Chocolate ( all topics related to eating and making chocolate such as cooking techniques, recipes, history, folklore & source recommendations.

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Old 12-10-2004, 08:09 PM
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Default Eat chocolate, live longer?

October 10, 2004
Eat Chocolate, Live Longer?

For the past decade or so, Harold Schmitz, a boyish and bookish food
scientist, has overseen research at Mars Inc., the global food company that
makes everything from Snickers bars and Dove chocolates to Uncle Ben's rice
and Pedigree dog food. One morning last spring, Schmitz met me in the lobby
of Mars's North American headquarters, a sprawling industrial complex on a
busy road just outside Hackettstown, N.J. The Hackettstown plant is crucial
to the Mars business not just for its output -- half of the M&M's sold in
the U.S. are produced here -- but also for its research labs. We reached
these after Schmitz steered me through security turnstiles at the entrance,
a series of carpeted office suites and a labyrinth of polished concrete
hallways dense with the dusty, sweet scent of cocoa. The aroma grew deeper
and more intense along the way, until it seemed all at once to seep past my
nose and my throat and into my mind. Chocolate bars were all I could think
about. ''It gets into your clothes too,'' Schmitz said amiably as we walked.
''We just get used to it.''

Schmitz has spent most of his time at Mars working on something known
in-house as the ''healthy chocolate'' initiative, an expensive, 15-year
investigation into the molecular composition and nutritional effects of
cocoa, one of chocolate's primary ingredients. In recent years, these
studies -- undertaken first by company technicians and later by
Mars-financed academics in the U.S., Europe and Australia -- have prompted
Mars to aggressively pursue patents for dozens of new (and often strange)
methods of manufacturing and ingesting cocoa products. The claims, submitted
to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, that cocoa can be used ''in the
maintenance of vascular health,'' or as an ''anti-platelet therapy,'' or
''in tableting compositions and capsule-filling compositions,'' at first
glance seem more pharmaceutical in nature than food-related. Certainly they
would seem to have little to do with the day-to-day concerns of a company
known mainly for its candy. And yet Schmitz's mission is to ''reinvent''
cocoa and chocolate, as he put it -- to optimize both taste and health
benefits and then help Mars cash in.

Fortunately for Schmitz, time and money are no object at Mars. As a private
corporation -- without question among the three or four largest in the
country, with yearly sales of about $17 billion -- Mars has no obligation to
shareholders and no need to justify its larks. Indeed, the company's
longstanding and intense culture of privacy has made it corporate America's
supreme enigma. As a matter of policy, executives do not give interviews.
The company's cocoa research has provoked a measure of puzzlement from its
competitors, but Mars -- an eccentric, Wonkalike entity if ever there was
one, effectively controlled by the semiretired Mars brothers, Forrest, 73,
John, 68, and their sister, Jacqueline, 65, whose combined worth was
recently estimated at $30 billion by Forbes magazine -- just goes about its
scientific work without pause or comment.

Recently, however, Mars has started to peel back the wrapper. Company
representatives gave me a couple of explanations why. Mars executives
apparently believe a less murky image will help them attract talent, for
one; for another, those same executives believe that Mars needs to respond
to consumers' increasing demands to know more about the companies they buy
products from. Neither of these exactly reveal what may be the real
motivation, though, which is that Mars is about to start selling something
new and vexingly complex, at least from a marketing standpoint.

nce Schmitz and I finally reached the Hackettstown laboratories, he handed
me a white coat and safety glasses and took me inside. The lab had been
cleared of Mars employees for my visit -- old habits of secrecy die hard --
except for one person: John Hammerstone, a colleague of Schmitz's who sat at
a table in the large room, amid the loud hum of machinery, surrounded by a p
ile of cocoa pods and vials of cocoa. As we joined him, Hammerstone launched
into a brief tutorial on the future of chocolate as Mars sees it, a kind of
Cocoa 101.

