Researchers from the Hershey Center for Health & Nutrition have published a paper suggesting that cacao seeds contain a high amount of antioxidants and more polyphenols and flavanols than fruit juice.
"Cacao seeds are a super fruit," published in Chemistry Central Journal, compared natural (non-alkalized) cocoa powder to fruit powders (açai, blueberry, cranberry, pomegranate) by gram and 100% non-blended fruit juices (açai, blueberry, cranberry, pomegranate) to a natural cocoa beverage, solid dark chocolate (60–63% cacao) and hot cocoa mix by serving.
Three brands were selected per fruit powder and fruit product. Each brand was analyzed for antioxidant capacity (ORAC (μM TE/g)), total polyphenol content (TP (mg/g)) and total flavanol content (TF (mg/g)) in triplicate.
The researchers, led by Debra Miller, PhD, found that the antioxidant capacity of cocoa powder (634 ± 33 μMTE/g) was significantly greater than blueberry, cranberry and pomegranate powder on a per gram basis; however, the antioxidant capacity of dark chocolate (9911 ± 1079 μMTE/serving) was not significantly greater, on a per serving basis, than pomegranate juice but was greater than all other products tested. In contrast, hot cocoa mix had significantly less antioxidant capacity (1232 ± 159 μMTE/serving) than all of the other products tested.
The total polyphenol content of cocoa powder (48.2 ± 2.1 mg/g) appeared to be greater than açai, blueberry and cranberry powder; however, these differences did not reach statistical significance. The total polyphenol content of dark chocolate (991.1 mg/serving) was significantly greater than all of the other products tested, aside from pomegranate juice, on a per serving basis. The total polyphenol content of pomegranate juice was significantly greater than that of cranberry juice; all products tested had higher TP values than hot cocoa mix (57.6 ± 4.9 mg/serving). It should be noted that the hot cocoa mix was the only cacao product in the study made with alkalized cocoa, which involves a process (alkalinization) that has been shown to destroy polyphenolic compounds and is likely responsible for the significant differences in ORAC, TP, and TC values observed between hot cocoa mix and the other cocoa products.
The total flavanol content of cocoa powder (30.1 ± 2.8 mg/g) was significantly greater than all of the other fruit powders tested. There were no other statistically significant differences in antioxidant capacity, total polyphenol or total flavanol content between any of the other fruit powders tested. The total flavanol content of dark chocolate (535.6 ± mg/serving) was significantly greater than the cocoa beverage (400 ± 39.5 mg/serving) on a per serving basis, and both dark chocolate and the cocoa beverage had significantly greater total flavanol content than hot cocoa mix, açai, blueberry, cranberry and pomegranate juice.
The results of the study demonstrated that cocoa powder has equivalent or significantly higher in vitro antioxidant activity, as measured by ORAC values, compared to the tested fruit powders. Similarly, the TP content of cocoa powder was equivalent to that of the fruit powders and its TF content was significantly higher than that of all the fruit powders tested. On a per serving basis, dark chocolate had a significantly higher ORAC value and TP content than all of the fruit juices other than pomegranate juice. The ORAC value and TP content reported for dark chocolate in the current study are consistent with previously published results.
This research can perhaps guide the formulator in choosing which cacao-derived products to include into their finished products. In addition, it could sway the formulator to choose a cacao seed extract over a fruit extract to deliver antioxidant benefits to the skin.
Additional researchers in the study included: Stephen J. Crozier, Amy G. Preston, W. Jeffrey Hurst, Mark J. Payne, Julie Mann, Larry Hainly and Debra L. Miller. The work was funded by The Hershey Company (Hershey, PA).