One of your vices could one day be a little more virtuous: Scientists are today announcing that they've figured out how to make chocolate healthier. The findings will be detailed by researchers from Belgium's Ghent University and the University of Ghana at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Denver, and center around how antioxidant-rich the sweet is. As a press release explains, it all comes down to tweaking the process. Cocoa beans are removed from pods, fermented in baskets, sun-dried, and then roasted. It's during that last step, the roasting, that polyphenols, which act as antioxidants, are partially lost. In a bid to up the polyphenol content, researchers added a nontraditional step that "makes our research fundamentally different," explains Emmanuel Ohene Afoakwa: pulp preconditioning.
That simply means they stored the pods—in the case of their experiments, for zero, three, seven, or 10 days—before removing the beans and beginning the fermentation process. A sweet pulp rests between the pod and the beans, and Afoakwa believes the preconditioning gives the pulp time to affect those beans. Indeed, the researchers found that those stored for a week showed the highest antioxidant activity after roasting—which they also adjusted. Rather than heat the beans for the typical 10 to 20 minutes at 248-266 degrees, they lowered the temp to 242 and upped the roasting time to 45 minutes, and discovered that slower and lower was also best in terms of antioxidant activity. The researchers' abstract notes another benefit: "Pulp preconditioning and roasting duration could be used to reduce the astringency and bitterness," improving chocolate's flavor. (Also presented at the ACS meeting: what's really in your pot.)