Raw Chocolate contains more than 300 known chemicals. Scientists have been working on isolating specific chemicals and their combinations that may explain some of the pleasurable effects of consuming chocolate. Caffeine is the most well known of these chemical ingredients, and while it’s present in chocolate, it can only be found in small quantities. Theobromine, a weak stimulant, is also present in slightly higher amounts. Although caffeine and theobromine have relatively weak stimulant effects in cacao, it is possible that in combination, these and other potentially bioactive constituents do influence our liking for chocolate.
Theobrama cacaoResearchers have found that raw cacao named Theobroma by Linnaeus and means “food of the gods”, includes substances that are chemically and pharmacologically related to the brain lipids anandamide. The word anandamide is derived from ananda, Sanskrit for ‘bliss’. These N-acylethanolamines in cacao target the endogenous cannabinoid system of the brain, slightly mimicking the psychotropic effects caused by plant-derived cannabinoid drugs either directly (by activating cannabinoid receptors) or indirectly (by increasing anandamide levels in the brain). These findings don’t mean that eating chocolate will get you high, but rather that there are compounds in chocolate that may be associated with the good feeling that raw chocolate consumption provides. Other chemicals in chocolate may inhibit the natural breakdown of anadamide. This means that natural anandamide (or introduced anandamide) may stick around longer, making us feel good longer, when we eat chocolate.
Phenylethylamine (PEA) is the chemical found in the brain of happy people. Fall in love, and your PEA level shoots up. You become peppy and full of optimism. If things go wrong in your life, especially your love life, your PEA level drops and you become listless and tired. Raw Chocolate is loaded with PEA.
In unfermented cacao beans, pigment cells make up about 11-13% of the tissue. The pigment cells contain approximately 65%-70% polyphenols and 3% anthocyaninins by weight.
Numerous in vitro studies have shown that polyphenolic compounds are powerful antioxidants that can protect cell membranes and cellular DNA from the damaging effects of free radical induced oxidative damage. The results of several epidemiologic studies indicate that regular consumption of foods rich in polyphenolic compounds is associated with reduced risk of developing cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. Recent experimental studies in both animals and humans have shown that increasing polyphenol intake can protect LDL cholesterol from becoming oxidized (a key step in developing atherosclerosis), lower blood pressure in hypertensive subjects, reduce the tendency of the blood to clot and elevate total antioxidant capacity of the blood.
The anthocyaninins give rise to the purple color of unfermented beans. Anthocyaninins encourage connective tissue regeneration and are anti-inflammatory. They promote blood flow and reduce cholesterol, in addition to being antioxidants. Anthocyaninins seem to stabilize and protect capillaries from oxidative damage and have been shown to stabilize connective tissue, promote collagen formation, improve microcirculation and help protect blood vessels from oxidative damage.
During fermentation of cacao beans, the anthocyanin is converted to quinonic compounds to give the bean its characteristic brown color. During this process, the bitterness of unfermented beans is reduced. During fermentation the polyphenols undergo a variety of reactions, including self-condensation and reaction with proteins and peptides. Approximately 20% of the polyphenols by weight remain at the end of the fermentation process. Roasting and other cocoa processing activities also cause changes. The level of polyphenols will vary with the variety of cocoa bean and with the degree of fermentation.
Other substances in chocolate that have been discussed as pharmacologically significant include histamine, serotonin, tryptophan, phenylethylamine, tyramine, salsolinol and magnesium.