Cocoa (Theobroma cacao) – Food of the Gods
What it is
- Dried fermented seeds of Theobroma cacao beans
- Cocoa: ground roasted seeds
- Cocoa liquor (cacao liquor or cacao mass): pure milled cacao, includes cocoa butter and cocoa solids
- Cocoa butter: pale-yellow, vegetable fat extracted from the cacao bean
Where it's found
- First domesticated by the Olmecs (Pre-Columbian, 600 BC) in South Central Mexico
- 90 percent grown in Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Indonesia, Nigeria, Cameroon, Brazil, Ecuador and Malaysia
Food or medicine?
- As currency by Olmecs; as medicinal drink xocolatl by Mayans and Aztecs; as medicine by Francisco Hernández, royal physician to King Philip II of Spain; as indulgent drink in Spanish courts; and confectionery in England
- Highest bio-polyphenol concentration of all foods
- A delicious medicine: antioxidative, antimicrobial, possibly anticarcinogenic and/or cardioprotective benefits
- Subject of patents for pharma/cosmetic treatment of skin adipocytes
- Chemical processes: fermentation, roasting and alkalization – all reduce flavonoid content
- Raw cacao not as tasty as processed cocoa
- Cost of high bioactive cocoa major deterrent for food manufacturers
- Ambiguity of health benefits not robust for marketing claims
- Growing consumer preference for cocoa-based functional foods
- Consumers want a daily dose of cocoa food that's good for them
- Advances in processing technologies to preserve bioactive content
- Selective development of high-bioactive content cocoa
- Formulations delivering benefits in tasty products
- Composition is well defined; functional significance less so
- Major methylxanthines: theobromine and caffeine
- Major polyphenols: flavanols
- (catechins), flavonols (quercetins), anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins
- Procyanidins (60 percent of polyphenol content) may help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease
- Flavonoids modulate immune, metabolic and enzymatic processes
- Flavonoids protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer
- Extremely rich source of minerals: Ca, Cu, Fe, Mg, Mn, P, K, Na, Zn
- Processing reduces phytic acid and oxalic acid and renders minerals more bioavailable
- Multitude of health benefits merit additional serious studies
Despite its high saturated (stearic) fat content, cocoa does not appear to raise cholesterol levels in normal humans (Penny Kris-Etherton, 1993, 1994).
Borchers A, et al. Cocoa and chocolate: composition, bioavailability, and health implications, J Med Food 2000;3(2):73-6.
Hannum S, Erdman J, Emerging health benefits from cocoa and chocolate, J Med Food 2000;3(2):77-106.
Kantha Shelke, Ph.D., is a principal at Corvus Blue LLC, a Chicago-based food science and nutrition firm that specializes in competitive intelligence and expert witness services. Contact her at [email protected] or 312.951.5810.