• Researchers may have figured out how to create a healthier version of milk chocolate using food scraps like peanut skins and coffee grounds to boost antioxidant levels. 
  • Dark chocolate is naturally healthier because it's high in phenolic compounds like flavonoids, which are linked to health benefits but can sometimes have a bitter taste. 
  • This new research could combine the health benefits of dark chocolate with the creamy texture and sweeter flavor of milk chocolate, which consumers tend to prefer.
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Creamy, delicious milk chocolate is one of the most beloved treats worldwide.

But with that appealing taste comes a hefty amount of sugar (and fat), making milk chocolate far less healthy than its more bitter counterpart, dark chocolate.

There may be a way to boost the nutritional value of milk chocolate without sacrificing flavor, according to research presented at the American Chemical Society's 2020 conference.

The new, higher antioxidant form of milk chocolate can be made by recycling food scraps that would otherwise go to waste, such as coffee grounds, discarded tea leaves, and peanut skins. 

These agricultural waste products are a "goldmine" of antioxidants, which can help reduce inflammation and may protect against certain chronic diseases, according to researchers from North Carolina State University.

"The idea for this project began with testing different types of agricultural waste for bioactivity, particularly peanut skins," Lisa Oehrl Dean, a food science professor at North Carolina State and principal investigator on this research, said in a press release. 

Peanut skins, which are usually thrown away after the peanuts are shelled to make peanut butter and other products, contain 15% phenolic compounds (plant substances rich in antioxidants) by weight, Dean's team found. 

By grinding them into a powder and adding them to milk chocolate, researchers were able to not only make the chocolate more nutritious, but also disguise the bitter flavor of the antioxidant compounds. 

"Phenolics are very bitter, so we had to find some way to mitigate that sensation," Dean said. 

Most health benefits are linked to bitter dark chocolate, but this research could provide the best of both worlds

Evidence suggests that chocolate can be beneficial to health, improving blood pressure and other cardiovascular factors. But those benefits are most readily available in dark chocolate, with its high levels of polyphenols, or plant micronutrients, and lower sugar and fat content.

The tradeoff, however, is that dark chocolate tends to taste more bitter.

The researchers tried their formulation of chocolate on a panel of taste-testers, who sampled several versions of the chocolate with different amounts of phenolic compounds. The researchers found that chocolate with .8% of phenolic compounds had the best balance of flavor and texture, and a higher concentration than found in most dark chocolate.

Research suggests that regularly eating a bit of chocolate high in micronutrients, like dark chocolate, could lower your risk of certain diseases

More than half the panel preferred that version of chocolate, even compared to plain milk chocolate. 

Dean's team also tested for peanut allergens, and found that none were present in the samples.

The type of chocolate developed by Deanl's team could also be more economical than dark chocolate, providing the same micronutrient boost at a lower price by "upcycling" the peanut skins and other materials that would otherwise be thrown out. 

Read more:

Eating a bit of chocolate once a week could be good for your heart, study finds

Drinking up to 5 cups of coffee a day has no long-term dangers and could even reduce risk of chronic illness, according to a review of 95 studies on coffee-drinkers

Some keto evangelists believe vegetable oil is worse than cigarettes, but the science behind the theory doesn't add up

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