Saturday, December 10, 2011


Chocolate is known to be a rich source of antioxidants but its consumption is constrained by the high levels of saturated fat and sugar present in these products, both dangerous food ingredients as far as human health is concerned. While consumption of high levels of fat, especially the saturated and trans fats, can cause atherosclerosis and consequent heart problem, high sugar intake is equally risky precipitating many ailments including diabetes. Chocolate making technology can be considered as one of the most foolish progresses made by mankind because a patently good food raw material is converted into a nutritionally absurd product for satisfying the palate of man. The cured raw cocoa bean is a source of many chemicals, many of them considered nutritionally beneficial to health. While it is a rich source of fat the ubiquitous cocoa press can remove most of them to give cocoa powder which is considered one of the richest sources of health-friendly bio-flavonols.

Cocoa has twice as much antioxidants as in red wine and three times the quantity present in green tea. The ORAC value of cocoa is about 25000 as compared to 18500 for Acai berry and 1540 for Strawberry. Cocoa is reported to have properties related to anti-aging and anti-inflammation. It is also a rich source of minerals that include Magnesium, Sulfur, Calcium, Potassium, Manganese besides some B-vitamins. The Bioflavonol  Epicatechin is reported to be effective in preventing fat accumulation in arteries and veins. Almost 10% by weight in cocoa is Bioflavonols and about 300 chemical compounds have been identified so far in this wonder food, the function of many of them  not yet unraveled so far. Dark chocolates with high cocoa solid content can improve insulin sensitivity significantly.

The chocolate making process uses the recovered fat from the cocoa pot to enrich the chocolate mass (finely ground cocoa mash) with more fat and uses copious amounts of white sugar to get the final product which is much sought after by consumers of all ages. The typical melting characteristics of cocoa butter confer on chocolate the unique "melt in the mouth" feeling associated with these products but the rich calorie and fat contents also make chocolate a "cat among the pigeon", being shunned increasingly by weight watchers and diet conscious people. It is against this background that chocolates are losing their luster as a culinary wonder in the present century with more and more people entering the "obesity" club world over. During the last one decade continuous efforts have been directed to modify chocolate products in such a way that they can be considered safe for consumption chucking the unhealthy tag commonly associated with it. Dark chocolates are now being offered by the industry containing almost 85% cocoa solids and less and less of sugar. Fat content is still a deterrent against its universal adoption by one and all.

A solution to high saturated fat content in chocolate has recently been found where normal fats are substituted with special fats with different metabolic characteristics. Diacylglycerols which are modified versions of normal fats with one fatty acid group less, behave differently when consumed compared to cocoa butter fat. Though both fats are commonly found in food, diacylglycerol is better known for its emulsifying properties rather than as a food fat. According to nutritionists since the normal fat molecules are too large to get across the intestinal wall in one piece, the body breaks them down into smaller components, which are reassembled once they cross the cell membranes of the intestine. Due to their different molecular structure diacylglycerols are not immediately reassembled after they cross the intestinal wall, unlike triglycerides and therefore are not stored in fat cells. They are broken down in the liver and used as energy. As it does not require for the body to carry them through the blood, unlike large triacylglycerol molecules, diacylglycerols are not expected to clog the arteries and veins in the same way as the former.  

While diacylglycerols have been used to produce vegetable cooking oils derived from canola and soybean oils for the health-food market, scientists and manufacturers have not had much success using them as confectionery fats. Most difficult part of substituting cocoa butter with any other fat is to simulate the unique melting properties of the former which influences the eating quality of a good chocolate product. Technologically this is a challenging area for fat technologists and almost all cocoa butter substitutes presently available are poor imitators of the real natural product. If the scientists who claim that diacylglycerols can be an effective substitute, are to be believed such products will be much more healthier while the sensory characteristics are not seriously affected. What is intriguing is that diacylglyceols are better known for their emulsifying properties especially in fat-water emulsions and whether it will have any constraint on the process itself. One is reminded of Olestra, a fat substitute made from sucrose and fatty acids with zero calorie density, which freaked out because of the unacceptable side effects caused in the intestine due to its ingestion. It is to be seen whether diacylglycerols will have similar effect in the GI tract though the developers preclude this possibility.

If fat saturated content is replaced with diacylglycerols will there be a calories saving for the consumer? Unfortunately the answer is in the negative because both triglycerides and digylcerides have almost same calorie count. Similarly as chocolate is a sugar rich product new formulations containing diglycerides will have no impact as far as weight reduction is concerned. Unless new chocolate formulations with low fat and low sugar contents are developed it is unlikely that these products will ever become a universal choice for all consumers across the spectrum.


No comments: