Monday, October 12, 2015

A bitter-less chocolate-A dream come true?

Who does not like chocolates and chocolate flavored products? Unfortunately its consumption is self limiting because of the high degree of bitter taste associated with pure chocolates. The chocolate that is in the market to day contains only a fraction of the cocoa components and is loaded with sugar and fat to make it smooth and tasty. During the last 2-3 decades tons of research papers have been published proclaiming the health benefits of phytochemical substances like antioxidants in cocoa, creating fresh demand for chocolate products containing more and more cocoa solids and less and less fat and sugar. There are technological constraints in making a good quality chocolate without fat and sugar though the so called bitter chocolate versions boasting of up to 90% cocoa are marketed by some companies, especially in the US and Europe, though they are severely bitter to taste, accepted by many consumers as an avoidable necessity to derive the health benefits of cocoa. Now comes the news about a private initiative to prepare high cocoa content chocolates with practically no bitterness which is a welcome development, if the reports are true. Read further about the emergence of this new avatar of chocolate.   

"According to The Independent, a researchers have announced a "medicinal chocolate"; a variety cuts fat and sugar levels down from an average of 75 per cent to a mere 35 per cent. We have long known the benefits of cacao, a superfood rich in antioxidants. It can lower blood pressure, improve health of the liver, protect the nervous system, reduce risk of a stroke, prevent artery clogging, and even diminish excess appetite. It can often be found in weight loss supplements for this reason. However,it's also incredibly bitter.Most chocolates you buy will balance this out with fat and sugar, which effectively cancels out many of these benefits. Until now. Kuka Xoco, the firm that developed this new chocolate, have used an obscure herb from the Andes as a de-bittering agent. The Independent reports that even a few micrograms of the plant can completely remove the bitterness from large amounts of cacao. Gregory Aharonian, the firm's chief scientist, said this discovery "eliminates the need for sugar, sweeteners and much of the fat in chocolate, unleashing the medical benefits of cacao". He said the company's longer-term goal is to get the fat and sugar levels down to just 10%. By removing the unhealthy aspects of chocolate, it could actually be transformed into a medicine, turning chocolate into a health food industry. If chocolate manufacturers can remove as much fat and sugar as they can, Mr Aharonian believes the chocolate industry could double its profits by becoming a health food industry".

What is not clear in this development is whether use of a de-bittering agent as being reported will have any adverse impact on the healthiness of the product.. After all most anthocyanins which have antioxidant properties are supposed to be bitter to taste and hence this question. Probably the action of the secretive herbal ingredient discovered by the innovators needs to be elucidated further before coming to any conclusion regarding the true potential of this discovery. Enzymes like Naringinase are known to be deployed for debittering of citrus juice commercially but here the processor is not too much concerned about the fate of Naringin decomposed by the enzyme. But in the case of chocolates if debittering using the herb destroys procyanidins and flavanoids present in cocoa, will the resulting final product be as healthy as its original counterpart? Further detailed studies are called for before one talks of commercialization of this technology.


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