Cocoa Has More Phenolic Phytochemicals and a Higher
Antioxidant Capacity than Teas and Red Wine
KI WON LEE,†,§YOUNG JUN KIM,#HYONG JOO LEE,†AND CHANG YONG LEE*,§
Department of Food Science and Technology, School of Agricultural Biotechnology,
Seoul National University, Seoul 151-742, South Korea; Department of Food Science and Technology,
Cornell University, Geneva, New York 14456; and Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics,
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853
Black tea, green tea, red wine, and cocoa are high in phenolic phytochemicals, among which theaflavin,
epigallocatechin gallate, resveratrol, and procyanidin, respectively, have been extensively investigated
due to their possible role as chemopreventive agents based on their antioxidant capacities. The present
study compared the phenolic and flavonoid contents and total antioxidant capacities of cocoa, black
tea, green tea, and red wine. Cocoa contained much higher levels of total phenolics (611 mg of
gallic acid equivalents, GAE) and flavonoids (564 mg of epicatechin equivalents, ECE) per serving
than black tea (124 mg of GAE and 34 mg of ECE, respectively), green tea (165 mg of GAE and 47
mg of ECE), and red wine (340 mg of GAE and 163 mg of ECE). Total antioxidant activities were
measured using the 2,2′-azino-bis(3-ethylbenzthiazoline-6-sulfonic acid) (ABTS) and 2,2-diphenyl-
1-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH) radical scavenging assays and are expressed as vitamin C equivalent
antioxidant capacities (VCEACs). Cocoa exhibited the highest antioxidant activity among the samples
in ABTS and DPPH assays, with VCEACs of 1128 and 836 mg/serving, respectively. The relative
total antioxidant capacities of the samples in both assays were as follows in decreasing order: cocoa
> red wine > green tea > black tea. The total antioxidant capacities from ABTS and DPPH assays
were highly correlated with phenolic content (r2) 0.981 and 0.967, respectively) and flavonoid content
(r2) 0.949 and 0.915). These results suggest that cocoa is more beneficial to health than teas and
red wine in terms of its higher antioxidant capacity.
radicals; vitamin C equivalent antioxidant capacity (VCEAC).
Cocoa; black tea; green tea; red wine; phenolic phytochemicals; ABTS radicals; DPPH
Free radicals cause degenerative human diseases such as
cancer, heart disease, and cerebrovascular disease through
multiple mechanisms. Recently, natural foods and food-derived
antioxidants such as vitamins and phenolic phytochemicals have
received growing attention, because they are known to function
as chemopreventive agents against oxidative damage. Vitamin
C is one of the most popular and least toxic antioxidant
components in food and has been most popularly used as a
dietary supplement to prevent oxidative stress-mediated diseases.
However, the contribution of vitamin C to the total antioxidant
activity of fruits is generally <15% (1). Therefore, many efforts
have been invested to elucidate the potential health benefits of
dietary phenolic phytochemicals that have stronger antioxidant
activities than vitamin C.
Black and green teas, red wine, and cocoa are consumed
widely and are known to be rich in phenolic phytochemicals.
In particular, theaflavin (TF), epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG),
resveratrol, and procyanidin in black tea, green tea, red wine,
and cocoa, respectively, have been considered as major chemo-
preventive agents mainly due to their strong antioxidative
activities. A recent report suggested that drinking black tea has
benefits equal to those of having green tea in terms of their
antioxidant capacity, because the TF found in black tea possesses
as much antioxidant potency as catechins present in green tea
(2). However, whereas catechins are major antioxidants in green
tea, TF represents a smaller proportion of black tea. Similarly,
resveratrol, a phytoalexin found in red wine, has been considered
as a major component responsible for anticarcinogenic activity
(3-5) but is present at minimal levels in red wine (only 1.5
mg/L), whereas flavonoids such as catechin and epicatechin are
present at levels of 191 and 82 mg/L, respectively (6). Therefore,
most of the beneficial effects of red wine are attributable to
phenolic phytochemicals other than resveratrol. Chocolate has
also been reported to be a good source of dietary catechins,
second only to black tea in a study on a Dutch population (7).
The same report showed that the monomeric catechins were
considered as antioxidants in only black tea and chocolate.
Because catechins are major antioxidants in green tea, but not
* Author to whom correspondence should be addressed [telephone (315)
787-2271; fax (315) 787-2284; e-mail email@example.com].
†Seoul National University.
§Cornell University, Geneva, NY.
#Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.
