The flavonoids found in cocoa beans have been shown to provide some amount of cardiovascular benefits.
Innate healthfulness

The simplest way to benefit from chocolate’s health perception is by taking advantage of its own antioxidants rather than adding anything to make it more nutritious.

“Our Taste Tomorrow global research has shown that consumers perceive cocoa to be a power ingredient,” said Jessica Blondeel, product manager, chocolate, Puratos Corp. “Raw, unprocessed cocoa is rich in flavonoids, which are natural antioxidants associated with better protection of the heart, vascular system and brain tissue.”

Cocoa beans carry more flavonoids than the fruit of many other plants, and the specific flavonoids found in them are rarely found elsewhere. However, the more the cocoa bean is processed, the fewer flavanols remain in the resulting cacao, or cocoa mass, the intermediate from which chocolate is made. “Like many other beneficial components in chocolate, antioxidants are best preserved when the cacao percentage is high and minimally processed,” Ms. Derhammer said. “For example, a chocolate with 70% cacao will have more antioxidants than a milk chocolate, and a natural cocoa powder will have more antioxidants than an alkalized one.”

During processing, cocoa beans are ground, which creates cocoa mass that is then pressed into cocoa powder and cocoa butter. In a finished chocolate product, a higher percentage of cocoa mass and a lower amount of sugar will yield a greater proportion of flavonoids. Only cocoa solids have flavonoids. For example, because it contains milk powder, milk chocolate has a lower cocoa percentage than dark chocolate, resulting in a lower amount of flavonoids. White chocolate, made only with cocoa butter, has no cocoa solids and, thus, offers the least amount of antioxidants, according to Ms. Blondeel.

“Time, temperature and certain steps in the production process such as alkalization can lower the amount of flavonoids,” she said.

Barry Callebaut developed a proprietary process to create a dark cocoa powder that preserves as many flavanols as possible. The resulting Acticoa cocoa powder contains eight times more flavanols than conventional cocoa powder. Acticoa chocolate, processed in a similar fashion, contains three times more flavanols than conventional chocolate.

“We don’t add anything to this product,” Ms. Bergan explained. “This is all from how we process it and how we keep that goodness of the flavanols in. I equate it to when people say, ‘Don’t overcook your vegetables’ because you’re cooking out the nutritious parts of the vegetables. It’s all the same thing.”

The extra flavonoids, however, do make these ingredients’ flavors more intense, so it’s recommended that they be used in conjunction with conventional cocoa powders and chocolates. “Just depending on what the food manufacturer is trying to accomplish from a flavor profile standpoint, we can help them with the end formulation,” Ms. Bergan said.

These antioxidants can help bakers and snack producers take advantage of health benefits they convey, most notably flavanols’ link to cardiovascular health. Scientific studies relate consumption of flavanols found in chocolate to reduced risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. In fact, recently, the European Safety Authority approved a health claim to be used in the EU regarding chocolate. The claim states that at a minimum of 200 mg per day, cocoa flavanols help maintain the elasticity of blood vessels, which contributes to normal blood flow.

“It is very difficult, by the way, to get a statement like this through the European authority,” said Michael Augustine, US director of R&D, Barry Callebaut. “It takes a lot of work and evidence to substantiate.”

In the US, however, the Food and Drug Adminis-tration has yet to approve similar health claims for chocolate. To date, the most it has allowed is use of the term “healthy” on the packaging of certain chocolate-­containing nutrition bars.

Learn more about the protein and fiber content of chocolate in the next section.