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Chocolate and chewing gum as promising vehicles for functional food

Incorporating active ingredients into adequate food matrices is a challenging aspect in the development of functional food products.

Major challenges consist, on one hand, in masking foul tastes of active ingredients, such has iron or herbal extracts that usually have a very bitter taste when used at recommended relatively high doses and, on the other hand, in ensuring their stability within the chosen product matrix. Those two aspects are highly variable depending on the nature of the ingredient. The major new ingredients currently emerging in confectionary are chia, B-vitamins, green tea extract and green coffee extract, pre- and probiotics, and phytosterols.

Chocolate is one of the favorite vehicle for the development of functional foods, partly due to its powerful flavor that overrides foul tastes. There are already various products using chocolate as matrix for popular energy boosting ingredients, among which we find caffeine, B-vitamins, guarana extracts and botanicals.

The possibilities for future functional chocolate are wide-ranging and new ingredients are now emerging, such as for instance the following nine energy-booster vitamins and minerals that have already won European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) claims for their contribution to “the reduction of tiredness and fatigue”: folate, iron, magnesium, niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), riboflavin (B2), vitamin B12, vitamin B6 and vitamin C.

Furthermore interest in using pre- as well as probiotics is rising among functional food producers. To that purpose, chocolate may provide a low moisture system amenable as a probiotic delivery vehicle (see article on confectionerynews.com)

Phytosterols (plants sterols), which have been approved to maintain blood cholesterol levels and to reduce cholesterol level as well as cardiovascular risk by respectively ESFA and FDA, are also gaining the interest of functional chocolate producing industries.

In the last couple of years, chewing gum has come out as an interesting potential platform for the incorporation of active ingredients, since basically most types of ingredients, such as vitamins and minerals, can be added to it. Some are of course more problematic, such as bitter tasting herbal extracts as well as iron and very oily omega-3 fatty acids.

In addition chewing gums also carry the advantage of delivering the active ingredient locally without the carrier going through the digestive system, through sublingual absorption. Although studies haven’t reported any additional efficacy of direct absorption in the mouth versus oral intake of food supplements, at least for vitamin B12 (1, 2), it is known that the effect is more rapid. It takes a few minutes compared to the 30-40 minutes needed through intestinal absorption, the same difference that can be observed between taking water-soluble aspirin tablets versus non-chewable pills.

There are currently two manufacturing processes used in the development of functional chewing gums: the traditional extruded one and a process using compression, which bares the advantage of increasing the stability of the active ingredients that remain excluded from the sticky dough part.

1.         Sharabi A, Cohen E, Sulkes J and Garty M (2003) Replacement therapy for vitamin B12 deficiency: comparison between the sublingual and oral route. Br J Clin Pharmacol  56: 635-8
 2.         Yazaki Y, Chow G and Mattie M (2006) A single-center, double-blinded, randomized controlled study to evaluate the relative efficacy of sublingual and oral vitamin B-complex administration in reducing total serum homocysteine levels. J Altern Complement Med  12: 881-5
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