Barry Callebaut deconstructs cocoa to discover healthy elements

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Barry callebaut, Chocolate, Antioxidant

Barry Callebaut is forging ahead with research that could establish
the humble cocoa bean as one of the most potent healthy foods
available to man, according to the chocolate giant's chief
innovation officer.

The company recently announced the launch of a new probiotic chocolate developed in collaboration with Lal'Foods. Hans Vriens, chief innovation officer, told FoodNavigator.com at FIE this week that the fat matrix and cocoa solids in certain forms of chocolate allows for four times as many healthy bacteria to survive through digestive system to the gut, where their benefit is realised. But Vriens, who directs Barry Callebaut's investigations into the bean's hidden properties, said that there is potential to develop healthy foods using components found within the bean itself, rather than just adding in healthy ingredients from other sources. He said that some 750 different components within chocolate have been identified and listed by the company, of which 230 can contribute to better human health - be it antioxidant capacity, brain health, relaxation or any number of other benefits. The trouble is, though, that the action of these components is lost during normal chocolate processing, meaning that the bulk of what we, in the modern West, know as chocolate, is a luxury confection that does nothing more than make us feel like we have had an indulgent treat. Barry Callebaut is seeking just where, in the chocolate production process, the healthy components are reduced, broken or lose their bioavailability. "If you are working with such a rich agricultural good you should preserve it,"​ said Vriens. "I believe you can make enormous amounts of health claims for chocolate products if you do the right thing with the cocoa bean."​ He explained that Barry Callebaut is in a position to control its entire production process, since its involvement in the process starts with the cocoa growers in Africa and carries right through to the finished chocolate product on the shelf. This means there is scope to pinpoint the stage that causes the damage and find a way to tweak the process so that the component survives. It has already succeeded when it comes to antioxidants, using its special Acticoa process for turning the powder into chocolate that is less damaging to the polyphenols. There are about nine per cent polyphenols naturally present in unfermented beans. But fermenting destroys 50 per cent of this, and roasting a further 25 per cent. But Barry Callebaut's process claims to result in a minimum 3.2 per cent polyphenol content for the dark variety and 1.1 per cent polyphenols in milk chocolate. The company has been talking about Acticoa for some time and it gathered a store of research results to support its claims, including in brain health and anti-ageing. But the official launch of the Acticoa product took place only this month. Another area of interest is in fermentation of the cocoa bean - a process that can start to happen when it comes into contact with live organisms like bacteria. The result can be a wild change in the bean's properties - for the good, as well as the bad. For instance, the bean can become sweeter and less bitter, and be edible just on its own, without any need for processing. Fermentation may also create a bean with a higher level of cocoa butter, more antioxidants, or a host of other properties. "We know it can be done,"​ said Vriens - but he added that the company is still in the relatively early stages of realising the potentials. "I do believe in chocolate with claims that go beyond indulgence,"​ he said.

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