decrease the amount of catechins” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p.2203). The dried cacao is then shipped to the chocolate manufacturer where roasting is often performed. The roasting and generally the further processing of cacao degrades the levels of polyphenols by triggering the oxidation process (Ackar, et al., 2013; Bordiga, et al., 2015).

Conching is a process of agitation of chocolate mass at temperatures above 50 °C that is used to refine both the cocoa solids and sugar crystals to change the taste, smell, flavor, texture (mouthfeel) and viscosity of chocolate (Chocolate Alchemy, 2016; Di Mattia, Martuscelli, Sacchetti, Beheydt, Mastrocola, & Pittia, 2014) Different procedures for conching exist, including Long Time Conching (LTC) and Short Time Conching (STC). A study by Di Mattia (2014) done on these two conching processes and the implications for bioactive compounds and antioxidant activity found interesting results. The publication stressed the importance of time/temperature combinations as process parameters “to modulate and increase the functional properties of some foods” (Di Mattia, et al., 2014, pp.367-368). In the study, STC consisted of “a dry step at 90 °C for 6 h and then a wet step at 60°C for 1h,” while LTC involved, “a dry step at 60°C for 6 h and a then wet step at the same conditions (60 °C, 6 h)” (Di Mattia, et al., 2014, p. 368). The results of the analysis on phenolic content, antioxidant values defined as radical scavenging properties showed, “that the conching process, and the LTC in particular, determined an improvement of the antiradical and reducing properties of chocolate” (Di Mattia, et al., 2014, p.372). Recommendation for further studies was suggested to “optimize the conching process for the modulation of the functional properties,” (Di Mattia, et al., 2014, p.372) but the results remain in favor of longer time and lower temperature processing to preserve health benefits in chocolate during the conching phase.

From the perspective of chocolate makers, assessing combinations of ingredients/additives that can either help or hinder protective compounds in chocolate – including polyphenols and bioavailability, is important. Jalil, & Ismail’s review (2008), considered, “both bioavailability and antioxidant status [important] in determining the relationship between cocoa flavonoids and health benefits” (Jalil, et al., 2008, pp. 2194-2195). Studies focused on epicatechin from chocolate found the polyphenols, “rapidly absorbed by humans, with plasma levels detected after 30min of oral digestion, peaking after 2-3 h and returning to baseline after 6–8 h. In addition, cumulative effect in high daily doses was recorded” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). Interestingly, an argument for the benefits of chocolate’s sweetened and rich composition – if cocoa butter and some type of sweetener is used in processing – is explained where the “presence of sugars and oils generally increases bioavailability of polyphenols, while proteins, on the other hand, decrease it” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). Milk chocolate lovers may be disappointed to find that, “milk proteins reduce bioavailability of epicatechin in chocolate confectionary…[with] reported inhibition of in vivo antioxidant activity of chocolate by addition of milk either during manufacturing process or during ingestion” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2).

Additional health properties of cacao found especially in dark chocolate, apart from polyphenols, may have a role to play in reports of chocolate cravings and their use as functional food. Theses beneficial components include “methylxanthines, namely caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2197) “peptides, and minerals” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2200). “Theobromine is a psychoactive compound without diuretic effects” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2198). “Cocoa is also rich in proteins. Cocoa peptides are generally responsible for the flavour precursor formation” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2199). Lastly, “minerals are one of the important components in cocoa and cocoa products. Cocoa and cocoa products contained relatively higher amount of magnesium compared to black tea, red wine, and apples” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2200).

A well supported rule of thumb for finding high antioxidant capacity functional chocolate is to look for the percentage of non-fat cocoa solids (NFCS) in chocolate products to determine total phenolic content (Jalil, et al., 2008; Vinson, & Motisi, 2015)  “Dark chocolates contain the highest NFCS among the different types of chocolates” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2204) However, due to percentages of cocoa solids on on chocolate labels including polyphenol-free cocoa butter, the accuracy of this measure is not always correct and can lead to overestimating polyphenol content in certain types of chocolate (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2204). That said, a recent study by Vinson and Motisi (2015), performed on commercial chocolate bars found “a significant and linear relationship between label % cocoa solids and the antioxidant assays as well as the sum of the monomers.” From which they concluded that, “consumers can thus rationally choose chocolate bars based on % cocoa solids on the label” (Vinson, & Motisi, 2015, p. 526).

Additions to Functional Chocolate

In health food stores like Cambridge Naturals and Deborah’s Natural Gourmet in Concord, MA, the presence of functional chocolate with additional health boosting ingredients is prevalent. The validity of these claims to improve focus, enhance libido and energy, and other desirable improved physiological functions, based on herbs, powders and additional superfoods mixed with cacao, is intriguing. A study by Albak and Tekin (2014), found that mixing aniseed, ginger, and cinnamon into the dark chocolate mix before conching, “increased the total polyphenol content while they decreased the melting properties of dark chocolate after conching” (Albak, et al., 2014, p. 19).

