Liquid chromatographic/electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometric study of the phenolic composition of cocoa (Theobroma cacao)

J Mass Spectrom. 2003 Jan;38(1):35-42. doi: 10.1002/jms.395.


Liquid chromatography coupled with ionspray mass spectrometry in the tandem mode (LC/MS/MS) with negative ion detection was used for the identification of a variety of phenolic compounds in a cocoa sample. Gradient elution with water and acetonitrile, both containing 0.1% HCOOH, was used. Standard solutions of 31 phenolic compounds, including benzoic and cinnamic acids and flavonoid compounds, were studied in the negative ion mode using MS/MS product ion scans. At low collisional activation, the deprotonated molecule [M - H](-) was observed for all the compounds studied. For cinnamic and benzoic acids, losses of CO(2) or formation of [M - CH(3)](-*) in the case of methoxylated compounds were observed. However, for flavonol and flavone glycosides, the spectra present both the deprotonated molecule [M - H](-) of the glycoside and the ion corresponding to the deprotonated aglycone [A - H](-). The latter ion is formed by loss of the rhamnose, glucose, galactose or arabinose residue from the glycosides. Different fragmentation patterns were observed in MS/MS experiments for flavone-C-glycosides which showed fragmentation in the sugar part. Fragmentation of aglycones provided characteristic ions for each family of flavonoids. The optimum LC/MS/MS conditions were applied to the characterization of a cocoa sample that had been subjected to an extraction/clean-up procedure which involved chromatography on Sephadex LH20 and thin-layer chromatographic monitoring. In addition to compounds described in the literature, such as epicatechin and catechin, quercetin, isoquercitrin (quercetin-3-O-glucoside) and quercetin-3-O-arabinose, other compounds were identified for the first time in cocoa samples, such as hyperoside (quercetin-3-O-galactoside), naringenin, luteolin, apigenin and some O-glucosides and C-glucosides of these compounds.

MeSH terms

  • Cacao / chemistry*
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Flavonoids / analysis*
  • Flavonoids / chemistry
  • Phenols / analysis*
  • Phenols / chemistry
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Electrospray Ionization*


  • Flavonoids
  • Phenols