7292J. Agric. Food Chem . 2003, 51, 7292−7295
10.1021/jf0344385 CCC: $25.00©2003 Am erican Chem ical Society
Published on Web 10/30/2003
in chocolate and black tea, the results may not reflect substantial
total phenolic phytochemical contents and antioxidant capacities
of black tea and chocolate. Thus, investigations into the
antioxidant capacity of food should consider the overall
concentrations and compositions of diverse antioxidants, because
the total antioxidant capacity of food is due to the combined
activity of diverse antioxidants including phenolics, rather than
being attributable to any particular phenolics.
We suggested recently that a 2,2′-azino-bis(3-ethylbenzthia-
zoline-6-sulfonic acid) (ABTS) radical scavenging assay is better
for evaluating the antioxidant activity of phenolic phytochemi-
cals than the 2,2-diphenyl-1-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH) radical
scavenging assay, because it can be used in both organic and
aqueous solvent systems, employs a specific absorbance at a
wavelength remote from the visible region, and requires a short
reaction time. We also recommended that antioxidant activity
of phenolic phytochemicals be expressed on the basis of the
weight of vitamin C equivalents (VCEAC) using the ABTS
radical scavenging assay (8). To further validate the method,
the total antioxidant capacity of foods including mixtures of
antioxidants needs to be investigated. Therefore, the present
study investigated the phenolic and flavonoid contents and total
antioxidant capacities of cocoa, black tea, green tea, and red
MATERIALS AND METHODS
Chemicals. Gallic acid, epicatechin, vitamin C, ABTS as diammo-
nium salt, DPPH, and Folin-Ciocalteu phenol reagent were obtained
from Sigma Chemical Co. (St. Louis, MO). Trolox was purchased from
Aldrich Chemical Co. (Milwaukee, WI). 2,2′-Azobis(2-amidinopro-
pane)dihydrochloride (AAPH) was obtained from Wako Chemicals
USA, Inc. (Richmond, VA). All other chemicals used were of analytical
grade (Fisher, Springfield, NJ).
Sample Preparation. The serving size of each beverage was defined
as follows: commercial cocoa powder manufactured using a nonalka-
lized process from Ghanaian cacao beans (7.3 g, 2 tablespoons in
accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions) was dissolved in 200
mL of distilled water (ddH2O) at 100 °C; commercial black tea (2 g
bag) and green tea (2 g bag) were each extracted with 200 mL of ddH2O
at 100 °C for 2 min (according to the manufacturer’s instructions);
and 140 mL of red wine (Merlot, California) as one serving size (14).
The samples then were centrifuged in a Sorvall RC-5B refrigerated
superspeed centrifuge (DuPont, Biomedical Products Department,
Wilmington, DE) at 12000g using a GSA rotor for 5 min, and the
resulting supernatants were used as the final samples.
Total Phenolic Content. The total phenolic phytochemical concen-
tration was measured using the Folin-Ciocalteu method. Briefly, 1
mL of appropriately diluted samples and a standard solution of gallic
acid were added to a 25 mL volumetric flask containing 9 mL of ddH2O.
A reagent blank using ddH2O was prepared. One milliliter of Folin-
Ciocalteu phenol reagent was added to the mixture and shaken. After
5 min, 10 mL of a 7% Na2CO3solution was added with mixing. The
solution was then immediately diluted to a volume of 25 mL with
ddH2O and mixed thoroughly. After incubation for 90 min at 23 °C,
the absorbance relative to that of a prepared blank at 750 nm was
measured using a spectrophotometer (Hitachi). The total phenolic
contents of the samples are expressed in milligrams per serving of gallic
acid equivalents (GAE). All samples were prepared in five replications.
Total Flavonoid Content. The total flavonoid concentration was
measured using a colorimetric assay developed by Zhishen et al. (8,
9). Briefly, 1 mL of appropriately diluted sample was added to a 10
mL volumetric flask containing 4 mL of ddH2O. At time zero, 0.3 mL
of 5% NaNO2was added to each volumetric flask; at 5 min, 0.3 mL of
10% AlCl3was added; at 6 min, 2 mL of 1 M NaOH was added. Each
reaction flask was then immediately diluted with 2.4 mL of ddH2O
and mixed. Absorbances of the mixtures upon the development of pink
color were determined at 510 nm relative to a prepared blank. The
total flavonoid contents of the samples are expressed in milligrams
per serving of epicatechin equivalents (ECE). All samples were prepared
in five replications.
