In news that has brought a feel-good glow to Stylist HQ this morning, chocolate is soon to become more nutritious and delicious than ever.
Scientists are working on a formula to help chocolate retain more of the antioxidants found in cocoa, without compromising its sweet flavour.
Traditionally the prospect of tasty, health-giving chocolate has been a tough alchemy to crack.
Cocoa is bursting with natural plant nutrients called flavonoids, which work as antioxidants to combat damage caused by free radicals. They also have a powerful impact on cardiovascular health and memory.
The problem is, many of the flavonoids contained in raw cocoa powder are lost in the process of roasting cocoa beans to make chocolate. And the more processed the chocolate, the more flavanols are lost. And since cocoa naturally has a strong, pungent flavour, chocolate production tends to go through stages of fermentation, alkalizing and roasting to temper this taste.
But now, a research team at the University of Ghana claims to have solved the conundrum, by creating nutritious chocolate with lots of antioxidants and a sweet flavour.
Doctor Emmanuel Ohene Afoakwa, a professor of food science and technology at the university, claims his team have worked out a new process of creating chocolate.
Presenting the results at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Denver this week, he said he and his researchers stored the cocoa bean pods before their fermenting and roasting process, in order to retain some of the lost nutrients.
In typical chocolate-making, pods are first taken from cocoa trees and the cocoa beans are extracted, fermented and roasted.
But in this new method, known as "pulp preconditioning", scientists stored the cocoa bean pods for up to 10 days before putting them through the standard fermentation and drying process.
They found that the longer the cocoa pods were stored for before roasting, the more antioxidants they contained afterwards.
In addition, the research team decided to slow the roasting process down, by roasting the beans at 242 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes (instead of the usual 248-266 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 to 20 minutes). They found that this too resulted in a higher level of antioxidants in the end product, as well as producing an enhanced flavour.
"I have been working on cocoa for some time, and my interest is on creating techniques that can enhance the flavour and the quality of the beans," said Afoakwa. "We’re trying to find out how some of these practices can be enhanced to help farmers produce beans of higher quality."
He suggested that the process of pulp reconditioning probably enabled the sweet pulp that surrounds the beans to enter the pods before the fermentation process.
"This aided the fermentation processes and enhanced antioxidant capacity of the beans, as well as the flavour," he said.
The team will now conduct further tests on how to retain higher antioxidant levels but once finalised, their findings may have a significant impact on the chocolate market.
"We believe there will be a high benefit for confectionary industry," Afoakwa said.
Experts currently recommend making the most of the health benefits of chocolate by eating approximately 30g to 60g of high quality, dark chocolate (with a cocoa content of 70% or higher) per day.
But this could change with the emergence of a more nutritious brand of chocolate. Watch this space!