Cocoa and chocolate, prepared from cocoa beans that originate from the fruits of the cocoa tree Theobroma cacao, have a long-standing reputation as healthy food, including mood-enhancing effects. In spite of many clinical trials with chocolate, cocoa, or its constituents, the mechanisms of action on mood and cognition remain unclear. More in particular, it is still controversial which constituents may contribute to the psychopharmacological activities, ranging from the major cacao flavanols and methylxanthines to the minor amines, amides, and alkaloids. In this review a critical appraisal is made of recent studies on mood and cognition, with a special emphasis on analytical characterization of the test samples. It is concluded that the mood and cognition-enhancing effects of cocoa and chocolate can be ranked from more general activities associated with flavanols and methylxanthines, to more specific activities related to minor constituents such as salsolinol, with on top the orosensory properties of chocolate. Therefore, the "mood pyramid" of cocoa and chocolate is proposed as a new concept. To understand the role and interactions of the different major and minor constituents of cocoa, it is recommended that all test samples used in future in vitro, in vivo, or human studies should be phytochemically characterized in much more detail than is common practice today.
Georg Thieme Verlag KG Stuttgart · New York.