ABTS Radical Scavenging Activity. A method developed by van
den Berg et al. was used with slight modification in this experiment
(8, 10): 1.0 mM AAPH was mixed with 2.5 mM ABTS as diammonium
salt in phosphate-buffered saline solution (100 mM potassium phosphate
buffer, pH 7.4, containing 150 mM NaCl). The mixture was heated in
a 68 °C water bath for 13 min. The concentration of the resulting blue-
green ABTS radical solution was adjusted to an absorbance of 0.650
( 0.020 [mean ( standard deviation (SD)] at 734 nm. Various
concentrations of the sample solution of 20 µL were added to 980 µL
of the resulting blue-green ABTS radical solution. The mixture was
incubated in darkness in a 37 °C water bath for 10 min, and the decrease
of absorbance at 734 nm was measured. A control solution consisted
of 20 µL of 50% methanol and 980 µL of ABTS radical solution. Stable
ABTS radical scavenging activities of the samples are expressed in
milligrams per serving of VCEAC. The radical stock solution was
freshly prepared each day.
DPPH Radical Scavenging Activity. The method of Brand-
Williams et al. was used with slight modifications in this experiment
(8, 11). DPPH radical was dissolved in 80% aqueous methanol. Various
concentrations of 0.1 mL of sample solution were added to 2.9 mL of
the DPPH radical solution. The mixture was then shaken vigorously
and allowed to stand at 23 °C in the dark for 30 min, at which time the
decrease in absorbance at 517 nm was measured using a spectropho-
tometer (Hitachi). A control solution consisted of 0.1 mL of 50%
aqueous methanol and 2.9 mL of DPPH radical solution. The radical
stock solution was freshly prepared each day.
Antioxidant Capacity. The antioxidant capacity of the samples was
measured and calculated as VCEAC according to the method described
earlier (8). Briefly, vitamin C standard curves that correlate the
concentration of vitamin C and the amount of absorbance reduction
caused by vitamin C were obtained using the ABTS scavenging assay.
Absorbance reductions of the samples at 734 nm were also measured
at various concentrations by the ABTS assay. Determination of
VCEACs of the samples at various concentrations was made using
vitamin C standard curves. The median effective dose (EC50) of the
samples was calculated on the basis of the dose-response curve. The
absorbance reduction of the samples was correlated to that of vitamin
C standards with the results calculated as milligrams of vitamin C
equivalents per serving. All data are presented as mean ( SD for at
least five replications for each prepared sample.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
Figure 1 shows that cocoa contained much higher levels of
total phenolics (611 mg of GAE) and flavonoids (564 mg of
ECE) per serving than black tea (124 mg of GAE and 34 mg
of ECE, respectively), green tea (165 mg of GAE and 47 mg
Figure1. Totalphenolicandflavonoidcontentsofcocoa, blacktea, green
tea, andredwine, expressedexpressedas m illigram s ofGAE andECE
per serving, respectively.
Phenolic Phytochem icals in CocoaJ. Agric. Food Chem ., Vol. 51, No. 25, 2003 7293
of ECE), and red wine (340 mg of GAE and 163 mg of ECE).
Most of the phenolics in cocoa are flavonoids, whereas phenolics
other than flavonoids predominate in green and black teas.
Consistent with our previous results for pure phenolic phy-
tochemicals (8), the antioxidant activities of all the tested
samples were dose-dependent in both assays (data not shown).
Cocoa exerted the highest antioxidant activity: VCEACs of
1128 and 836 mg per serving in ABTS and DPPH radical
scavenging assays, respectively (Figures 2 and 3). The relative
total antioxidant capacities of the samples per serving in both
ABTS and DPPH assays were as follows in decreasing order:
cocoa > red wine > green tea > black tea. The total antioxidant
capacities from ABTS and DPPH assays were highly correlated
with phenolic content (r2) 0.981 and 0.967, respectively)
(Figure 4) and flavonoid content (r2) 0.949 and 0.915) (Figure
5). The different VCEAC values indicated that the DPPH assay
underestimates by ∼30% the antioxidant capacity as compared
to the ABTS assay. A similar methodological difference has
been reported previously (8, 12), and these differences may be
due to absorbance interruption at 517 nm by other compounds
in the DPPH assay. Furthermore, the ABTS assay is sensitive,
requires a short reaction time, and can be used in both organic
and aqueous solvent systems. Therefore, the ABTS assay may
be preferable over the DPPH assay for evaluating the total
antioxidant capacity of antioxidants and food.
Many studies have considered fruits, vegetables, and teas as
the major sources of dietary antioxidative phenolics, but our
results also demonstrate the importance of cocoa. Arts et al.
