Chocolate Does Not Contain Caffeine

by Manoharini dasi, Abridged from Mark Canizaro's website

Posted September 2, 2007

There is a persistent urban legend that chocolate contains caffeine. It would seem that this rumor is based primarily on a confusion between two similar alkaloids: caffeine and theobromine. Theobromine is the active ingredient in chocolate, and it occurs only in cacao. The two stimulants are related and have a similar structures, but are very different chemicals with different properties, effects and origins. Of course, some chocolate products have added caffeine, but it does not occur naturally in chocolate.

This rumor seems to have a life of its own; it won't go away, and yet, most references to it are references to the urban legend itself. Amusingly, almost all of the chocolate and caffeine references on the Internet are circular. (Follow the references through a few links sometime; you often wind up back at the page where you began.) It is actually quite common to see references that confuse caffeine and theobromine. Many people and some semi-scientific sources confuse the two. Stollwerck, for example, says in one place that chocolate contains 1.2 percent theobromine and 0.2 percent caffeine, but in another place just says 1.4 percent caffeine without mentioning theobromine, which is obviously wrong.

There is no scientific substantiation that chocolate contains caffeine, and a great deal of evidence that it does not. The Biochemist (April/May 1993, p. 15) did chemical composition tests where they specifically distinguished between caffeine and theobromine. They found regularly up to 1.3 percent by weight theobromine in chocolate. . . . They could not detect any caffeine at all. I have yet to see a dependable chemical reference that includes caffeine in chocolate. The Merck Index, 12th Edition, says that a very small amount of caffeine is found in the hulls of of the cacao seeds, but the hulls are discarded before processing.

People seem to assume that caffeine is the only stimulant. Theobromine clearly has stimulant properties, so people reflexively attribute those effects to caffeine -- even though many of the effects are fundamentally different from caffeine.