Botanists believe that the cocoa originates from the Andean slopes of the Amazon basin, but it is mainly in Central America (MEXICO) that it was improved by culture (and almost deified) there are probably more than 2000 years.
The Spanish "Conquistadores" discovered it in the 16th century and quickly introduced cocoa cultivation into their new settlements in South America, the West Indies, Africa and the Philippines.
The Dutch did the same in Indonesia and the Germans in New Guinea.
The cocoa tree is usually a small tree that thrives in very hot, humid and shady areas.
The flowers, small and few, open directly on the trunk or large branches.
The fruit is a big drupe (cocoa pod) that contains kidney-shaped seeds (beans) packaged in a slightly sweet and edible pulp.
There are three main varieties of cocoa tree (Forastero, Criollo, and Trinitario) and many local varieties.
CHEMICAL COMPOSITION AND PROPERTIES
To obtain cocoa :
- cocoa pods are opened,
- the fresh seeds with their pulp are fermented a few days,
- then dried and roasted.
The aroma of cocoa develops during these different operations and the dehydrated seeds are better preserved and can be shiped all over the world ( like coffee beans).
The dry cocoa beans are then milled after removal of their envelopes and undergoes physical treatments (heating and pressure) which will significantly reduce the butter content of the cocoa mass.
The raw cocoa butter can then be refined.
The pressed cocoa paste is the basis of the chocolate industry.
The CHEMICAL COMPOSITION of the cocoa bean is complex,but can be simplified:
COCOA BUTTER : which corresponds to 45 to 50% of the dry cocoa bean weight.
The average composition of cocoa butter :
- is dominated by saturated fatty acids (stearic (33%), palmitic (26%)),
- with unsaturated fatty acids (oleic (33%) and linoleic (2%)),
- but accompanied by sterols ( ergosterol, sitosterol, stigmasterol).
PHENOLIC COMPOUNDS which after roasting give the aroma of cocoa, are essentially flavonoids (catechin, epicatechin, quercetin and their derivatives).
PURINE ALKALOIDS : caffeine (0.05 to 0.3%) and theobromine (1 to 3%).
Theobromine, the most important in quantity, has a pharmacological action close to caffeine and theophylline (tea) but less marked, it is a light nervous stimulant (psychostimulant) with very little action at the cardiovascular level and, like theophylline, it is a diuretic.
There is also a small amount of ANANDAMINE , endogenous cannabinoid neurotransmitter with complex properties (action on the mechanism of emotion, natural hormone "pleasure", analgesic).
COCOA LEAVES contain gentisic acid known for its analgesic and anti-inflammatory and therefore anti-rheumatic properties.
The unsweetened cocoa powder contains on average:
- 21% proteins,
- 40 to 45% carbohydrates
- and 20 to 25% lipids,
- it is a nourishing food that brings on average 500 kcal per 100g.
Cocoa and chocolate are quite rich in minerals especially in potassium, and magnesium, they also provide vitamins of group B.
Cocoa and chocolate may contain significant amounts of lead.
Lead, absent from fresh cocoa beans, is probably absorbed and concentrated during the fermentation, drying and roasting processes.
MEDICAL INTEREST OF COCOA AND CHOCOLATE
The important flavonoid content of the cocoa bean suggests that it is a potentially protective food against cardiovascular disorders.
These phenolic compounds are not easily assimilated, especially the larger molecules.
In fact the bioavailability of these flavonoids depends largely on the activity of the colonic flora.
Bacterias and yeasts of the large intestine segment these large molecules and modify their chemical structure allowing the passage into the bloodstream of some of these interesting compounds as vasculo-protectors and antioxidants.
Many recent studies suggest that the regular consumption of a large amount (about 100g per day) of black cocoa (lean) lowers the risk of cardiovascular accident. It was also noted a slight decrease in blood pressure when it is greater than 140mm Hg,; no effect on normal blood pressure.
Regular consumption of lean cocoa acts on inflammation at the vascular level which promotes thrombosis of the blood vessels.
Some authors point out that the Kunas Indians of Panama, who consume a lot of cocoa in the form of a drink and live in a traditional way on the coral islands, have a very low rate of cardiovascular accidents and few blood hypertension disorders.
On the other hand, their cousins, living in Panama City according to Western fashion, are not immune to heart disease and diabetes. This survey is may be skewed because island Indians consume a lot of fish (source of omega3 cardio-protective fatty acids.
CHOCOLATE, COCOA and CONSTIPATION
The reaction of the digestive system to chocolate is irregular. Some people will see their transit accelerate but most of the time regular consumption of chocolate or cocoa in large quantities is accompanied by constipation sometimes accompanied by migraine.
Cocoa butter is indeed quite difficult to digest due to its content in lipids with stearic fatty acid. Stearates cause rapid emptying of the gallbladder (secondary to a secretion of cholecytokinin which also induces a decrease in appetite) and despite the abundance of bile, stearate are not easily assimilated.
The secondary imbalance of the colon flora resulting from this excessive intake of bile salts and undigested lipids appears to be one of the cause of constipation and migraine.
The world production of cocoa beans is in millions of tons, that is to say the attraction of humans for this "food of the gods".
It is an energy food by its butter content (about 500 kgcal per 100g of cocoa or chocolate with 20% of fat is 1/3 or 1/4 of the average daily calorie intake .
Cocoa or chocolate provide iron, potassium, magnesium and B vitamins as well as phenolic anti-inflammatory compounds and perhaps blood vessel protection, but what seems to attract humans is its psychostimulant power associated with its complex taste (bitterness + sweetness of milk or sugar + various flavors) which sometimes leads to a real addiction.
Cocoa butter, in varying proportions in chocolate, is quite indigestible and sometimes causes secondary constipations, on the other hand unripened family chocolate (tropics) is often slightly laxative. So be careful when you have irritable bowel syndrome.
Chocolate and cocoa are very active on the gall bladder.
They cause vesicular contractions that are sometimes poorly tolerated. When the gallbladder has been removed one must limit the consumption of chocolate.
When cocoa is used daily for medicinal purposes (50 to 100g per day) it is better to use defatted cocoa powder (instant) or dark chocolate taking into account its calorie intake (as opposed to other sources of polyphenols, examples: green tea, black tea, coffee, infusion of aromatic plants that bring almost no calories)
THE "DRINK OF THE GODS" IN MEXICO
Cocoa contains alkaloids including theobromine (close to caffeine and theophylline) that stimulate the nervous system, a fatty substance (cocoa butter) a little indigestible and phenolic substances that give it its aroma and are interesting for their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
The cocoa is bitter but a little defatted, sweetened, with added milk and perfumed by vanilla, it becomes chocolate.
Copyright 2019 : Dr Jean-Michel Hurtel