Hammerstone picked up a yellow cocoa pod, a hard-shelled, lemon-shaped
fruit, placed it on the table and smashed it open with a hammer. He then
scooped out several large seeds -- what are known as the beans -- from the
pulp inside. Next, he peeled the skin of one seed to reveal its deep violet
hue. In a raw state like this, cocoa beans are exquisitely bitter and
virtually inedible. Before they make their way into a chocolate bar, they
must follow a convoluted route that begins in Africa, Asia or Latin America
with their harvest from cacao trees; the process continues with their
fermentation and sale, usually to wholesalers like Archer Daniels Midland or
Cargill, and finishes with their roasting, transport, grinding and
transformation into chocolate liquor, which can in turn be separated into
powdered cocoa and cocoa butter. Producers like Mars and Hershey's then buy
these raw materials. What we call chocolate is, essentially, the highly
processed combination of the cocoa butter, chocolate liquor and sometimes
powdered cocoa that are derived from the beans, and which is then combined
with sugar, emulsifiers and (often) milk.

One byproduct of this process is that the candy bar you eat today may
include a combination of cocoas from three different continents. Another is
that the traditional processing methods -- especially the fermentation,
roasting and what's known as ''dutching,'' which is the addition of alkali
to mellow flavor -- strip the nutrients, and especially the organic
compounds known as flavanols, from the beans. The majority of commercially
available dark and milk chocolates do not have significant levels of
flavanols. Nor do commercially available cocoas. ''Ten years ago,''
Hammerstone said, ''a Dove bar had almost nothing.''

Yet the fact that Mars has been juicing up the flavanol levels in its Dove
bars over the past few years was not exactly the point of Hammerstone's
demonstration. Consider instead the CocoaVia bar, which Mars introduced last
year and currently sells over the Internet. For Mars, CocoaVia is a problem
solver. Over the past few years, as concerns over childhood obesity and
carbohydrates have risen, the growth in sales of candy and other snack foods
has slowed noticeably. Meanwhile, the market for functional foods, a broad
category that includes everything from calcium-fortified orange juice to
cholesterol-lowering Benecol spread to drinkable supplements like Ensure,
has been increasing by up to 14 percent annually. Though Mars might like us
to think otherwise, chocolate could never pass as a functional food, because
of its high levels of fat and its high number of calories. By and large, the
common perception of cocoa and chocolate's health attributes have preceded
any actual hard science; only now is that science taking shape in
large-scale, double-blind experiments that lend credibility to the idea that
flavanols impart very real cardiovascular benefits. Yet Mars is nonetheless
placing a bet on flavanol-rich cocoa -- a main ingredient in CocoaVia, but
one that is mostly free of the rich cocoa butter in chocolate. ''This little
bar represents the culmination of a lot of research,'' Schmitz said, handing
me a CocoaVia. ''But it's really only the beginning. We're still learning,
but nobody here questions the idea that the opportunity is immense. It's a
complete business now. It's not just a research-and-development kick.''

As soon as the marketing department deems the consumer market ready --
perhaps within the year -- Mars intends to start selling a new line of
products, most likely a powdered cocoa or cocoa drink that, while not
explicitly promising to lower blood pressure, say, or increase blood flow (a
potential boon for those suffering from vascular disease), will nonetheless
be backed by a number of coming studies that suggest a range of possible,
and significant, health benefits along these lines. And Schmitz seems to
hope that cocoa -- or more precisely, his cocoa, which means cocoa processed
according to Mars's special methods, with extremely high flavanol levels --
will then turn out to be among the most potent and popular functional foods
yet created.

Functional cocoa got its start at Mars around 1990, just after
witches'-broom, a fungal infection, destroyed the Brazilian cocoa crop. At
the time, Mars executives wondered if unlocking the chemical makeup of cocoa
beans might somehow lead to the synthetic replication of the beans' taste,
which would offer some protection against future agriculture catastrophes.
By the early and mid-1990's, Schmitz recalled, he and other Mars scientists
were doubting they could mimic chocolate's distinctive (and highly complex)
flavor chemistry.

