Chocolate-Myth Busters #1: High Percentage = Healthy?

Potential Myth:

“People often say that higher percentage chocolate bars are better for you, is this actually the case?”


There has been a great deal of research over the past couple of years concerning polyphenol antioxidants in cacao and chocolate, and it does appear as though there is a good deal of scientific data backing up the potential health benefits of eating cacao and chocolate. Judging by this, one might logically assume that high cocoa-percentage chocolates are healthier than those with lower cocoa-percentages. This can be accurate, but its accuracy depends on several things:

1) First of all, cocoa percentage includes the amount of chocolate liquor (ground up, winnowed, cocoa beans), cocoa butter and cocoa powder in the chocolate. However, if we see the number 70%, this doesn’t tell us the proportion of those three ingredients. If there is a great deal more cocoa butter in one 70% bar than another, then considering the fact that cocoa butter, which is simply the fat of the cocoa bean, doesn’t contain antioxidants, then that would meant that one 70% bar could have lower levels antioxidants than another. In fact, it is much more than theoretically possible for a 69% bar to have more chocolate liquor in it than a 75% bar, and therefore have a higher levels of antioxidants.

2) Secondarily, there is the issue that the antioxidant levels in cacao are reduced substantially during the processing that makes it taste good (i.e. raw unfermented cacao tastes quite bitter, astringent, and un-chocolate-like). Cacao is one of the few foods in the world that is both fermented (and then dried) and roasted, and the fermentation and drying–and according to some researchers, roasting too–lead to a substantially reduced amount of antioxidants in the cacao itself. This means that unless you are willing to forgo the reason that people like chocolate in the first place–it tastes amazing–and essentially turn it into a bitter health tonic, then chocolate will always have reduced antioxidant levels when compared to raw, unfermented cacao. That said, if you want to choose bars that may–and that is a big, big, maybe–have higher antioxidant levels, then you will probably be best off choosing the worst tasting, most bitter and astringent dark chocolate that you can find. If this doesn’t sound appealing, then simply take solace in the fact that the best tasting dark chocolates will still have higher antioxidant levels than most other foods, and when you combine that with the beauty of its flavor, it can’t be beat.

In Short: Higher percentages on a chocolate bar can be a simple rule of thumb if one wants to figure out which bar has higher antioxidant amounts, but this rule of thumb is often quite inaccurate due to different fermentation rates of different qualities of cacao, and different proportions of cocoa butter to chocolate liquor and cocoa powder, which all impact antioxidant levels. Perhaps better is to buy the dark chocolate that you like best, while trying more robust chocolates from time to time to see if they have grown on you, in order to focus on enjoying the chocolate for what it is–a delicious food–rather than try to turn it into the next health-food fad. We all know where those fads lead, and it is rarely good place.

Myth (Partially) Busted,


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2 replies
  1. Pol
    Pol says:

    Isn’t there a link between the available flavanoids or ORAC value and whether or not the chocolate or cocoa has been heat processed?


  2. Patric Chocolate
    Patric Chocolate says:

    Hi Pol,

    This isn’t something that I have seen written about extensively in the chocolate literature, but there are certainly some papers that mention antioxidant reduction/destruction, to some degree, due to roasting. Certainly roasting does not destroy all antioxidants, however.

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