Healthy chocolate: could a new method give cocoa higher antioxidant levels?

Colombian chocolate manufacturer CasaLuker is moving in on a way to make chocolate better for consumers. 

17 May 2018

Brits are the chocoholics of the world. Last year, the average Brit devoured 8.4kg worth of chocolate – more than any other nation. 

But as consumers look for healthier food options, where does that leave then confection?

Well, chocolate giant CasaLuker has been manufacturing the sweet stuff for 110 years and is a major exporter of cocoa beans, paste and butter. It has developed a new method to make cocoa powder with a high polyphenol content that could be used in cocoa-based food, beverages and even supplements.

Poly what? Polyphenols are the powerful antioxidant chemicals found naturally in many plants and protect human cells from free radical damage, which is often attributed to chronic illnesses like cancer, heart disease and dementia.

These power players are also linked to longevity, with a study in the Journal of Nutrition finding a link between high polyphenol consumption and a 30% decrease in mortality in elderly adults.

Processing powers

So how has CasaLuker created this new chocolate super powder? By avoiding the traditional processing treatment of roasting that impacts antioxidants. Instead, the company has developed a way to separate the bean from the shell using infrared heat.

Processing the bean in this way allowed CasaLuker to create a powder with a higher content of antioxidants than is found in the starting bean and other cocoa powders on the market.

In an application to patent the technique, the Colombian firm said its product contained up to 40% more concentrated levels of a polyphenol called epicatechin, opening up greater possibilities to develop healthy cocoa-based items.

“There is the need to have cocoa-based food products with a content of specific antioxidant substances, which is sufficient to obtain certain health benefits,” CasaLuker wrote in its patent filing.

“One of the general objects of the present invention is to provide a cocoa powder and cocoa-based products having a high content of antioxidant substances, especially polyphenols such as epicatechins and catechins.”

Also beneficial was the fact the powder was specifically high in epicatechin, as this antioxidant has a better absorption rate into the blood stream compared to other polyphenols found in the cocoa bean.

Cacao content and vitamins

The health credentials of chocolate – from the sugar high alone – have been well documented, but research also reveals the importance of these antioxidants.

A recent study from the Loma Linda University in California found that eating dark chocolate with high concentrations of cacao can improve stress levels, mood and even memory, and also provides an improved response in the immune system.

The benefits are thought to come from flavonoids in the cacao, an antioxidant also found in fruit and vegetables, including blackcurrants, grapes and aubergines.

The even better news? Just eating half a standard-sized bar of 70% cacao chocolate was enough to benefit someone’s health, the study found.

Companies already have their eyes on the wellbeing chocolate market too. UK company Zoot has launched four bars with cocoa solid content of 70% and a range of added vitamins to help everything from the immune system to the heart and stress.

But let’s be clear here, chocolate shouldn’t be marketed as an everyday eat but a treat, considering many products have high sugar and fat contents that far outweigh any other health benefits.

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