Schmitz, however, was becoming excited by reports in the science press on
the health benefits of antioxidants in green tea and red wine. The flavanol
compounds he was analyzing in cocoa beans had chemical similarities to the
compounds he was reading about in those studies. And so, under his
direction, Mars began several test-tube experiments at the Hackettstown labs
to see if cocoa had any effect on the cardiovascular system -- in
particular, on the endothelial cell lining inside blood vessels. Early on,
Schmitz began to focus on whether cocoa flavanols could stimulate the
production of nitric oxide and ''relax'' this lining. The relaxation of the
endothelial layer results in better blood flow. That relaxation, in simplest
terms, is good for the cardiovascular system.

When Mars's research produced encouraging results, Schmitz said he knew that
if the company's next step -- human testing -- turned up compelling data,
Mars would need to change the way chocolate has been made for at least the
past century to bring a flavanol-rich chocolate to the market. By the late
1990's, various scientists at Mars were doing just that, working with
growers in Indonesia and Brazil to see if they could preserve flavanol
levels at the cocoa beans' harvesting and processing stages; their goal was
to identify the right kind of cocoa bean (there are a number of genetic
varieties) and to settle on a gentler, minimal-fermentation, lower-heat
processing method that Mars could make proprietary. The biggest obstacle was
flavor. Hammerstone, Schmitz and other Mars technicians worked on making a
flavanol-rich cocoa taste good -- a tall order, since flavanols impart
bitterness and astringency ''like a young wine,'' Hammerstone said.
Ultimately, the company claims, well over a hundred Mars employees around
the world were recruited to produce a marketable, consistent-tasting,
flavanol-rich cocoa. ''The initial results were very discouraging,'' Schmitz
said. ''The cocoa we were creating was difficult even for the lab subjects
to choke down. There were times where we really did wonder whether this was

Yet by around 2000, Mars had a product good enough to start mixing into
M&M's and Dove bars. (The company continues to work on the cocoa's flavor
and on boosting its flavanol levels.) Mars stopped short of rolling out a
purely functional powdered cocoa or cocoa drink; in part, Schmitz explained,
the company still didn't have the taste chemistry down well enough to build
a product around it. But Mars also wasn't sure how strong the case for the
effects of cocoa yet were. And you can't really sell a functional food
without the function.

n its recent history, the Mars company has financed some dubious and
embarrassing science -- most notably in the early 1990's, when it supported
research that resulted in a claim that chocolate was actually good for your
teeth. It has also sponsored reams of legitimate research. Helping to create
scientific studies (and related spin, frequently) that boost its products'
appeal has been a hallmark of Mars's public-relations strategy for the past
decade. This, too, is the case for its high-flavanol marketing campaign,
which may have required as much forethought and expense as the creation of
the high-flavanol cocoa itself. From the start, Schmitz's objective was to
pursue broad scientific credibility for the project. In the mid-1990's, the
company, at Schmitz's behest, undertook a strategy of distributing cash and
high-flavanol cocoa to academics. Mars's largess was directed almost
exclusively to respected, independent researchers who publish their results
in peer-reviewed journals.

This investment first bore fruit in the late 1990's, when a study by Carl
Keen, chairman of the nutrition department at the University of California,
Davis, reported that the flavanols in cocoa appeared to have a healthful,
aspirinlike effect on platelets. While Mars had spent at least $800,000
financing Keen's studies, Keen told me he had no qualms, then or now, about
using private-industry money, despite the potential for perceived bias; if
other food companies spent as much as Mars on studies, he said, the science
of nutrition might be much further along. In Keen's opinion, moreover, the
early data from the Mars-sponsored cocoa experiments are so persuasive that
they may lead to a reconsideration of links between disease and diet. ''Some
of the drugs we have today are so powerful that it's unrealistic to think of
food as having the same effect of reducing blood pressure as, say, ACE
inhibitors,'' Keen said, referring to the commonly prescribed class of drugs
to combat hypertension. ''But I would argue that there will be a number of
foods in the future that will help in maintaining health, or can be used
with drugs, and will have a preventative use.'' Mars's cocoa, he added,
which is far richer than many green teas and red wines in flavonoids (the
class of naturally occurring compounds that include flavanols), is at the
top of his list.

