A young boy licks a stick as he finished a chocolate ice cream barShare on Pinterest
Researchers say the fat content on the outside of chocolate foods is what really tickles our taste buds. Kemal Yildirim/Getty Images
  • Researchers say they better understand why people love chocolate.
  • One reason, they say, is the way the outer layer of fat in chocolate melts in the mouth.
  • They say their findings can help them develop new types of chocolate that contain less fat.
  • Experts say dark chocolate is a healthier choice, but people should still be cautious about how much of it they eat.

Get ready for a new generation of healthier, luxury chocolates.

Researchers at the University of Leeds in England say they have cracked the code on what makes chocolate so irresistible to so many.

They have reported their findings in a new study published in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.

The researchers say much of the craving comes down to how chocolate tends to melt in our mouths.

They reached this conclusion after examining each mechanical step in the chocolate-eating process.

Their study findings suggest humans love chocolate mostly because of the feel and texture of the fat content on its outermost layers breaking down in our mouth as we chew.

The satisfaction we get from eating chocolate, then, comes mostly from the way our tongue and salivary glands or saliva interact with the fat content in the chocolate.

The researchers also concluded that fat content deeper inside the chocolate plays a rather limited role and could be reduced without having an impact on the feel or sensation of chocolate.

Simply put, the fat content from chocolate that touches our taste buds first matters a lot more to our overall satisfaction than any of the fat content in the innermost layers.

From this, the study authors are now working on a new line of premium chocolates that concentrate fat content to the outermost layer and reduce it from the rest of the chocolate.

The tests were conducted using a luxury brand of solid dark chocolate on an artificial 3D tongue-like surface designed at the University of Leeds.

“With the understanding of the physical mechanisms that happen as people eat chocolate, we believe that a next generation of chocolate can be developed that offers the feel and sensation of high-fat chocolate yet is a healthier choice,” said Siavash Soltanahmadi, PhD, a study author and researcher at the School of Food Science and Nutrition at Leeds, in a press statement.

“We believe dark chocolate can be produced in a gradient-layered architecture with fat covering the surface of chocolates and particles to offer the sought-after self-indulging experience without adding too much fat inside the body of the chocolate,” he added.

Healthy luxury chocolates with less fat and the same smooth texture and satisfying taste are not yet available.

There are, however, healthier choices you can make when it comes to choosing chocolate today.

Experts say you can begin by choosing darker chocolate options over milk chocolate or candy-style chocolate confections.

“The benefits of chocolate are really related to the cocoa bean and the flavonoids found within it,“ Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RDN, a nutritionist and the author of “Skinny Liver,” told Healthline.

Flavonoids are antioxidants that help your body function effectively. They also protect against cell damage.

To reap the rewards of natural flavonoids found in chocolate, Kirkpatrick says to stick with choices boasting 70% or greater cocoa content.

Chocolate in this category also has the benefit of being lower in sugar, adds Kirkpatrick.

“This is why dark chocolate (a higher percentage of cocoa vs milk) has the most benefits,” says Kirkpatrick.

Kirkpatrick points to research suggesting dark chocolate can help with:

Julie Cunningham, MOH, RDN, LDN, a diabetes nutritionist and author of “30 Days to Tame Type 2 Diabetes” says that despite all we hear about the health benefits of chocolate, a large meta-analysis done in 2021 found that the only significant health benefit of chocolate consumption was a mild decrease in triglyceride levels.

Triglycerides are a type of fat that circulates in our bloodstream, and are a part of our cholesterol profile, she explains.

“In this analysis, chocolate consumption didn’t affect skin conditions, blood pressure, body weight, blood sugar, or cognitive health,” Cunningham told Healthline.

“Although the analysis used studies that included regular and dark chocolate as well as chocolate in the form of cocoa pills and powders, it stands to reason that darker chocolate contains a higher amount of flavonoids (antioxidants), and is most beneficial,” she said.

However, “it’s not really chocolate that’s the problem,” she adds. The problem is that we eat it mixed with sugar, butter, and cream.”

To make healthier chocolate choices, Kirkpatrick and Cunningham suggest people:

  • Choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate
  • Aim for 70% cocoa in your chocolate products
  • Choose lower sugar options where possible or use portion control
  • Avoid white chocolate

“Options with less cocoa (such as milk chocolate) often have higher sugar content and contain little to no benefit,” says Kirkpatrick.

And despite its name, white chocolate doesn’t actually contain cocoa, adds Cunningham, “and isn’t really in the same category as milk or dark chocolate, so there are no health benefits to consuming white chocolate.”

For people with type 2 diabetes, Cunningham says that like everyone else, you can enjoy chocolate and will benefit more from dark chocolate than other types.

“But, people living with diabetes will need to be careful of portion sizes and carbohydrate content of the chocolate they eat, and they might have better blood sugars when they eat chocolate products in combination with protein, such as cocoa-dusted almonds,” she notes.