In 2005 the world became a better place for chocolate lovers, after the Journal of the American College of Cardiology first suggested that chocolate (in moderate amounts) is actually good for you and your heart, because its main ingredient – cocoa – naturally contains a beneficial class of chemicals called “flavanols.”
Though as early as 2003, the Journal of the American Medical Association noted that dark chocolate (as opposed to milk chocolate, white chocolate or even dark chocolate consumed along with milk) contained enough antioxidants to help patients suffering from high blood pressure.
And in the ten years since, researchers from various institutions continue discovering more health or nutritional benefits said to come from flavanols: everything from improving blood flow in the brain to reducing the amount of bad cholesterol in the bloodstream.
But even if all these claims are true, not all chocolate products – nor even all dark chocolates – confer such health benefits. Problem is, the process of converting raw cocoa into refined chocolate often removes the flavanols as well. (Not to mention: even when your chocolate does contain plenty of flavanol, it can also have enough sugar and fat to offset any advantage from the flavanols, anyway.)
The trick, then, is for chocolate manufacturers to work out a production process that preserves as many flavanols as possible. This week, Swiss chocolate company Barry Callebaut (the largest chocolate producer in the world, supplying such well-known companies as Cadbury) announced a new form of flavanol-rich dark chocolate called Acticoa that’s specifically supposed to improve blood pressure and heart health, and is expected to go on sale in a few months.
Acticoa chocolate (whose Callebaut-owned official webpage is still under construction) is not new; it’s been available for sale since at least 2010, when Callebaut started selling Acticoa products alleged to help prevent wrinkles and other symptoms of aging.
The recent surge of interest in Callebaut’s forthcoming heart-healthy chocolate is generating new interest because last month, the EU Commission approved Callebaut’s request to claim health benefits on its packaging. (A similar approval process is required for food manufacturers in the US—fish, for example, has always contained omega-3 fatty acids, alleged to confer heart benefits, but not until 2004 could fish sellers in America specifically claim that eating fish might reduce your risk of heart disease.)
A September press release by Barry Callebaut said that as a result of the EU Commission’s ruling, “Barry Callebaut now has the proprietary right to use the cocoa flavanols claim within EU countries [and] will be able to use the claim for its ACTICOA cocoa and chocolate products which retain most of the cocoa flavanols naturally present in the cocoa bean.”
Will future chocolate manufacturers be able to make similar claims, if they start producing chocolate that keeps most of its flavanols? We’ll have to wait and see.