(7) reported that chocolate and black tea may contribute
significantly to the total dietary catechin intake of the Dutch
population (20 and 55%, respectively). They suggested that
black tea is a better source of catechins such as (+)-catechin,
(s)-epicatechin, (+)-gallocatechin, (s)-epigallocatechin, (s)-
epicatechin gallate, and EGCG. Because the major phenolics
in black tea and chocolate are not catechins but thearubigins
and procyanidins, respectively (13), it is important to determine
the total contents of antioxidants in tea and chocolate.
The extraction method of antioxidants also affects the total
phenol and flavonoid contents and antioxidant capacities.
Waterhouse et al. (14) reported that cocoa powder had 20 mg
of GAE per gram when extracted with 95% aqueous methanol
and that a cup of hot cocoa had 146 mg of GAE. Consistent
with this, we found that cocoa powder contained 24 mg of GAE
per gram when extracted with 80% aqueous methanol (unpub-
Figure 2. VCEACs of cocoa, black tea, green tea, and red wine per
serving evaluatedby ABTS radical scavenging assay. Errorbars ) SD,
Figure 3. VCEACs of cocoa, black tea, green tea, and red wine per
serving evaluatedby DPPHradical scavenging assay. Errorbars ) SD,
Figure 4. Relationshipbetweentotal phenolic contents andVCEACs of
cocoa, blacktea, greentea, andredwineperservingevaluatedbyABTS
and DPPH radicals, respectively. Error bars ) SD, ng 5.
Figure 5. Relationshipbetweentotal flavonoidcontents andVCEACs of
cocoa, blacktea, greentea, andredwineperservingevaluatedbyABTS
and DPPH radicals, respectively. Error bars ) SD, ng 5.
7294 J. Agric. Food Chem ., Vol. 51, No. 25, 2003 Lee et al.
lished data). Because cocoa extracted with aqueous methanol
is not the type normally consumed, the total phenolic and
flavonoid contents of hot cocoa extracted with 95% aqueous
methanol may not represent the actual amounts consumed (14).
Therefore, various factors such as experimental conditions,
sample preparation methods, and physiological relevance of the
assays should be considered in the evaluation of antioxidant
Gallic acid and EGCG, the major antioxidants in tea, have
shown strong antioxidant activity but also could act as pro-
oxidants (16, 17). This pro-oxidant activity is thought to be
directly proportional to the total number of hydroxyl groups,
and gallic acid and EGCG including multiple hydroxyl groups,
especially in the B-ring, significantly increased production of
hydroxyl radicals in a Fenton system [see review (18)]. Some
reports have suggested that a high dose of gallic acid and EGCG
induces cellular DNA damage (16, 17, 19, 20). Long et al. (21)
also showed that the addition of gallic acid and EGCG to
commonly used cell culture media led to the generation of
substantial amounts of H2O2, which may cause cellular DNA
damage. However, the amount of H2O2generated by cocoa rich
in procyanidins was much lower than that generated by black
and green teas (22). Furthermore, procyanidins are known to
have protective effects against inflammation (23) and the
inhibition of gap junction intercellular communication (GJIC)
(24), which may be linked to carcinogenesis and, particularly,
tumor promotion. However, high doses of EGCG did not show
protective effects against inhibition of GJIC by H2O2(25). We
also found that gallic acid did not affect GJIC (data not shown).
These results thus indicate that cocoa procyanidins may possess
more beneficial effects than green tea phenolics.
Even though a bar of chocolate exhibits strong antioxidant
activity, the health benefits are still controversial because
relatively large amounts of saturated fats are present. However,
a cup of hot cocoa has a much lower level of saturated fats (0.3
g per serving) than a bar of chocolate (8 g per 40 g bar). Thus,
our results demonstrate that cocoa has a high flavonoid content
and substantial antioxidant capacity: on a per-serving basis 4-5
times stronger than that of black tea, 2-3 times stronger than
green tea, and almost 2 times stronger than red wine.
AAPH, 2,2′-azobis(2-amidinopropane)dihydrochloride; ABTS,
2,2′-azino-bis(3-ethylbenzthiazoline-6-sulfonic acid); DPPH,
2,2-diphenyl-1-picrylhydrazyl; EC50, concentration of samples
required to quench free radicals by 50%; SD, standard deviation;
VCEAC, vitamin C equivalent antioxidant capacity.
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Received for review April 29, 2003. Revised manuscript received
September 18, 2003. Accepted September 25, 2003. This work was
supported by a grant from the BioGreen 21 Program, Rural Develop-
ment Administration, Republic of Korea.
Phenolic Phytochem icals in CocoaJ. Agric. Food Chem ., Vol. 51, No. 25, 20037295