Chocolate could soon become more nutritious and delicious.
Researchers in Ghana, Africa, have found a way to process cocoa beans into chocolate that preserves more of the beans’ natural antioxidants while improving the chocolate’s flavor. They will discuss their findings today during the American Chemical Society’s annual national meeting and exposition in Denver.
Cocoa beans come from cocoa pods, which grow on trees near the equator. They undergo various types of processing before they end up in the form of chocolate sold in stores. Processing steps can include fermenting, drying and roasting.
The roasting step brings out the flavor, according to the American Chemical Society, but it also results in a loss of some of the antioxidants (polyphenols, in chocolate’s case).
As Emmanuel Ohene Afoakwa of the University of Ghana explains:
We decided to add a pod-storage step before the beans were even fermented to see whether that would have an effect on the polyphenol content. This is not traditionally done, and this is what makes our research fundamentally different.
The researchers divided 300 pods into four groups. One group of pods was not stored at all before being processed as usual, and the other groups were stored for either three, seven or 10 days.
The pods stored for seven days before being fermented and dried retained the greatest amount of antioxidants.
The antioxidants in cocoa beans and certain chocolates can help improve vascular health, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Potential benefits include lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the brain and heart, and improving blood platelets’ ability to clot blood.
Dark chocolate is generally considered richer in antioxidants, although it depends on the processing methods.
Avoid buying chocolates whose food labels state they underwent a processing step called Dutch processing, or that state the product contains chocolate processed with alkali, for example. Dutch processing treats cocoa with alkali to neutralize its natural acidity, the Cleveland Clinic states, but it’s also considered to destroy flavonals, which have antioxidant qualities and offer other health benefits.
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