Other resources that further elucidate specific findings on these superfoods, herbs and spices include:

Afolabi Clement Akinmoladun, Mary, Tolulope Olaleye, and Ebenezer Olatunde Farombi. “Cardiotoxicity and Cardioprotective Effects of African Medicinal Plants.” Toxicological Survey of African Medicinal Plants (2014): 395. This publication includes information on gingko, turmeric among other additives to functional chocolate and how protective vascular effects are formed.

Ruscigno, Matt, and Joshua Ploeg. Superfoods for Life, Cacao:-Improve Heart Health-Boost Your Brain Power-Decrease Stress Hormones and Chronic Fatigue-75 Delicious Recipes. Fair Winds Press (MA), 2014.

Wolfe, David. Superfoods: the food and medicine of the future. North Atlantic Books, 2010.

 

Raw Chocolate

Some consideration for the popularity of raw chocolate, which is used as the base of many functional chocolate products, deserves attention. As explained, there are many reasons chocolate can be considered a functional food, especially due to specific health promoting compounds like polyphenols and flavonoids, peptides, theobromine and minerals present in cacao and in chocolate. Unfortunately, overwhelming scientific evidence points to the detrimental effects on these compounds from processing, especially by heat. “Flavanols largely disappear once the cocoa bean is heated, fermented and processed into chocolate. In other words, making chocolate destroys the very ingredient that is supposed to make it healthy” (Crowe, 2015).  Raw chocolate, by the standards of raw foodism, means that food is not supposed to be heated above 118 degrees Fahrenheit in order to preserve enzymes. This seems tricky to prove especially when chocolate makers receive cocoa beans from various countries of origin where fermenting and drying practices are not under their direct supervision. Some companies remedy this issue with bean-to-bar practices that ensure they have seen and approved the process that cacao beans undergo before shipment to the company’s own processing facilities, where low temperature winnowing, grinding and conching is under their complete control. The bean-to-bar method (See Taza’s Bean-to-Bar and Direct Trade process) also provides assurance that cacao is ethically (sometimes for organic and wild-crafted cacao if so desired) sourced. These initiatives often promote more sustainable and  better processed cacao, which means higher quality cacao for both the farmer, manufacturer and consumer. For these reasons, the popularity of raw cacao seems to fit into the development of functional foods where the consumer is able to enjoy a sometimes more bitter, medicinal tasting chocolate in the anticipation of a powerful physiological boost and a clearer conscience due to sourcing methods.

In the case of Yes Cacao, their Karma MellOwl botanical chocolate bar contains 41% cacao butter, and 59% botanicals which results in a deliciously complex, albeit golden colored bar due to the cocoa butter and turmeric content. Non-fat cacao solids which provide the main anti-inflammatory benefits of cacao are missing, but are replaced with other superfoods, spices and adaptogenic herbs like lucuma, maca, yacon, lion’s mane mushrooms, gingko, turmeric, pine pollen, cinnamon, bacopa, and gynostemma. The creators of the bars deem them functional medicine, as they combine cacao solids and sundried cane juice as a base for superfood and medicinal enhancements. In this video, Justin Frank Polgar recommends that Yes Cacao bars are eaten daily as a staple enhancement for ideal human functionality.

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Cambridge Naturals’ Yes Cacao Selection

 

Other raw chocolate companies that are focus on functional chocolate using additional superfoods, spices and herbs include:

Chocolatl More Than Chocolate

Righteously Raw Chocolates

Gnosis Chocolate

Addictive Wellness Raw Chocolate

Perfect Fuel

Stirs the Soul

Ohio Functional Chocolates

Great Bean Chocolate

Sacred Chocolate

 

Trends in functional foods heading in the direction of ‘naturally healthy’

From the perspective of growers, producers and consumers who want a high quality, healthful and good tasting chocolate product, the scientific findings that support the ideal balance between flavor and preservation of health promoting properties of cacao, are significant. The ideal way to conserve protective, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits warrants consideration with the changes in polyphenol content during processing of cacao from raw bean, through fermentation to roasting, conching and mixing with other ingredients. Raw chocolate seems a good way to navigate this balance. Meanwhile, mass produced commercial chocolate companies or “big chocolate” continue to move their products in the direction of high quality premium chocolate and adopting new manufacturing processes in order to preserve cacao’s protective effects. The overarching trend uniting premium, natural and healthful ingredients is referred to in the food industry as naturally healthy foods. “This idea of using food to manage health may, in part, help explain growing consumer interest in fresh, natural and organic products”(Gagliardi, 2015). The melding of healthy, natural and functional foods to chocolate production reflects consumer preferences and industry recognition of the role diet plays on health and provides insights into the future of food. For now, medicinally enhanced, raw, naturally healthy, and functional chocolate seems light years ahead of other natural foods on the market today.

