Chocolate and cocoa

Bingeing on chocolate is often misinterpreted as a desire for the cocoa (which contains theobromine [1], a chemical with a molecular structure similar to caffeine) or the cocoa butter, or both. Look at the food label and you'll see that it's the sugar content and the added non-cocoa fats that people are attracted to through the "sugar hit". Chocolate does not contain caffeine.

Although some people claim to be "choco-holics", this is a baseless claim. If you doubt this, try satisfying what you think is a chocolate craving by (1) eating cocoa/cacao beans: dried, fermented cocoa/cacao beans are widely available through specialist health food/wholefood retailers. Chipped beans are sold as "nibs". (2) Eating or drinking 100% cocoa/cacao powder (NOT "chocolate drink" - a manufactured product with additives, including sugar). (3) Eating 100% chocolate bars (not "dark chocolate" which can comprise up to 55% sugar, dairy products, soy and added fats). These are also available at specialist retailers and the Dagoba and Pacari [5] brands are examples available in the US and Australia. The Koko Black chain in Australia sells a "single origin" 100% bar "... made from fine Trinitario cocoa beans, sourced from the Dominican Republic".[4]

There is a commercially-fostered claim that "dark chocolate" contains anti-oxidants. This is true, and all chocolate contains some anti-oxidants; dark chocolate just has a little more to the extent that it has been less diluted with sugar. Milk fat appears to negate the anti-oxidant effects of chocolate.

Research in the UK has shown that people who regularly eat a bar of chocolate are more depressive than those who eat less chocolate. [3]

In the UK Hotel Chocolat has 32 stores, all selling its 100% 'Purist' line.

I don't endorse Dagoba, Pacari or Hotel Chocolat, but post those links to illustrate the wide availability of the product so you can do your own experiments.

Google <100% cacao> for others. For more information on chocolate, see the website http://www.xocoatl.org/#SEL

Most people find these three too bitter to be palatable, yet, if we desired chocolate per se, we'd expect pure cocoa to satisfy that desire.  

Lead in chocolate. I should also mention here the reports of high lead levels found in chocolate. It appears that these were inadvertently adsorbed by the raw chocolate (which is grown in the remote countryside, well away from major sources of lead) during its processing (a: drying by roadsides or, b: in urban centres in Nigeria - Nigeria still adds lead to petrol). [2] Nigeria also supplies around three-quarters of the world's cocoa beans. In 2006 the US FDA required Dagoba (see above) to recall some batches of its 87% and 100% chocolate lines because of lead contamination.

Notes

1. It is the theobromine content of chocolate which causes illness in some animals (most dogs especially), because they are unable to metabolize it and it has a toxic effect. Note that 'theobromide' does not exist; the word is sometimes used in error for theobromine.

2. From Environmental Health Perspectives: "... lead concentrations of manufactured cocoa and chocolate products were as high as 230 and 70 ng/g, respectively, which are consistent with market-basket surveys that have repeatedly listed lead concentrations in chocolate products among the highest reported for all foods. One source of contamination of the finished products is tentatively attributed to atmospheric emissions of leaded gasoline, which is still being used in Nigeria. ... the much higher lead concentrations and larger variability in lead isotopic composition of finished cocoa products, which falls within the global range of industrial lead aerosols, indicate that most contamination occurs during shipping and/or processing of the cocoa beans and the manufacture of cocoa and chocolate products."

3. Reported by the BBC 27 April 2010. One explanation could be that people who consume more chocolate also consume 'junk food' (with other ingredients that lead to depression), and are less active. It could also be that depressives eat more chocolate.

4. In mid-2010 these 42g bars sold for $AU 6.95. Unfortunately, Koko Black's website does not enable visitors to identify the URL of the page for the 100% bars. From Koko Black's shop, go to "single origin bars' and scroll down to the bottom right corner of the window and click on "select" to reach the page for their 100% product.

5. In mid-2011 these 50g Pacari bars sold for $AU 6.35. They are certified organic and come from Equador.

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Page added 12 June 2009. Page updated 27 May 2011