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Almost everyone loves chocolate and requires little encouragement to indulge. Nutritionists have told us for decades to only eat this special treat in moderation. But what if the industry could figure out a way to make chocolate into a healthy snack without sacrificing taste?
Chocolate is a human obsession that has appeared throughout history. We’ve known for awhile that chocolate (especially the dark variety) carries some health benefits like antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, and a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease. Most of these benefits are minimal compared to the added calories and fat content that chocolate presents. Scientists are working to improve chocolate’s healthy side so that people don’t have to weigh the pros and cons as much before digging into a treat.
A new study from the African Journals Online discusses how researchers (from the University of Ghana) have found a way to make chocolate more nutritious and tastier at the same time. The improvement process sounds relatively simple. By tweaking a few tiny aspects of chocolate’s early production stages, these scientists “found that they could boost the content of health-promoting compounds in cocoa beans and also improve the resulting chocolate’s flavor, making it sweeter.”
All of dark chocolate’s existing health benefits have already sweetened the deal somewhat. The problem? Most of those beneficial properties have been lessened during production. The transformation of the cocoa beans — particularly the roasting stage — often reduces the power of chocolate’s polyphenols (which are reponsible for the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties).
The main task for the researchers was to alter the roasting stages in an effort to preserve the polyphenols. They did so with two primary tweaks:
(1) By adding another stage to the roasting process, which was to store the cocoa beans in pods for 7 days before fermentation. This preserved a very high antioxidant content;
(2) The next step concentrated on retaining these polyphenols without reducing flavor. Scientists roasted the beans at a lower temperature for a longer period of time. Instead of a 10-20 minute process, the researchers lowered the temperature and roasted the beans for a full 45 minutes. The startling effect was a much sweeter chocolate taste in the final product.
Together, these two steps have “aided the fermentation process and enhanced antioxidant capacity of the beans, as well as the flavor.” Now researchers shall focus upon making the extended roasting process a bit more economical. If all goes well, we could see healthier and tastier chocolate on store shelves one day soon. Sticky fingers crossed.