First-of-Its-Kind Method Published for Analyzing Cocoa Flavanols, Procyanidins

August 30, 2012

Until now, no common, multilab-validated approach has been available for measuring flavanols and procyanidins in food.

A first-of-its-kind, multilaboratory-validated method for analyzing flavanol and procyanidin content in cocoa-based products has been published in the latest edition of the Journal of AOAC International.

Until now, no common, multilab-validated approach has been available for measuring flavanols and procyanidins in food. Instead, says food and chocolates manufacturer Mars Inc., which developed the method, laboratories and companies have used a variety of differing methods to analyze flavanol and procyanidin content in cocoa products. “This has resulted in considerable variability and confusion in reported values, and scientists, regulators, and consumers lack clear and relevant information. Moreover, the lack of an agreed method of analysis has left the field plagued by a variety of non-specific methods that provide no details about the types and mixtures of flavanols and procyanidins in foods.” It also says that some methods may overestimate flavanol and procyanidin content.

Mars says that the new standard-which the company has improved since it was first published in 2009-is the first step in developing a standardized method for evaluating content and claims of cocoa products in the market. “Excitingly, in the not-too-distant future, this could lead to more uniform numbers on product labels that will help consumers compare and contrast flavanol-containing products, and help regulators evaluate claims,” said Catherine Kwik-Uribe, PhD, the study’s author and R&D director at Mars Botanical.

Mars also calls this standardized method an “important first step” in future research on the health benefits of flavanols and procyanidins. “Such a method will be crucial to establishing a causal relationship between the intake of the specific phytonutrients and their health benefits.” The ability to evaluate the flavanol and procyanidin content in foods is especially of interest, as research has grown indicating potential cardiovascular and cognitive health benefits of these compounds in food. Mars Inc. points out that just this July EFSA issued a positive scientific opinion on the relationship between healthy blood flow and cocoa flavanols and procyanidins.

To develop the method, Mars worked together with non-profit science body AOAC International, a facilitator of validated analytical methods. The new method has been proven “reproducible, robust, and readily transferable,” and the AOAC journal study describes the results of a comprehensive evaluation of the method that was done by 12 international laboratories, including academic, industrial, and commercial labs.

Mars says that the tests done by various laboratories showed a variance in results ranging only between 4 to 10% between samples, and strong reproducibility of results, with less than 13% variance demonstrated for most samples. The cocoa-containing samples used in the study-including milk and dark chocolates, cocoa powders, cocoa liquors, and cocoa extracts-had flavanol and procyanidin concentrations ranging from <2 mg/g to 500 mg/g.

“This multilaboratory collaborative study represents a critical breakthrough in the field by demonstrating that a method to measure these complex phytonutrients in cocoa can be reliable, robust, and easy to use,” said Kwik-Uribe.