This article is sponsored by Planet Fitness.

DETROIT (WWJ) – It could be a breakthrough for people who love chocolate — but hate feeling guilty about it.

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Researchers at the University of Ghana have apparently found a way to make healthier chocolate. Scientists say storing cocoa pods longer and roasting them at a lower temperature yields more antioxidants and a sweeter chocolate.

Patrick Fields, a biology professor at Olivet College and self-described “choc doc,” said the findings should be welcomed news to chocolate lovers.

“Perhaps America is ready for the concept of eating chocolate that is healthier rather than chocolate that is our go to comfort food,” Fields told WWJ’s Scott Ryan.

Fields cautioned that more studies will be needed to zero in on a “healthy” chocolate recipe.

“We’re shifting toward a preference of darker chocolate and away from the milk chocolates, but calories are still calories and cocoa is about 45 to 55 percent cocoa butter — and that’s fat,” he said.

So, what’s the skinny on this new chocolate?

Cocoa undergoes several steps before it takes shape as a candy bar. Workers cut down pods from cocoa trees, then split open the pods to remove the white or purple cocoa beans. They are fermented in banana-lined baskets for a few days and then set out to dry in the sun. Roasting, the next step, brings out the flavor. But some of the healthful polyphenols (antioxidants) are lost during the roasting process, so the researchers wanted to figure out a way to retain as much of the polyphenols and good flavors as possible.

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“We decided to add a pod-storage step before the beans were even fermented to see whether that would have an effect on the polyphenol content,” Emmanuel Ohene Afoakwa, who worked on the study, said in a statement. “This is not traditionally done, and this is what makes our research fundamentally different. It’s also not known how roasting affects polyphenol content.”

Afoakwa’s team divided 300 pods into four groups that were either not stored at all or stored for three, seven or 10 days before processing. This technique is called “pulp preconditioning.” After each storage period passed, fermentation and drying were done as usual. The tam found that the seven-day storage resulted in the highest antioxidant activity after roasting.

To assess the effects of roasting, the researchers took samples from each of the storage groups and roasted them at the same temperature for different times. The current process is to roast the beans for 10-20 minutes at 248-266 degrees Fahrenheit. Afoakwa’s team adjusted this to 45 minutes at 242 degrees Fahrenheit and discovered that this slower roasting at a lower temperature increased the antioxidant activity compared to beans roasted with the conventional method.

In addition, the beans that were stored and then roasted for 45 minutes had more polyphenols and higher antioxidant activity than beans whose pods were not stored prior to fermentation, said Afoakwa. He explained that pulp preconditioning likely allowed the sweet pulp surrounding the beans inside the pod to alter the biochemical and physical constituents of the beans before the fermentation.

“This aided the fermentation processes and enhanced antioxidant capacity of the beans, as well as the flavor,” he said.

Afoakwa said the new technique would be particularly useful for countries in Southeast Asia and Latin America where cocoa beans produce a chocolate with a less intense chocolate flavor and have reduced antioxidant activity.

Looking to the future, Afoakwa’s team will be studying in more detail the effects of roasting on the flavor of freshly picked compared to stored cocoa beans. They will be testing different temperatures and roasting and storing times to determine if even higher amounts of antioxidants can be retained through the process.

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