γ-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a non-protein amino acid coming from the enzymatic α-decarboxylation of glutamate. It is a neurotransmitter that has recently raised some interests for its health effects: hypotensive, diuretic, tranquilizer and diabetes preventing agent. Regarding GABA content in cocoa, rare information is available in literature, so we decided to provide an overview on the GABA content in fermented and dried cocoa beans from different geographical origins (Africa, Central/South America, Asia and Oceania). GABA and other free amino acids were analyzed by HPLC/FLD after derivatization with 6-aminoquinolyl-N-hydroxysuccinimidyl carbamate. The amino acid content recorded in fermented beans ranged from 515 to 1812 mg/100 g, with a prevalence of the hydrophobic amino acids, important precursors of cocoa aroma. Among non-protein amino acids, relevant contents of GABA, ranging from a minimum of 31.7 mg/100 g for Grenada beans to a maximum of 101.2 mg/100 g for Ecuador beans, were detected.
The bottom line? Cocoa beans can be considered an important natural source of this inhibitory neurotransmitter amino acid, even comparable with contents recorded in some enriched foods.
Marseglia, A., Palla, G., & Caligiani, A. (2014). Presence and variation of γ-aminobutyric acid and other free amino acids in cocoa beans from different geographical origins. Food Research International.