Impact of alkalization on the antioxidant and flavanol content of commercial cocoa powders

J Agric Food Chem. 2008 Sep 24;56(18):8527-33. doi: 10.1021/jf801670p. Epub 2008 Aug 19.


Cocoa is a food ingredient that is important for the contribution of flavor to foods but is also associated with potential health benefits. The chemistry thought to be responsible for its cardiovascular health benefits is the flavanol (flavan-3-ol) antioxidants. Evidence from the literature indicates that natural cocoas are high in flavanols, but when the cocoa is processed with alkali, also known as Dutch processing or Dutching, the flavanols are substantially reduced. This paper provides a survey of the physical and chemical composition of representative natural cocoas and lightly, medium, and heavily alkalized cocoas. As part of the survey, both brown/black and red/brown alkali-processed cocoas were measured. Natural cocoa powders have an extractable pH of 5.3-5.8. Alkalized cocoa powders were grouped into lightly treated (pH 6.50-7.20), medium-treated (pH 7.21-7.60), and heavily treated (pH 7.61 and higher). The natural, nonalkalized powders had the highest ORAC and total polyphenols and flavanols (including procyanidins). These chemical measurements showed a linear decrease as the extractable pH of the cocoa powder increased. Likewise, the flavanol monomers, oligomers, and polymers all showed a linear decrease with increasing pH of the final cocoa powder. When brown/black cocoa powders were compared to red cocoa powders, similar decreases in flavanols were observed with increased alkalization. The average total flavanol contents were 34.6 +/- 6.8 mg/g for the natural cocoas, 13.8 +/- 7.3 mg/g for the lightly processed cocoas, 7.8 +/- 4.0 mg/g for the medium processed cocoas, and 3.9 +/- 1.8 mg/g for the heavily processed cocoa powders. The observed linear and predictable impact of alkalization on flavanol content is discussed with respect to other reports in the literature as well as what implications it may have on diet and food manufacturing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants / analysis*
  • Cacao / chemistry*
  • Flavonoids / analysis*
  • Food Handling / methods*
  • Food Preservation
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Phenols / analysis
  • Polyphenols
  • Proanthocyanidins / analysis


  • Antioxidants
  • Flavonoids
  • Phenols
  • Polyphenols
  • Proanthocyanidins
  • flavan-3-ol