Are dairy foods product developers using or planning to use chocolate and cocoa in new formulation efforts? You bet they are!

Donna Berry Product Development Editor
Are dairy foods product developers using or planning to use chocolate and cocoa in new formulation efforts? You bet they are!

According to an August 2003 survey by Dairy Foods magazine of individuals involved in prod-uct development of frozen desserts, 77% of respondents (n=149) said they currently use chocolate and cocoa, while another 15% plan to use chocolate and cocoa during the next year. When it comes to "ex-tenders" or ‘"enhancers," which are those ingredients used in combination with chocolate and cocoa in order to reduce usage levels of pricey chocolate and cocoa ingredients, 23% of respondents currently use extenders or enhancers while 15% are planning using them.

"Use" and "intent to use" is not as high with beverages, but still noteworthy. According to a September 2003 Dairy Foods' survey of beverage product developers, 57% of respondents (n=170) said they currently use chocolate and cocoa and 10% plan to use chocolate and cocoa within 12 months. Only 12% of respondents currently use and 10% plan to use extenders or enhancers.

When you analyze this data, two things jump out. First, regarding frozen desserts, chocolate, in-deed is, and most likely will continue to be one of the most popular ice cream flavors. However, in fro-zen desserts, consumers are a bit less discerning when it comes to quantity and quality of chocolate and cocoa, as there are often many other ingredients such as nuts and caramel to distract them from the chocolate flavor. As a result, it is common to use chocolate extenders or enhancers in frozen desserts.

This tends to not be the case with beverages. Cheap chocolate milk tastes, well, like cheap chocolate milk. Extenders might be useful in milk or dairy drink flavors such as mocha or cookies and cream, but not in "real chocolate milk."

With that said, research continues to indicate that chocolate and cocoa possess a healthful halo. Consumers are literally eating, or in some instances, drinking this up, as consumers are seeking out foods and beverages made with chocolate and cocoa.

One of the more recent studies on chocolate suggests a potential link between the cocoa fla-vanols contained in certain chocolates and improved blood vessel function. Blood vessel function is be-lieved to be an important indicator of cardiovascular health, much like cholesterol levels or blood pressure.

A study conducted at the University of California, San Francisco, compared the effects of consuming a commercially available, flavanol-rich dark chocolate bar to the effects of consuming a flavanol-poor dark chocolate product on blood vessel function. Twenty-one healthy subjects consumed 46g of either the flavanol-rich or flavanol-poor chocolate product each day for two weeks in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study. Researchers measured the level of flavanols in participants' blood and found that the flavanols in the flavanol-rich chocolate were absorbed into the blood stream.

Flow-mediated dilation was also examined as an indicator of endothelial function. The endothelium is the inner lining of blood vessels responsible for regulating blood vessel dilation, or relaxation. Flow-mediated dilation is a measure of blood vessel dilation or elasticity in response to an increase in blood flow. Researchers found that participants who consumed the flavanol-rich chocolate product exhibited blood vessel dilation two hours after chocolate consumption, compared to test results at baseline.

Flavanols are a sub-class of flavonoids found naturally in a variety of plant-based foods, including certain cocoas, chocolates and red wine. This study supports previous research suggesting that chocolate flavanols may positively affect cardiovascular health in a number of ways.

If your current product development efforts include formulating functional dairy foods such as nutritional beverages, make sure you have a chocolate offering, as chocolate is the No. 1 flavor for these drinks. Second, don't skimp on chocolate flavor. Cheap chocolate equates to bad flavor. Lastly, it makes sense to work with your supplier in identifying a chocolate or cocoa known to be rich in flavonols. After all, it may be possible with the new claim regulations to relay the benefits of consuming chocolate and cocoa on product labels.