Study Finds Higher Cocoa Content Equals More Antioxidants

A new Agricultural Research Service (ARS) study evaluating total amounts of flavanols and antioxidant capacity in cocoa and chocolate shows that antioxidants are found in a range of chocolate products—but more so in those with a higher cocoa content. Scientists from ARS, the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, presented the findings at Experimental Biology 2005, an international scientific conference held in San Diego earlier this month.
The study was funded in part by the American Cocoa Research Institute (ACRI), the research arm of the Chocolate Manufacturers Association (CMA). In this study, the scientists found that the chocolates ranked in antioxidant capacity from highest amount to lowest were natural cocoa powder, unsweetened baking chocolate, alkalinized or “Dutch” cocoa powder, dark chocolates, semi-sweet chocolate baking chips, and milk chocolates.
The results were based on chocolate samples from commercially available products under nine brands, as well as reference standards provided by the United States National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). ARS scientists, located at the Beltsville Human Nutrition Center, Brunswick Labs, and the Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center, analyzed these samples in a blind test for flavanol content and antioxidant capacity.
Flavanols are the main flavonoids found in cocoa and chocolate. Research over the past decade has identified flavonoids as showing diverse beneficial physiological and antioxidant effects. Flavonoids are compounds also found in fruits, vegetables, and certain beverages such as tea, red wine, and grape juice.
“These results indicate that products derived from cocoa beans, which come from the cacao tree, also contain flavanols, with the highest amount in natural cocoa powders,” explains Dr. Leah Porter, vice president of scientific affairs for the CMA. “This study also demonstrates that chocolate products containing higher amounts of cocoa have higher antioxidant capacity.”
“The findings provide further scientific evidence that cocoa is a rich source of antioxidant activity, such as other antioxidant-rich foods including red wine, cranberries and blueberries,” said CMA President Lynn Bragg. “This research increases knowledge of a wonderfully familiar food, and comes at a time when we are finding new ways to use cocoa and chocolate (e.g., as an ingredient and flavor) in a variety of foods. There is a chocolate for everyone and it can be enjoyed—in moderate portions—as part of a balanced diet.”
Bragg emphasized that chocolate has been and will continue to be an important research area, and that “we are constantly learning more about its many unique properties.”