Two Idaho State University dietetics students formulate an iron-rich chocolate recipe
By Kirsten Cooper | December 18, 2017
POCATELLO – Chocolate is the perfect way to celebrate the holiday season. However, thanks to a recent project by Idaho State University dietetics seniors Josephine Cobia and Jenifer Massengale, indulging doesn’t have to mean being unhealthy.
The students presented their abstract at the Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE) in October.
Cobia and Massengale began their project with the intention of testing whether a candy bar fortified with iron and ascorbic acid would be acceptable to consumers.
Cobia and Massengale co-researched the project and developed the recipe. Allisha Weeden, an associate professor of dietetics, served as their advisor and helped them figure out some of the logistics of the project and finalize their study.
Cobia, a Blackfoot native, said that the idea for this project began in an Experimental Foods class she and Massengale took together.
She explained that for a project like this, students would typically replace a food item in a recipe with another food item without drastically changing the texture or acceptability of the product. In addition, the alteration had to be a new, original recipe that would serve as a healthier alternative to the original.
“Jen and I approached the project a bit differently,” Cobia said. “Instead of replacing an item, we wanted to add something that would make the food more beneficial, and we wanted to target a health deficiency.
“The recipe was pretty much a bust when we did it in class, but we realized the potential our idea had, and we wanted to get it right,” she continued. “After the semester was over, we did more research and worked hard to get the recipe to where it needed to be.”
They used a dark chocolate recipe to make the candy bars. Because beans are versatile as well as an excellent source of iron, they added white bean flour to the recipe as a source of iron.
Cobia said they initially tried pureed beans instead of flour, but it significantly altered the texture and created a fudge.
Through trial and error, they were able to find the precise amount of bean flour to add so it wouldn’t alter the taste too much while ensuring it still provided a good amount of iron.
“We also added ascorbic acid, but it was such a small amount that it didn’t affect the taste,” Cobia said. “We didn’t want to add the ascorbic acid by using fruit because we didn’t want a flavored chocolate, and the fruit changed the texture. It was important to us that the chocolate had that “snap” consumers expect when they bite into it.”
Cobia explained that many people, but women and children in particular, are at risk for iron deficiency.
She said that most of the time, consumers are either told what kinds of foods to eat to increase their iron intake or told to take an iron supplement. Since habits can be difficult to change, they wanted to create a product that would be desirable to consumers.
“We wanted to be able to offer something that was easy to access and something that women and children already enjoy,” Cobia said. “We created a product and tested it against a control on a taste panel with 36 individuals, and the chocolate we created was rated as acceptable by them.”
Each square of the chocolate has one milligram of iron, which is a significant amount. The recommended daily dietary allowance of iron in women ages 19-50 is 18 milligrams.
In addition to being a good source of iron, the chocolate includes ascorbic acid to increase the absorption rate of the iron. This is significant for their project because although there are many iron supplements and iron-fortified foods on the market, none of them include ascorbic acid.
“Learning how to conduct research and coming to understand the practicality of different methods in an experiment was a great learning experience,” Cobia said. “I'm extremely grateful to have such supportive advisors and to be in program that encourages research, and that I was able to have this experience as an undergraduate.”
She said that she also appreciated the opportunity to participate in FNCE as an undergraduate.
“I really enjoyed seeing the research that other students and dietitians had done. Every aspect of the field was represented,” said Cobia. “As I expect to graduate in May, it was a great opportunity in evaluating my future as a dietitian.”