Dr. Emmanuel Ohene Afoakwa and his team at the University of Ghana have discovered processing methods that will make chocolate both sweeter and healthier in the near future. This is good news indeed for the chocolate producing countries in Africa that have lost production due to the Ebola epidemic.
The major health benefit from chocolate comes from the antioxidant in the polyphenols that naturally occur in the cocoa beans. Some of the polyphenols are lost in present production processes and particularly the roasting process. The researchers aimed to improve the retention of polyphenols and inadvertently improved the level of sweetness in the cocoa base that eventually becomes chocolate in its various forms.
The cocoa beans are dried in the sun for as long as two weeks prior to roasting. The researchers found that the optimum fermenting time for the cocoa beans was seven days to retain the maximum amount of the beneficial antioxidant compounds. An extended roasting time at a lower temperature also increase the retention of polyphenols.
The researchers consider extra storage time to allow the cocoa pod pulp to ferment some portions of the cocoa bean. An added benefit of the extra storage step and the lower roasting temperature is a more flavorful and sweeter cocoa powder. The extra conditioning reduces the astringent qualities of the polyphenols. The scientists predict that this process change will make cocoa from South America and Southeast Asia sweeter and healthier for the end product consumer.