- FDA will allow carefully worded and qualified health claims about the connection between cocoa flavanols and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. The ruling, released on Feb. 3, responds to a 2018 petition from global chocolate giant Barry Callebaut.
- The claims address the fact that cocoa flavanols “may reduce” risks of cardiovascular disease. They also need to say that there is “very limited scientific evidence” to support the claim. The claim can only appear on products using high flavanol cocoa powder, not regular cocoa powder, chocolate, or other foods made from cacao beans.
- Barry Callebaut has been working toward health claims for products with cocoa flavanols for a decade. The chocolate ingredients provider successfully achieved a much more direct health claim in Europe in 2013.
The FDA’s response to Barry Callebaut’s petition goes a long way to say that yes, some aspects of cocoa may be beneficial to consumers’ health, but chocolate is not healthy.
The products that could use the claim need to use pretty specific high-flavanol cocoa powder, with at least 4% being composed of flavanols, the response says. According to a 2008 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry done partially by Hershey scientists, natural cocoa powder is about 3.5% flavanols. That proportion is reduced in the common alkali treatment to reduce bitterness, known as dutching.
The claim is pretty wordy, and not exactly something that could easily fit on a package. FDA gives four options to use, the shortest of which is 28 words long: “Cocoa flavanols in high flavanol cocoa powder may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. The FDA has concluded that there is very limited scientific evidence for this claim.”
The E.U. allows a similar claim, which is much more succinct. In Europe, manufacturers can say that a daily intake of 200 milligrams of cocoa flavanols can maintain elasticity of blood vessels. The health claim currently is on the ChoVita chocolate bar, which uses Barry Callebaut’s specially processed high-flavanol Acticoa chocolate.
It’s not clear how much this claim might be used now in the United States, given its highly conditional nature. While consumers may be more likely to pick up something with chocolate that bills itself as heart-healthy, the approved claim from the FDA may make it difficult for a manufacturer to convince consumers that a product actually has any benefits.
But high tech ingredient makers concentrating on flavanols could benefit from this decision. Ayana Bio, which specializes in culturing plant cells for nutritional ingredients, recently announced a $3 million investment to accelerate development of polyphenol-rich ingredients from cacao. While products from this venture are still years away, this decision from FDA lays the groundwork for Ayana Bio to immediately be able to capitalize on a heart-healthy claim for its cacao-derived ingredients.