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Cocoa Beans Benefits, Uses, and Side Effects

By Sasha de Beausset Aparicio, MSc

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Cocoa Beans

The cacao bean, also referred to as the “cocoa bean” or simply as “cocoa,” is in fact the fermented and dried fatty bean obtained from the Therobroma cacao. From these beans, cocoa butter and cocoa solids are usually obtained. Additionally, they are the basis of foods like tejate, mole sauce, or chocolate.

Individuals can easily recognize a cocoa fruit because it has a leathery rind which is also rough and is almost three centimeters thick. The thickness varies, depending on the variety and origin of the pod. These fruits are filled with a mucilaginous pulp that has a sweet taste and is known as “baba de cacao” in places like South America. Even though the seeds are initially white, they become either reddish brown or violet during and after the drying processes. However, there are some exceptions due to some varieties of white cacao and their seeds remain white after being processed.

Throughout history, the ones who cultivated white cacao were the Rama people who lived in Nicaragua. An interesting feature about these fruits is the fact that they were utilized as currency in Mesoamerica prior to the Spanish conquest. The trees generally require temperatures of twenty degrees and because of this, approximately seventy percent of its world production comes from West Africa.

Cocoa Beans Functions & Benefits

It is a known fact that cocoa beans possess more than three hundred healthful compounds. Among them, there are theobromine, phenylethylamine, and some polyphenols such as flavonoids. Additionally, they feature a wide array of minerals and vitamins, high amounts within daily recommendations of copper and potassium and because of this, its consumption targets a positive effect upon the entire organism.

For instance, cocoa beans are viewed as natural antidepressants because they feature serotonin, phenylethylamine, and dopamine which are utilized to enhance mood and mental health. Furthermore, they also contain amino acids like tryptophan and monoamine oxidase inhibitors which work to maintain serotonin and dopamine levels in the bloodstream for longer periods in order to promote well-being and ease symptoms of depression. From all these, tryptophan is the most important for the body’s production of serotonin.

Some research points out that cocoa beans are one of the best antioxidant sources because they feature somewhere around ten percent of the antioxidant concentration suggested levels. This means that they have two times more antioxidants than red wine and three times than green tea. People believe that, for example, berries represent a reliable source of antioxidant and because of this; they should be aware that while blueberries have somewhere around thirty two antioxidants, beans from the cocoa tree have six hundred and twenty one. The reason behind the importance of antioxidants in a healthy diet is due to the protection offered in the battle against oxidative damage, thus cancerous cells, and the help provided for regulating the cholesterol levels.

Some people also believe that these beans represent a good choice for cardiovascular protection. These beliefs are actually supported by the fact that they feature polyphenols which were proven as enhancers of the cardiovascular system. This means that by consuming these beans, individuals may lower the risks of developing heart issues, strokes or high blood pressure.

While still in research, cocoa beans supposedly contain a substance called epicatechin, a compound rich in beneficial effects and was viewed as a professor from Harvard as reliable as a vitamin. It is currently believed that its effects are similar to penicillin and anesthetics, but without the potential side effects. Another usage for these beans is as an energy booster because they help reduce anxiety levels and simultaneously promote alertness. For example, a cup of beans provides the same quantity of energy as a cup of coffee does, but without the crash that follows after coffee.


When the consumption is done in food quantity, cocoa beans are considered to be likely safe for the majority of people. On the other hand, because it has caffeine as well as other chemicals of the same type, when large quantities are consumed, some unwanted side-effects like sleeplessness, fast heartbeats, nervousness and increased urination may appear. There are some cases in which its utilization led to a series of allergic reactions, migraines and constipation. When excessive amounts are involved, individuals may also experience intestinal discomfort, nausea, gas, and stomach rumbling.

When it comes to pregnant or nursing females, scientific studies revealed that a quantity of 200 mg per day of caffeine is sufficient and more than this may harm the baby. Keeping in mind that products featuring cocoa beans also contain caffeine, they should carefully read the labels and decide which quantity from the product can be consumed without further problems. Additionally, when breast-feeding, females should maintain their caffeine levels as half from their normal dose in order to avoid possible health complications in their infants which may include irritability as well as frequent bowel movements.

The intake of cocoa beans, whether natural or in a supplementation form may interact with some drugs like Adenosine, Clozapine, Ergotamine, asthma medication, and depression medication, which means that people who are following one of these treatments alongside should consult a personal healthcare if they experience any type of problem.


Cocoa beans are grown naturally in countries like Ghana, Indonesia, Cameron, Brazil, Nigeria, Malaysia, and Ecuador. However, because of their increased popularity, they have been introduced in a large palette of products that vary from aliments to perfumes and nutritional supplements. While in natural remedies their utilization is included for the taste provided in the majority of cases, its smell is also pleasant and often associated to the one of chocolate.

Nutritional companies promote products featuring cocoa beans for conditions like obesity, cardiovascular diseases or cancer or as an enhancer of mood, memory, and energy levels. While there aren’t many studies to support the claimed positive effects on these areas, they are one of the ingredients that are in experimental phase and will be further tested. It is important to keep in mind that when consuming dietary supplements which feature cocoa beans, people should be aware of the fact that they contain caffeine and not abuse its usage.