Examples of ‘naturally healthy’ chocolate brands:

Coracao Confections

Hu Paleo Chocolate

Eating Evolved, The Primal Dark Chocolate Company

Pure7 Chocolate

Author’s Note: While researching and writing this article the author happily consumed a great deal of functional, raw and medicinal chocolate and can attest to the powerful effects that far surpass conventional and even ‘premium chocolates’.

 

References:

Ackar, Djurdjica, Kristina Valek Lendić, Marina Valek, Drago Šubarić, Borislav Miličević, Jurislav Babić, and Ilija Nedić. “Cocoa polyphenols: can we consider cocoa and chocolate as potential functional food?.” Journal of chemistry 2013 (2013).

Albak, Fatma, and Ali Rıza Tekin. “Development of Functional Chocolate with Spices and Lemon Peel Powder by using Response Surface Method: Development of Functional Chocolate.” Academic Food Journal/Akademik GIDA 12, no. 2 (2014).

Afolabi Clement Akinmoladun, Mary, Tolulope Olaleye, and Ebenezer Olatunde Farombi. “Cardiotoxicity and Cardioprotective Effects of African Medicinal Plants.” Toxicological Survey of African Medicinal Plants (2014): 395.

Bordiga, Matteo, Monica Locatelli, Fabiano Travaglia, Jean Daniel Coïsson, Giuseppe Mazza, and Marco Arlorio. “Evaluation of the effect of processing on cocoa polyphenols: antiradical activity, anthocyanins and procyanidins profiling from raw beans to chocolate.” International Journal of Food Science & Technology 50, no. 3 (2015): 840-848..

Crafack, Michael, Mikael Agerlin Petersen, Carl Emil Aae Eskildsen, G. B. Petersen, H. Heimdal, and Dennis Sandris Nielsen. “Impact of starter cultures and fermentation techniques on the volatile aroma profile of chocolate.” CoCoTea 2013 (2013).

Crafack, Michael. “Influence of Starter Cultures, Fermentation Techniques, and Acetic Acid on the Volatile Aroma and Sensory Profile of Cocoa Liquor and Chocolate.” (2014).

Crowe, Kelly. “Chocolate Health Myth Dissolves.” CBCnews. January 05, 2015. Accessed May 8, 2016. http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/chocolate-health-myth-dissolves-1.2879898.

Di Mattia, Carla, Maria Martuscelli, Giampiero Sacchetti, Bram Beheydt, Dino Mastrocola, and Paola Pittia. “Effect of different conching processes on procyanidin content and antioxidant properties of chocolate.” Food Research International 63 (2014): 367-372.

Gagliardi, Nancy. “Consumers Want Healthy Foods–And Will Pay More For Them.” Forbes. February 18, 2015. Accessed May 8, 2016. http://www.forbes.com/sites/nancygagliardi/2015/02/18/consumers-want-healthy-foods-and-will-pay-more-for-them/#10fddf09144f.

Jain, Parag, Ravindra Pandey, and Shiv Shankar Shukla. “Inflammation and Lifestyle.” Inflammation: Natural Resources and Its Applications. Springer India, 2015. 143-152.

Jalil, Abbe Maleyki Mhd, and Amin Ismail. “Polyphenols in cocoa and cocoa products: is there a link between antioxidant properties and health?.”Molecules 13, no. 9 (2008): 2190-2219.

Jespersen, Lene, Dennis S. Nielsen, Susanne Hønholt, and Mogens Jakobsen. “Occurrence and diversity of yeasts involved in fermentation of West African cocoa beans.” FEMS Yeast Research 5, no. 4-5 (2005): 441-453.

Kadow, Daniel, Nicolas Niemenak, Sascha Rohn, and Reinhard Lieberei. “Fermentation-like incubation of cocoa seeds (Theobroma cacao L.)–Reconstruction and guidance of the fermentation process.” LWT-Food Science and Technology 62, no. 1 (2015): 357-361.

Vinson, Joe A., and Matthew J. Motisi. “Polyphenol antioxidants in commercial chocolate bars: Is the label accurate?.” Journal of Functional Foods 12 (2015): 526-529.

Zhang, Dapeng, and Lambert Motilal. “Origin, Dispersal, and Current Global Distribution of Cacao Genetic Diversity.” In Cacao Diseases, pp. 3-31. Springer International Publishing, 2016.