Ratcheting up Keen's expectations are the latest studies from Norman
Hollenberg, a professor at Harvard Medical School and a former editor of The
New England Journal of Medicine. In 2003, Hollenberg and an assistant
professor, Naomi Fisher, published a paper in The Journal of Hypertension
offering exactly the kind of evidence Schmitz dreamed about: cocoa flavanols
appear to stimulate the production of nitric oxide in blood vessels, which
in their subjects had the effect of relaxing the endothelial lining and
increasing blood flow to the extremities. Hollenberg and Fisher both believe
this has positive implications for diabetics who suffer from a range of
afflictions tied to poor circulation. This month, a paper that Hollenberg
wrote with Schmitz for The British Journal of Cardiology assembles the most
recent data to bolster the case that cocoa flavanols may have therapeutic
potential for those afflicted with various cardiovascular diseases.

When I visited Hollenberg in June, in his cozy book-lined office tucked away
on the ground floor of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, he said he
was even more encouraged by a pilot study he concluded a few weeks earlier.
The project measured whether subjects who drank a cup of high-flavanol cocoa
had an increased flow of blood to the brain; on average, participants
registered a 33 percent increase in blood flow. Hollenberg called the
results ''a grand-slam home run.'' And he sees potential applications for
the vascular (non-Alzheimer's) dementia that afflicts millions of Americans
and is believed to be caused by poor cerebral blood flow. No drug on the
market, Hollenberg added, appears to do what high-flavanol cocoa has done in
his initial studies.

Hollenberg, like Keen, is not shy about his corporate sponsorship; he
conceded that his work would not have been possible without Mars. In the
early 1990's, the Harvard professor was researching whether certain genes
might offer protection from the onset of age-related hypertension. In a few
select cultures around the world -- in parts of New Guinea, for instance,
and in the highlands of China -- men and women consistently show no increase
in blood pressure as they age. Some years ago, Hollenberg also happened to
come across an article written in the 1940's by an Army surgeon in the
Panama Canal Zone, noting that the Kuna Indians, in the San Blas Islands of
Panama, had extremely low blood pressure, and that it did not climb as they
got older. ''The Kuna had a few things going for them,'' Hollenberg said.
''They were close, and American Airlines flies direct from Boston to Panama
City. I didn't have a lot of money, but I had a lot of frequent-flier
miles.'' The problem was that Hollenberg's initial visits turned out to be
disappointing. He recorded low blood pressure readings for the Kuna, but he
found little evidence of a protective gene. When islanders moved to the
mainland, for instance, their blood pressure increased, which genetic
protection ought to prevent. And yet, one thing struck him: the Kuna living
on the islands drank a significant amount of locally grown, minimally
processed, high-flavanol cocoa. Those living on the mainland did not.

Hollenberg soon stopped looking for protective genes and started focusing on
cocoa. In the mid-1990's, with his support running low, a search for grant
money led him to the American Cocoa Research Institute, a trade organization
of confectioners; a few days later, Harold Schmitz called. ''Before I knew
it,'' Hollenberg said, ''I was flying to Panama with Mars's lawyer to meet
with the Panamanian Ministry of Health so they could sign permission papers
for the study.'' Mars has since covered the bulk of Hollenberg's projects in
Panama and Boston, costs easily amounting to more than a million dollars.
Yet this may prove a pittance in the long run. For one thing, Hollenberg,
who sits on the advisory boards of several drug companies, has advised the
company as it considers sharing its cocoa research with a large
pharmaceutical company. (Mars told me it is currently in talks.) And
Hollenberg has been forceful in pushing the idea of selling cocoa as a
functional food. Early on, he said, he told Mars's top executives: ''You
know, I don't think the issue is whether there is going to be a
flavanol-rich cocoa made for human consumption. The issue is, who is going
to profit from your investment?''

