One thing that has bugged me for years is whether or not there is caffeine in dark chocolate? Caffeine has a very direct impact on me. If I have a cup of coffee any later than 5pm then I won't be able to get to sleep until the small hours - even a cup of tea can affect me. I've also noticed that if I review chocolate late in the evening then also it will take a long while to drop off. Despite having this thought that dark chocolate does contain caffeine, a few years ago I was told by one or two in the industry that it doesn't. I was too polite to set them straight.
What substances are in chocolate?
So finally it's time really look at the matter in detail. What we do know is that there are well over 500 substances in chocolate, according to Allen M. Young, that contribute to its flavour. The principle component is theobromine, but also another member of the methylxanthine group of compounds in the form of caffeine. What is interesting is that methylxanthine acts as stimulants on the heart and can also be used to help people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease as it relaxes the airways.
The figure are just too generalised
Allen M. Young may have stated that there actually is caffeine in chocolate but just how much? Well, just as with the case of whether you should go on a chocolate tasting course or not, you can't get a sensible answer out of Google as they state the figures from the FDA that there is 43mg in dark chocolate and 20mg in milk chocolate per 100g. How on earth do they know that? We have many different types of dark chocolate here and they're not all going to have the same proportion of caffeine. We've got chocolate with 60% cocoa and others with 100% - they all can't have 43mg of caffeine per 100g. As can be seen from Shively and Tarka’s work, not even chocolate made from the same plantation with the same ratio of cocoa solids will have the same amount of caffeine as the length and nature of the fermentation process has a noticeable effect on the overall chemical composition of the cocoa bean. You then have different roasting times and different conching times which all affect the nature of those methylxanthine.
How much caffeine do the experts say is in chocolate?
If we had to play the guessing game and say there is an average amount of caffeine in chocolate we could realistically state it would be about 0.2% given Shively's figures. Google's numbers are a great deal lower than that of the NHS which states there is about 50mg of caffeine in a 50g bar of milk chocolate - more than twice that of Google. How does that compare to other sources of caffeine? The NHS states that a mug of filter coffee contains around 100mg, a mug of instant about 100mg, a cup of tea made from tea bags about 75mg (Food Standards Agency data) , a can of coke about 40mg whilst Green and Blacks reports that their organic 70% dark chocolate contains 16mg of caffeine per 100g and 120mg of theobromide, whilst Stephen T. Beckett in The Science of Chocolate states that you can expect 44mg of caffeine per 100g of chocolate.
Knowing how much caffeine you consume may be important to you
The problem is that for many people their amount of caffeine they consume is vitally important to them (such as pregnant women and those concerned about osteoporosis (.doc)) and there is just no consistent information. Even when it comes to tea the level of caffeine will vary widely between how it is consumed. Instant tea may have almost double the amount of caffeine as a cup of tea made from a bag, whilst you may only get 24mg of tea per cup made from loose tea. Even then, there can be a huge difference in the source of tea and the maker from about 100mg per cup for Waitrose or PG Tips to 182 for Co-Op 99.
Looking at other types sources of caffeine
The Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food didn't look at the caffeine levels in dark chocolate, only powdered drinks, milk drinks and mousses, so we don't have 'official' figures, but if we take their studies of tea and add them into the different figures from renowned experts in chocolate, then we may be able to say that their most definitely is caffeine in chocolate; the amount will vary by bean varietal, origin, fermentation and other processes; but we can say, when compared to tea the amount is about a quarter and about an eighth that of filter coffee.
Why aren’t food manufacturers being forced to label caffeine levels?
So, if the figures for different types of chocolate vary so widely and that we know that understanding how much caffeine is in a product is of crucial importance to some, why isn’t it reported on its packaging? The FDA states that it is because caffeine is not nutrient, but a natural chemical. But if it were to be added to a product it should be labelled as such.
When it comes to the UK beverages with more than 150mg of caffeine per litre are required to be labelled ‘high caffeine content’. At least the EU is taking the matter seriously. From December 2014 if caffeine is added to foods or drinks to give a physiological affect the manufacturer will have to state “not recommended for children or pregnant women” as per REGULATION (EU) No 1169/2011 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL (pdf). The point is that if you’re fortunate to consume three bars of fine chocolate per day, you may be reaching this limit.
Most of the chocolate we sell you probably wouldn’t consume more than half a day anyway. We’d rather you enjoyed your chocolate slowly and savoured every bite. At that rate, the figures above suggest, you have nothing to worry about.