When Shopping for High-Polyphenol Cocoa, All Cocoas Are Not Alike

The Durk Pearson & Sandy Shaw®
Life Extension NewsTM
Volume 6 No. 4 • September 2003


When Shopping for High-Polyphenol Cocoa, All Cocoas Are Not Alike

Most, but not all, cocoa powders these days are alkali treated at some stage in their manufacture to improve color, flavor (reduces bitterness), and dispersibility.1 Unalkalized cocoa powders have a pH of about 5.5, whereas alkalized cocoa powder is about 7.1. One reason that alkali (also called Dutch) treatment improves the flavor is that it destroys many polyphenols, which are bitter, thus “improving” the cocoa by making it less bitter. However, the polyphenols in cocoa have been found to have many beneficial properties, just as the polyphenols in red wine and in green tea have. For example, flavonoids, including cocoa flavanols, are thought to decrease certain risk factors for cardiovascular disease by reducing LDL oxidation, improving endothelial-dependent vasodilation, and modulating eicosanoids and cytokines involved in inflammatory processes.2 A recent study2 of 32 healthy men and women reported that cocoa flavanols and procyanidin supplementation (234 mg of cocoa flavanols and procyanidins/day in a tablet) for 28 days resulted in significantly decreased platelet function, as well as significantly increased plasma epicatechin and catechin, as compared to placebo (6 mg or less of cocoa flavanols and procyanidins/day).

Therefore, when selecting cocoa powder, find one that is not labeled as being Dutch or alkali-treated.

  1. Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology, 2nd ed, Vol 5, pp 383-4.
  2. Murphy et al. Dietary flavanols and procyanidin oligomers from cocoa (Theobroma cacao) inhibit platelet function. Am J Clin Nutr 77:1466-73 (2003).

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