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OXFORD (Reuters Life!) - A new business in Oxford claims to have found a healthy alternative to the sugar- and dairy-laden chocolate bars often blamed for contributing to a growing obesity crisis in the wealthy Western world.
Nibchoc, a cacao bar marketed as "more than chocolate, without the guilt" is designed in a way that retains the nutritious properties of cacao that are lost in commercial dairy chocolate-making.
Its inventor, Rachel Niblock, was inspired to create the product after working in the NHS.
"My background always involved thinking holistically about what people need," she said. "One of the things which really concerned me was the 'healthy' claim of some products that actually contained a lot of refined sugar and fats, and didn't taste very nice. I don't want to have a healthy product that tastes rubbish."
Nibchoc is designed to provide a satisfying "chocolate hit" without any of the additives found in chocolate. It is made with cacao nibs, from the fruit of the Theobroma Cacao tree, which in their raw state contain over 300 chemical compounds that render them highly nutritious.
However, this nutritional power is diluted in the manufacture of chocolate, which adds dairy and refined sugars.
Nibchoc preserves the benefits of the cacao nib by using healthier alternatives. The bars are sweetened with agave nectar, a low-GI naturally occurring sweetener, and bound together with coconut oil, which has been found to promote the formation of so-called 'good cholesterol' in the body. Because of these natural sugars, most of Nibchoc's products are suitable for diabetics, vegans and coeliacs.
After experimenting with raw cacao in her own kitchen, making bars and wrapping them in cling film, Niblock began selling it to small delis around Oxford. Eight months ago, she left her job to work at Nibchoc full time.
"I've needed every single minute of the day, it's been very busy," she said. "Mail order is really starting to grow. We've sent out to Europe as a result of people being in Oxford having picked up a bar."
The business is expanding rapidly, mainly through appearing at farmers' markets throughout Britain and through mail order from the Nibchoc website: www.nibchoc.com .
All the ingredients used in Nibchoc are organic where available, and the cacao nibs are high-quality imports from Ecuador.
"We know that what we're using is the best we're able to use," Niblock said. "We've had several chocolatiers tasting the cacao nib and saying it's a very good one."
Nibchoc is currently available in nine flavors, including ginger, chilli and coffee. Niblock is working on a healthy alternative to chocolate spread that can also be used in cooking.
"We're always coming up with new ideas. We always want to be open to feedback, because that's the most important part. Nibchoc has grown because of people's ideas, and that's been our biggest motivation," she said.
She hopes that Nibchoc will appeal to all ages as a replacement for chocolate and high-sugar snack foods.
"It's a very good alternative food for children. We've had parents buying bars as a substitute for chocolate in children's lunch boxes."
She also believes it is a welcome addition to the food market as consumers begin to care more about the provenance and nutritional benefits of their food.
"Part of the population are on a limited budget, some are diabetic, but they still want to enjoy food. There is room for a product like Nibchoc that contains the ingredients to meet people's health needs."
However, taste is her most important concern.
"People expect a certain texture and taste from chocolate, but Nibchoc is very different," she said.
"For me, food should be a pleasurable experience as well as being nutritious."
Editing by Paul Casciato