Sad news for fans of a favourite medicine who cheered at recent news that cocoa flavanols may offer promise in Alzheimer’s research.
But: according to a more considered look at the issues, it turns out that although flavanols can relax blood vessels, improve blood flow and help with age related memory loss, these effects “…largely disappear once the cocoa bean is heated, fermented and processed into chocolate.
In other words, making chocolate destroys the very ingredient that is supposed to make it healthy.” Moreover, the study included only 37 participants and was funded by Mars, Inc., so may have been ever so slightly lacking in objectivity and rigour.
Even raw cocoa isn’t the conclusive answer, since there are no standards governing raw food production. There is, moreover, a risk of salmonella contamination – from the stages of harvest and fermentation. Producers use high temperature roasting of beans (120c-160c) to kill this bacteria for conventional chocolate. If that’s been done, your raw cocoa might not be as raw as you think. And those flavanols won’t be in evidence either.
The heat generated by fermentation (typically 45c and 50c, but not usually measured by rural producers) is not enough to do the trick as salmonella can grow within that range. So nor is the 45c (114f) steaming or dehydration temperature used in raw production. Pasteurization used to kill salmonella normally uses 1–10 mins at 60c or less than 1 min at 70c, although there are more heat-tolerant strains.
Conclusions? Life is short and all things in moderation is usually the answer. Still waiting on that magic bullet for Alzheimer’s.