Understanding Cocoa Flavanol content claims: What do you need to know?
Cocoa flavanols (CF) represent a complex group of flavanols and procyanidins, comprised of numerous individual compounds that are distinct with regard to their chemical structure. Agriculture- and harvest conditions, as well as food processing, significantly impact the specific amounts and relative abundance of individual flavanols and procyanidins present in CF-containing food products.
Due to this complexity, people use different approaches for measuring the CF content of foods. In principle, there are two main approaches, the first aims at identifying and measuring specific flavanols and procyanidins in foods, which requires sophisticated analytical methods and equipment. The second approach is based on the use of non-specific, broad-range, and less advanced tests, which are often easier and less expensive, but which do not identify or measure specific flavanols or procyanidins. These broad-range tests often report either flavanol- or polyphenol-equivalents or express the content as total antioxidant capacity (TEAC, FRAP, ORAC assays). Evidence from Mars scientists and others have demonstrated significant differences in the efficacy and safety of individual flavanols; therefore, we do not use the second approach, as it is insufficient to ensure that our research materials and CF-containing products contain the type and amount of flavanols and procyanidins required to guarantee efficacy and safety.
Historically, we have used an analytical method based on high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), which is capable of separating, identifying, and measuring individual flavanol compounds and procyanidin fractions. This method is specific and accurate, but is complex and time consuming. This is why we partnered with experts from academia and industry, as well as with AOAC International (formerly known as Association of Official Analytical Chemists), to develop and validate an updated version of our ‘Historic Method’. We aimed to develop a new method also based on HPLC that would provide data on specific compounds, but was less complex and, thus, would have broader utility. This ‘New Method’ is currently used to determine and report the CF content in Mars’ commercially available CF-containing products, and is also used by some, but not all, manufacturers of cocoa-based products.
While both, the ‘Historic Method’ and the ‘New Method’, are based on HPLC technology, the differences in the methods result in the fact that the two methods report the same content of CF differently. This difference is somewhat analog to measuring the temperature and expressing the same temperature by using either the Fahrenheit or Celsius system. These two measuring systems, Fahrenheit and Celsius, report the same temperature with different numerical values. Having two measuring systems, or methods, makes it somewhat challenging for non-experts to compare reports from the scientific literature, which mostly report CF content based on the ‘Historic Method’, to product-related communications, which are typically based on the ‘New Method’.
To help address this challenge, we have put together the table below, which provides conversion estimates that make comparisons relatively easy.
|Historic Method||New Method|
|300 mg cocoa flavanols||195-225 mg cocoa flavanols|
|500 mg cocoa flavanols||325-375 mg cocoa flavanols|
|600 mg cocoa flavanols||390-450 mg cocoa flavanols|
|700 mg cocoa flavanols||455-525 mg cocoa flavanols|
|900 mg cocoa flavanols||585-675 mg cocoa flavanols|
If you would like to better understand CF content claims on products and in scientific papers: