Fats and Antioxidants

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Cocoa beans, like all seeds, are rich in nutrients that support the plant embryo until it develops leaves and roots. They’re especially rich in saturated fats, which are notorious for contributing to raised blood cholesterol levels and therefore to the risk of heart disease. However, much of the saturated fat in cocoa butter is a particular fatty acid that the body immediately converts into an unsaturated one (stearic acid is converted to oleic acid). So chocolate is not thought to pose a risk to the heart. In fact, it may well be beneficial. Cocoa particles are a tremendously rich source of antioxidant phenolic compounds, which account for 8% of the weight of cocoa powder. The higher the cocoa solids content of a chocolate or candy, the higher its antioxidant content. Any added sugar, milk products, or cocoa butter simply dilute the cocoa solids and their phenolics. The dutching process also reduces the levels of desirable phenolics in cocoa powder, and the milk proteins in milk chocolate appear to bind to the same molecules and prevent us from absorbing them.