Evaluation of cocoa (Theobroma cacao) bean processing strategies to enhance alpha-glucosidase inhibitory activity of dietary cocoa

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Virginia Tech


Cocoa beans (Theobroma cacao) are a highly concentrated source of dietary flavanols- bioactive compounds associated with the health protective properties of cocoa. Cocoa beans undergo processing steps, such as fermentation, roasting, winnowing, grinding, pressing, etc., to produce a final product with specific desirable sensory attributes. It is well established that these processing steps, specifically fermentation and roasting, result in dramatic degradation of cocoa's native flavanols, but it is possible that these processing steps may generate compounds with novel activities, potentially preserving or enhancing bioactivity. Raw unfermented cocoa beans were processed by way of a partial factorial approach to produce cocoa powders from the same batch of raw beans using various combinations of fermentation [unfermented, cool fermented (maximum 46°C), hot fermented (maximum 60°C))] and roasting [unroasted, cool roasted (120°C), hot roasted (170°C)]. To simulate cocoa fermentation in a highly controlled environment, a pilot-scale fermentation model system was employed to eliminate many external unknowns and ensure that the differences between our cocoa powders were due to our various treatments, rather than unknown factors occurring during fermentation and roasting. Low and high molecular weight fractions (8-10 kDa cutoff) were produced from cocoa powder extracts (CPE) of each treatment to quantify Maillard reaction products (MRP). A HILIC-UPLC MS/MS method was developed to more efficiently and sensitively quantify cocoa flavanols with high degrees of polymerization (DP) produced during processing. Overall, cocoa processing significantly (p<0.05) decreased the total phenolic and total flavanol concentrations of CPEs. Hot roasting had the greatest impact on native flavanol degradation yet produced CPEs with the highest mean degree of polymerization (mDP). All CPEs dose-dependently inhibited α-glucosidase enzyme activity, with cool fermented/cool roasted cocoa powder exhibiting the best inhibition (IC50 of 62.2 µg/mL). Increasing flavanol mDP was correlated with decreasing IC50 values, suggesting that the complex flavanols produced during processing enhance cocoa's bioactivity (or their production is associated with other products that enhance bioactivity). Alternatively, high molecular weight CPE fractions were correlated with increasing IC50 values, suggesting that MRPs interfere with enzyme inhibition or are associated with other products (polyphenols, macronutrients, etc.) that interfere with enzyme inhibition. Overall, the data presented within this work indicate that the components of processed cocoa powders are promising inhibitors of α-glucosidase, despite a significant reduction in native flavanol composition induced by processing, and moreover that fermentation and roasting conditions can positively influence the bioactivity of cocoa despite losses of native flavanols.



fermentation, roasting, flavanols, procyanidins, UPLC-MS/MS, bioactivity, Maillard reaction, melanoidins