The tasty flavors of chocolate can pose a risk in other desserts

  • Food
  • June 15, 2024

What makes chocolate taste and smell so wonderful? Chemistry of course! A variety of molecules work together to create that unmistakable aroma, but those same molecules can bring unwanted health effects if too many are around. According to research published in ACS' Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Although many of the compounds in chocolate occur at concentrations low enough to be safe, higher amounts have been found in some baked sweet treats.

When making chocolate, cocoa beans are roasted to let their chocolatey flavors shine. During this process, new molecules are added α,β-unsaturated carbonyls are formed when they react with other ingredients under high temperatures. This class of carbonyls is highly reactive and potentially genotoxic, or can cause DNA damage if consumed. Although found naturally in many foods, these carbonyls are also used as flavorings, and some are banned in the European Union, including the buttery furan-2 (5H)-An. To better understand how these molecules form naturally in foods, and whether or not they are present at levels that could pose a health risk, Alexandre Dusart and colleagues tested chocolates and other sweet treats on 10 different types of food. α,β-unsaturated carbonyls – some of which have been confirmed as safe by the European Food Safety Authority, while others are still being evaluated.

The team created their own chocolates and discovered that α,β-unsaturated carbonyls formed during roasting and after the addition of cocoa butter; however, their concentrations remained too low to cause health problems when consuming the chocolates. The researchers then screened 22 commercially available desserts, including pancakes, waffles, cakes and cookies, with or without chocolate. In these packaged treats, they even found lower concentrations of nine out of ten carbonyls compared to the chocolates.

The remaining carbonyl – genotoxic furan-2(5H)-one – appeared in much higher concentrations in the crepe and cake samples, up to 4.3 milligrams per kilogram. Given that the recommended threshold for genotoxic substances is only 0.15 micrograms per person per day, consuming these desserts could exceed that limit, although additional research is needed to accurately assess the potential health risk.

Researchers concluded that the furan-2(5H)—one molecule was likely formed during the baking process and did not appear to correlate with the amount of chocolate present in the packaged desserts. The team says this work helps to better understand where these carbonyls in chocolate come from and emphasizes the importance of monitoring flavor compounds in food to keep consumers informed and safe.

The authors acknowledge funding from the Belgian Federal Public Service of Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment.

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