In Hollenberg's view, there's a fortune at stake. ''It's going to be a
billion-dollar market, you can bet on it,'' he said. ''It's going to be on
every mother's shelf. And a year from now, when the news starts trickling
out, every old person is going to buy it.'' He added: ''I think it's a
long-term strategy. If one could persuade school districts, which are
terribly concerned about junk food, to put vending machines in to provide
flavanol-rich hot chocolate and cold chocolate -- well, do you happen to
know who owns most every vending machine around the world?'' I did happen to
know. While Hollenberg overstated things somewhat, Mars is a huge player in
the vending business. Not only is it among the leading providers of
electronic components in vending machines, but it is also the top company in
vending-machine candy sales. (Mars is second only to Frito-Lay in overall
snack-food sales at those machines.)

''It could happen,'' Hollenberg continued, seemingly entertained by the fine
carpentry -- tongue into groove, tenon into mortise -- of such a business
strategy. ''And to think that Mars began all this without a product in mind.
Who knew?''

But selling a mass audience a high-flavanol cocoa, for example, is by no
means simple. The marketplace is littered with functional-food failures from
big, smart companies like Nestle and Campbell's, which thought they could
design a best-selling yogurt or a frozen dinner with health-conferring
properties. This largely explains Mars's caution. When I visited the
Hackettstown headquarters a second time, this past summer, I sat down with
Schmitz and Jim Cass, the marketing vice president at Mars charged with
creating a campaign for the coming line of high-flavanol products. Cass told
me that with CocoaVia, the company has decided for now to restrict the bars
directly to consumers on the Web. This way Mars can create a database of
buyers and even contact them individually, to understand how they're
reacting to the product and how large the potential base might be for
similar foods. Cass explained: ''It's something that we've talked about --
how far can these healthful benefits go? To the kids' market? Maybe. And
we'd like to maybe understand that. Is this just a market for boomers, or
those who lead an active life, or the wellness seekers? That's why we're
taking this calculated learning approach before we do anything on a national
or much larger basis.''

There are other hurdles that have nothing to do with marketing, however.
Hollenberg's cocoa-flavanol findings -- though effectively duplicated this
summer by Mary B. Engler, a non-Mars-financed professor at the University of
California, San Francisco -- could lose some of their promise as they are
tried in larger and more involved trials. Then there's the uncomfortable
fact that Mars is, first and foremost, a candy maker. As Carl Keen, at U.C.
Davis, put it: ''If Mars were some sort of juice company, they would find
this far easier to market, but they're in a difficult position because
they're a confectionary company. The marketing here is much, much more
difficult than if they were selling a fruit or a vegetable.'' Schmitz, too,
has no illusions about what's ahead. ''Nutrition is already controversial,''
he said, ''and you can imagine that chocolate nutrition is about 1,000 times
more controversial.''

It's not reassuring that Mars seems unwilling to draw a clear line between
making subtle health claims for chocolate and making forthright health
claims for cocoa. Or perhaps it's more accurate to say that Mars draws a
clear line, then seems to step over its edges, much like an artful
politician. In both of my visits to Hackettstown, for instance, Mars
executives made it clear that they think it's irresponsible to claim that
their research suggests in any way that eating more of their chocolate is
good for you. That's why the company does not draw attention to the fact
that M&M's, say, now have more flavanols than competing brands. The notion
of pushing a ''healthy'' candy, especially to kids, is perhaps one of the
last remaining taboos left in the marketing world. At the same time, Mars
executives weren't hesitant to claim that their research has created an
upside: it can ''reduce the guilt'' from the daily chocolate habit,
especially if the daily habit includes a Dove dark bar, which caters to
adult palates and contains about 150 milligrams of flavanols. It's hard not
to imagine that a sister brand, like M&M's, would benefit from that same

To consumer food advocates like Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at
New York University, this borders on the absurd. Nestle (who is not related
to the food company) says she thinks guilt is part of chocolate's inherent
appeal; she also takes the position -- extreme, by her own admission -- that
no food should be packaged with health claims, not even wine, walnuts or
blueberries. ''Everything isn't a health food,'' Nestle said. ''Or put it
another way: unprocessed foods are health foods. Once you start in on
processed foods, you're talking about marketing. This is marketing, pure and
simple.'' Her position is echoed by consumer groups like the Center for
Science in the Public Interest, which has criticized Mars in the past for
making health claims for chocolate, and which has tried (generally without
success) to call attention to questionable health claims, often carefully
and legalistically worded, for new functional foods. ''What has happened is
that we've gone from having virtually no health claims on labels to a
free-for-all where companies can say almost anything they want with almost
no evidence,'' said Bonnie Liebman, nutrition director of the center. ''It
has gotten so that consumers can't identify the foods that truly may be
beneficial. The overall trend is good news for the industry and not such
good news for the consumer.''

