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Mars scientists develop research tool to establish cocoa health links


New methods for measuring the stereochemical forms of flavanols in cocoa that could determine whether health benefits can be derived have moved a step closer, say Mars.

The findings from Mars Botanical, published in the Journal of AOAC International, come from a single-laboratory validation study analysing a dark chocolate, a natural cocoa powder and a cocoa extract.

The Method for the Determination of Catechin and Epicatechin Enantiomers in Cocoa-Based Ingredients and Products by High-Performance Liquid Chromatography: Single- Laboratory Validation research identified and quantified the stereochemical forms of flavanols found in cocoa and chocolate products.

The scientists said implications include the development of a research tool that can enable the accurate study of specific flavanol components in cocoa and the benefits that these components can have on health.   

The researchers found that stereochemistry can characterise the individual enantiomeric components, as well as the epicatechin and catechin composition of the food, and will become of ‘increasing interest and relevance to nutrition’.

Future studies

Dr. Catherine Kwik-Uribe, study author and research and development director at Mars Botanical told “The single-laboratory is the first step and then either others use it or Mars could work with others, which we are considering at this time, and scale it up to see how robust it is.

The research and science makes tools available and builds up evidence so consumers get information and can make informed choices on diet and lifestyle.

“If we can understand what the process is doing we can control it, as these are the tools we need to establish the link between components in cocoa and health,” she said.

“It will help others in the research field by putting it out in the public domain and provide researchers and processors with access to the tools to influence their decision.

Health impact

Kwik-Urbe added it was another step in identifying a link to health and it was not about the dark chocolate, but about its components.

Various studies have found benefits, this tool goes deeper in understanding the naturally occurring properties of cocoa and its impact on health.”

When asked about the price for confectioners, Kwik-Uribe said: “With more care and time spent on research, it would probably lead to more cost implementation and can impact price but Mars has shown it can be a reasonable price for consumers.

Flavanol-rich foods can have a positive impact on cardiovascular function and health but investigations have shown that the distinct chemical structure (stereochemistry) influences its absorption, metabolism, and its ability to exert beneficial effects.

Previous research identified (–)-epicatechin as a critical, biologically active component of cocoa that is capable of improving heart health and a study published in January last year by researchers from the University of California, Davis and Mars, Incorporated revealed the importance of flavanol stereochemistry.

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