Past research has suggested that chocolate is linked to a number of health benefits, such as lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and reduced stroke risk, due to antioxidants called polyphenols, according to the researchers.
The process of making chocolate begins when pods from cocoa trees are split open to remove the cocoa beans. The beans are fermented for a few days and then set out to dry in the sun. The next step is roasting, which brings out the flavor.
However, it’s thought that cocoa beans lose some of their polyphenols when they’re roasted, according to the authors of the study.
“We decided to add a pod-storage step before the beans were even fermented to see whether that would have an effect on the polyphenol content,” Emmanuel Ohene Afoakwa, of the University of Ghana, said in a news release from the American Chemical Society.
The researchers were to present their findings Tuesday at the ACS annual meeting in Denver. Findings presented at meetings are generally considered preliminary until they’ve been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
For the study, the research team divided 300 cocoa pods into four groups that were either not stored at all or stored for three, seven or 10 days before normal fermentation, drying and roasting.
The pods stored for seven days had the highest polyphenol levels after roasting, the researchers found.
They also found that slower roasting at a lower temperature than normal increased polyphenol levels and flavor of the cocoa beans.
This new technique could be particularly useful in countries in Southeast Asia and Latin America where cocoa beans produce chocolate with less intense flavor and lower polyphenol levels, Afoakwa said.