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has not taken a position on
Mars's high-flavanol cocoa, or on CocoaVia, which is currently packaged with
the suggestion, ''Be good to your heart everyday.'' And at Mars, Cass and
Schmitz remarked that they don't think too highly of what's in the
functional-foods marketplace at the moment, either. Both men said they
consider the science on their cocoa so promising for consumers, and the
product so natural and unadulterated, that they're loath to compare it to
anything currently available, perhaps with the exception of red wine, which
exploded in popularity in the early 1990's after several studies revealed
potential health benefits. Nevertheless, the novelty of what Mars is doing,
and the fact that it is a food producer and not a drug maker, makes it hard
to know where to come down on the company. If the flavanol research holds
up, do you applaud a mammoth multinational corporation that probably spent
tens of millions in an effort to ''capitalize'' (as Jim Cass put it) on a
product that may help confront a leading cause of mortality in America? Or
do you instead doubt its intentions -- and likewise its products -- because
Mars cares only about fattening its bottom line?

Hollenberg, for one, is unfazed by how deeply the business and the science
are intertwined. In his Boston office, he told me that years earlier, he
worked on the team that began to explore the effects of ACE inhibitors -- a
once-in-a-lifetime experience, he had always thought, until he started
getting his flavanol results a few years ago. ''This is big news,'' he said,
''from the point of view of the future of cardiovascular medicine -- we
think. But there is going to have to be the investment of millions of
dollars to convert 'we think' to 'we know.' '' Hollenberg said that those
millions ultimately won't come from Mars, since the company's interest in
expensive cocoa studies would certainly diminish once it created its line of
products and had assembled a portfolio of strong scientific studies. That
would only make sense, Hollenberg admitted with a shrug. Also, he
speculated, the day Mars moves on may not be so far off.

Hollenberg then took me into the lab next to his office and asked an
assistant to make me a cup of experimental high-flavanol cocoa -- the kind
that Mars is still tinkering with as a commercial product, he said. I had
just seen the charts on Hollenberg's subjects who had responded to the drink
(which contains about 500 milligrams of flavanols) with a massive increase
in blood flow to their brain, some by as much as 40 percent. I took a taste.
As far as I could tell, there was little physical reaction; I felt more
alert after a few sips, a symptom perhaps attributable to the caffeine (a
fraction of what's in a cup of coffee) or, more likely, to the liveliness of
its flavor. The taste is more akin to a dark, fruity, slightly bitter

''Now, that's not so bad, is it?'' Hollenberg asked.

And it wasn't, I had to admit. Not bad at all. Then again, we were only
talking about the taste. The harder question was how good it is.

Jon Gertner is a contributing writer for the magazine. He most recently
wrote about Whole Foods Market.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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Old 13-10-2004, 07:48 AM
Davida Chazan - The Chocolate Lady
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NOTE: My Correct Address is in my signature (just remove the spaces).
On Tue, 12 Oct 2004 19:09:21 GMT, "JMF" wrote:

October 10, 2004
Eat Chocolate, Live Longer?

Jon Gertner is a contributing writer for the magazine. He most recently
wrote about Whole Foods Market.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

While I certainly appreciate the article, unless you are the author,
it is a violation of copyright to post the whole thing on usenet
without permission from the New York Times.

Next time, please just give us an excerpt and the URL where the
article can be found (below). Thanks.

(You have to sign up to read it, but it doesn't cost anything to do

Davida Chazan (The Chocolate Lady)
davidac AT jdc DOT org DOT il
"What you see before you, my friend, is the result of a lifetime of
--Katharine Hepburn (May 12, 1907 - June 29, 2003)

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