Cocoa seed polyphenols have demonstrated interesting beneficial effects in humans. Most polyphenols contained in fresh seeds are chemically modified during fermentation, drying, and cocoa powder or chocolate production. The improvement of these procedures to obtain a high-polyphenol-content cocoa is highly desirable. To this aim, a field investigation on the effect of fermentation and natural drying on fine flavor National cocoa (cacao Nacional) was performed. Cocoa seeds were fermented for 6 days and, every day, samples were sun-dried and analyzed for polyphenol content and antioxidant power. During the first 2 days of fermentation, Folin-Ciocalteu and FRAP tests evidenced a significant reduction of polyphenol content and antioxidant capacity, respectively. Changes during the following days of fermentation were less significant. Epicatechin, the most studied member of the catechin family, followed a similar pathway of degradation. Data confirmed the high impact of fermentation and drying on cocoa seed polyphenols. Fermentation and drying are, on the one hand, necessary to obtain cocoa flavor and palatability but, on the other hand, are responsible for greatly compromising polyphenol content. To obtain high-polyphenol-content cocoa, the existing fermentation, drying, and manufacturing protocols should be scientifically reviewed to understand and modify the critical steps.
Keywords: Theobroma cacao L.; catechin; chocolate; cocoa; cocoa fermentation and drying; epicatechins; polyphenols.