Health and science

What is chocolate made of?

Chocolate is made from the fermented, roasted and ground seeds of the chocolate tree: Theobroma cacao. The seeds contain an abundance of interesting substances because in nature their role is to support the growth of a new tree. During chocolate making, the process of fermentation and roasting develops the “chocolatey” flavor of the seeds as new molecules are produced in “browning reactions” called the Maillard reaction. Careful grinding and mixing of the chocolate produces the smooth and creamy mouthfeel and a process known as tempering sets the molecular structure of the chocolate into the correct molecular conformation in the solid bar.

Real chocolate is a mixture of finely ground roasted and fermented cacao seeds and sugar. A 70% chocolate bar contains 70% ground cacao and 30% sugar with a hint of ground vanilla bean. The ground cacao is comprised of cacao butter, a natural oil, in which the ground particles of the cacao seed are suspended. These particles are fibrous and contain a mixture of polyphenols and catechins which have been shown to have antioxidant activity; similar to properties of the molecules in green tea, for instance. Dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa has a lot of these polyphenols and catechins. Conversely, chocolate that is heavily processed or contains very little cacao has little antioxidant activity left. The polyphenol and catechin antioxidants that can be found in cacao have been shown to have positive health benefits including maintaining health blood pressure, inhibiting inflammation, reducing the formation of bacteria known to cause tooth decay, and improved cerebral blood flow. In addition, chocolate contains theobromine, a mild stimulant related to caffeine.