Hershey, PA—A recent study conducted at the Hershey Center for Health and Nutrition found that there are more antioxidants and flavanoids in cocoa powder and dark chocolate than in powders derived from superfruits such as açaí, blueberries, cranberries and pomegranates.

The materials used in the study were commercially available fruit powder, natural cocoa, 100% non-blended fruit juice, natural cocoa beverage, solid dark chocolate (60–63% cacao) and hot cocoa mix. All were analyzed for ORAC value, polyphenol content and flavanol content.

Overall, the cocoa powder had the higher ORAC value, significantly greater than blueberry, cranberry and pomegranate powder on a per gram basis; cocoa powder also had more polyphenols than these powders and significantly more flavanols than all the fruit powders tested. The dark chocolate had more antioxidants than pomegranate juice, but less than the other fruit juices. The hot cocoa mix had less antioxidant capacity than any other product used in the study.

These results, which are published in Chemistry Central Journal, don’t necessarily mean that we should rationalize eating a candy bar over a handful of blueberries. That’s because commercially available, processed chocolate, such as popular candy bars, are not as antioxidant-rich as pure, natural cocoa powder.  That is why the hot cocoa mix had the least amount of antioxidants.

Cacao may be processed in one of three ways. Alkalization tones down the acidic taste of natural cacao and modifies the color of chocolate. Alkalization was found, in a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, to destroy 98% of one of the important flavanols, epicatechin, found in cacao. Other antioxidants are also greatly diminished with alkali processing.

Roasting methods of processing also ruined the antioxidant benefits of cacao. Beans that had been roasted at temperatures higher than 70 degrees Celsius had 88% less epicatechin than raw cacao beans. In order to make the chocolate products we all know and love, the beans must be roasted at temperatures that are higher than 70 degrees Celsius. Cocoa powder is often made with this method. Finally, fermentation can be used to make chocolate.
Some experts believe that in order to reap the benefits of cocoa, it should be consumed in supplement form or in natural form, such as natural cocoa powder.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, May 2011 (online 3/23/11)