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Chocolate That's Amazingly Healthy? It's Coming, When Scientists Keep The Antioxidants In

First Posted: Mar 25, 2015 02:03 PM EDT
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Could chocolate one day be healthier than the candy treat we're used to? Scientists are breaking down this sweet roasting process to see why we're losing some of the essential antioxidants along the way. 

Professor of food science and technology at the University of Ghana studied the new process that thoroughly looks at how to make chocolate healthier, examining how the dessert food is made and broken down. 

Some of the antioxidants in chocolate are actually thought to be just exactly what makes chocolate so healthy, supporting not only cardiovascular health, but memory, as well, and even aiding in the prevention of Alzheimer's disease. 

As it stands, the current process of making chocolate involves fermentation of white or purple cocoa beans in baskets that sit for a few days before they are then sun-dried. Afterward, workers begin gently roasting them to enhance flavor.

While working, they observed that many of the antioxidants begin to evaporate, which partially explains why our beloved chocolate is less healthy. But the researchers wondered just why this was happening and how to stop it.

For the study, they used 300 cocoa pods that underwent a different number of days in storage prior to fermentation and sun drying. They also observed how the pods were stored for at least seven days and which ones showed the highest level of antioxidants, even after roasting them in different heat temperatures--which researchers referred to as "pulp conditioning." From the regular 10 to 20 minutes of 248-266 degrees Fahrenheit, the pods were then roasted for 45 minutes at 242 degrees Fahrenheit.

"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," added Afoakwa, in a news release. "This is not traditionally done, and this is what makes our research fundamentally different. It's also not known how roasting affects polyphenol content."

Researchers are still continuing to identify changes to the chocolate-making process that might make it healthier in the future. In time, researchers will be testing different temperatures and roasting and storing times to determine if even higher amounts of antioxidants can be retained through the process.

And word to the wise, whenever picking a chocolate, they still recommend you chose dark over milk chocolate, since there is typically going to be less sugar and more antioxidants.

And great news! The researchers have now received funding from the Belgium government to move forward with additional studies. Who knows just what's to come in the future. Afterall, in science, you really never know what you're going to get. 

For more information regarding the current findings were presented at the presented at the 249th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Denver. 

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