The world's leading cocoa processor Barry Callebaut said yesterday that it had new evidence to support the anti-cancer and anti-ageing benefits of its healthy chocolate Acticoa.
Dirk Poelman, chief operations officer and former head of R&D, told those attending a seminar at the ingredients show FiE in Paris that the firm is currently completing the analysis of results from a human study on cognition.
It follows positive findings in animal tests and is thought to be one of the first human studies looking at cocoa polyphenols' action on the brain.
The trial is the latest in a series of studies by Callebaut, first on rats and then on human cells in vitro, to verify the benefits previously seen in a range of different polyphenols.
Since 2000, more than 30 studies have found these plant compounds to have positive results for the cardiovascular system, and a further 10 have demonstrated anti-cancer activity or benefits to the immune system, says Poelman.
Callebaut's research adds weight to many of these findings.
"In a test looking at the antioxidant activity of a cocoa polyphenol extract, we clearly saw the same effect as with vitamin E but at a dose 10 times lower," Poelman told NutraIngredients.com.
In a longer study on rats, those animals given polyphenols did not develop prostate cancer when injected with cancerous cells, compared with a control group that did.
When tested in human cells, the polyphenols had a rapid effect on cancer cells but did not harm healthy ones. There was also a 50 per cent reduction in metastatic cells after 24 hours.
In a further phase, the studies have demonstrated an anti-ageing effect in animals. After 18 months, rats given polyphenols had a better activity level and cognitive response in a Morris water maze test than the control group, according to the group, which expects to publish the results in a peer-reviewed journal in coming weeks.
The lead researcher in this study, Dr Alex Collie, noted that gingko biloba, a herbal taken for its benefits to memory by the elderly, is rich in flavanols. Cocoa polyphenols had not however been tested for their benefits on cognition prior to the new research.
If the new trial on 34 human subjects confirms these benefits on the brain, Callebaut will have strong support for its Acticoa, a premium-priced chocolate with higher levels of polyphenols developed as part of the R&D focus on health.
The company made changes to its typical processing so that it was less damaging to the polyphenols found in cocoa before it is turned into powder and chocolate.
"There are about 9 per cent polyphenols naturally present in unfermented beans. But fermenting destroys 50 per cent of this, and roasting a further 25 per cent," explained Poelman.
The result is a chocolate - available from liquid couverture to blocks and finished products - that has a minimum 3.2 per cent polyphenol content for the dark variety and 1.1 per cent polyphenols in milk chocolate.
Callebaut is not the only firm seeking to benefit from the wave of positive research results on cocoa compounds. Many confectioners are simply adding polyphenol-rich claims to their labels but confectionery giant Mars has invested significantly to increase the polyphenol levels in new products.
Callebaut will be hoping to stand out for its strong scientific support and a guaranteed level of polyphenols. It says that the first products produced by the Acticoa technology - available in Germany since April under the Sarotti brand and in Belgium under the Jacques brand - are selling well.
This week it is hoping to attract major industrial clients looking for ways of attracting health-conscious consumers.