March 31, 2006
"Cocoa" is the word commonly used to describe the various food ingredients derived from the seeds of the fruit from the tropical tree known as Theobroma cacao. An extraordinary emotional link between cocoa and humans developed several thousand years ago, and the intensity of this link today continues unabated. However, an explosion of cocoa research during the past 15 years is beginning to reveal aspects of this unique food crop that have been completely unappreciated. Indeed, science is revealing that cocoa is the common denominator across an uncommonly broad swath of "life sciences", ranging from protecting the habitat of migratory birds to providing triggers for biological mechanisms that improve cardiovascular health. Environmental and agricultural research is teaching us that cocoa can play a role in preserving endangered regions of the tropical rainforests around the world, and in so doing has the potential to improve the robustness of vital migratory bird corridors. Natural products chemistry, biomedical and nutrition research is teaching us that specific compounds naturally occurring in fresh cocoa, known as flavanols, have the potential to improve vascular function, and in so doing provide potential preventive and therapeutic strategies to help manage significant public health issues such as atherosclerosis and stroke. Analytical chemistry and food science is teaching us how to preserve the flavanols in cocoa during handling and processing which traditionally destroyed these compounds, thus enabling the creation of new cocoa-based products that have the potential to "re-invent" one of the world's favorite foods. Because cocoa is the ingredient in chocolate that makes this remarkable food unique, the science of cocoa and chocolate are inextricably linked. Therefore, this lecture will finish with a discussion and tasting of a variety of chocolate products to illustrate the role that science and technology have played in creating some of the world's favorite food products.
Dr. Harold H. Schmitz is presently Chief Science Officer for Mars, Incorporated. Prior to taking on this role in 2005, he held various positions within Mars in Scientific and Regulatory Affairs, Fundamental Research, Analytical and Applied Sciences and Corporate Staff. In addition, he has been a Visiting Faculty member in the Department of Nutrition at the University of California, Davis since 1995. Prior to joining Mars in 1993, he was an USDA National Needs Research Fellow at North Carolina State University's Department of Food Science. Dr. Schmitz received his Master of Science degree in Food Science from the University of Illinois and his Doctoral degree in Food Science, with a minor in organic chemistry, from North Carolina State University. Dr. Schmitz's research interests center around the agricultural, biomedical, clinical and engineering sciences related to food production and its influence on human and companion animal health. He has particular interests in the application of analytical sciences to these disciplines, with a special emphasis on understanding the metabolism and function of dietary carotenoids and flavonoids in the context of human health and nutrition. Dr Schmitz has authored and co-authored numerous peer-reviewed publications and invited book chapters that reflect this interest (see below for selected citations), and developed and Chaired several scientific symposia to discuss state of the art knowledge in the area of phytochemicals and health benefits. Dr. Schmitz is a member of Sigma Xi and Gamma Sigma Delta. In addition to research, Dr Schmitz has a keen interest in enhancing the contributions that science can make to society and the environment, and he presently serves on the Executive Committee of the Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable at The National Academies. Schmitz HH, van Breemen RB and Schwartz SJ (1992) Fast-atom bombardment and continuous-flow fast-atom bombardment mass spectrometry in carotenoid analysis. Meth Enzymol 213:322-336. Hammerstone JF, Lazarus SA, Mitchell AE, Rucker RB and Schmitz HH (1999) Identification of procyanidins in cocoa (Theobroma cacao) and chocolate using high-performance liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry. J Agric Food Chem 47:490-496. Pearson DA, Paglieroni TG, Rein D, Wun T, Schramm DD, Wang JF, Holt RR, Gosselin R, Schmitz HH and Keen CL (2002) The Effects of Flavanol-Rich Cocoa and Aspirin on ex vivo Platelet Function. Thromb Res 106:191-197. Schroeter H, Heiss C, Balzer J, Kleinbongard P, Keen CL, Hollenberg NK, Sies H, Kwik-Uribe C, Schmitz HH and Kelm M (2006) (-)Epicatechin mediates beneficial effects of flavanol-rich cocoa on vascular function in humans. Proc Nat Acad Sci 103:1024 -1029.