It's no secret that I love chocolate. As an avid chocolate lover, I've often been challenged to defend my love for this delicious treat, this sinful delight, this food of the gods! But most common among the questions I so often receive is one that I haven't quite felt competent enough to answer: Does chocolate contain caffeine? What exactly is the relationship between chocolate, caffeine, energy, and the inevitable post-chocolate crash?
There are many components to the conventional chocolate bar: cacao butter, cacao solids, sugar, milk and fillers. These bars do in fact contain caffeine. The Center for Science in the Public Interest did a comparison of different foods and drinks that contain caffeine and found a Dark Chocolate Hershey Bar contains about 20 mg of caffeine per 1.5 ounces. The caffeine in chocolate products is found primarily in the cacao solids, of which dark chocolate has larger amounts. Milk chocolate contains less caffeine and comes in at about 9 mg of caffeine per 1.5 ounces. Cacao powder, which is primarily solids, has about 8 mg of caffeine per teaspoon.
To put this in perspective, the average cup of coffee can have anywhere from 200 to 400 mg of caffeine. Raw cacao at 8 mg per teaspoon is hardly comparable. If you're sensitive to caffeine, you may feel a slight effect after consuming it; however, there is another chemical found in chocolate that also has a stimulating effect: theobromine.
Theobromine is a phytochemical that has a similar structure to caffeine and, therefore, some similar effects on the body. Unlike caffeine, theobromine is not a nervous system stimulant and instead dilates the cardiovascular system, making the heart’s job easier and providing the body with what feels like more energy. Theobromine does not have the same addictive properties that caffeine has.
So, in the end, chocolate does contain small amounts of caffeine. If you eat a lot of chocolate, you might feel the stimulating effects from the combination of caffeine and theobromine. But those effects are negligible if you're also a coffee-drinker. Aim for all natural chocolate when you can: raw cacao's got a little more caffeine that your typical chocolate bar, but doesn't contain the added butters, sugars, or fillers