Chocolate’s tasty flavors might pose a risk in other desserts

Chocolate’s irresistible taste and aroma are the result of a complex interplay of molecules, but some of these compounds might carry unwanted health effects if present in high concentrations, according to research published in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. While many of the compounds appeared in chocolate in low enough concentrations to be safe, higher amounts were found in some baked sweet treats.

The roasting process, which helps cocoa beans develop their chocolatey flavors, also leads to the formation of new molecules like α,β-unsaturated carbonyls when they react with other ingredients under high temperatures. This class of carbonyls is highly reactive and potentially genotoxic, meaning they can cause damage to DNA when consumed. Though naturally found in many foods, these carbonyls are also used as flavoring additives, and some have been banned in the European Union, including the buttery-tasting furan-2(5H)-one.

Assessing the Concentrations of α,β-Unsaturated Carbonyls in Chocolate and Sweet Treats

Alexandre Dusart and colleagues set out to better understand how these molecules form naturally in foods and whether they are present in levels that could pose a health concern. They tested chocolates and other sweet treats for 10 different α,β-unsaturated carbonyls, some of which have been confirmed as safe by the European Food Safety Authority, while others are still under evaluation.

The team created its own chocolates and found that α,β-unsaturated carbonyls formed during roasting and after the addition of cocoa butter; however, their concentrations remained too low to pose any health concerns from consuming the chocolates. Next, researchers screened 22 commercially available desserts, including crepes, waffles, cakes, and biscuits, either with or without chocolate. In these packaged treats, they found even lower concentrations of nine of the 10 carbonyls compared to the chocolates.

Furan-2(5H)-one: A Potential Concern in Baked Desserts

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

Researchers concluded that the furan-2(5H)-one molecule likely formed during the baking process and did not seem to correlate with the amount of chocolate present in the packaged desserts. The team says that this work helps to better understand where these carbonyls come from in chocolate and highlights the importance of monitoring flavorings 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. The paper’s abstract will be available on May 29 at 8 a.m. Eastern Time at

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