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What is Theobromine?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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Theobromine is an alkaloid substance found in chocolate. It is in a class of substances known as methylxanthines, making it chemically related to caffeine, among other stimulants. The effects of this alkaloid are much more mild than those of caffeine, although it can cause medical problems if it is consumed in high volume. Fortunately for most humans, the threshold at which it becomes dangerous is very high.

The name of the substance was taken from the genus name for the cacao plant, Theobroma, which means “food of the gods” in Greek. Theobroma cacao was cultivated and used in the New World for centuries before European explorers were introduced to it, and the food quickly became a hit, especially when it was combined with cane sugar from the Caribbean colonies. The plant contains a complex assortment of chemical compounds, all of which contribute to the unique flavor and physiological effects of chocolate.

In 1878, theobromine was isolated from cacao beans, and it was successfully synthesized from xanthine shortly thereafter. The substance is sometimes called xantheose, and its chemical formula is C7H8N4O2. When isolated from cacao beans, it is colorless to white, and quite bitter. All chocolate products contain this alkaloid, although dark chocolate has much higher concentrations, since it is not diluted with ingredients like milk and cream. Some chocolate can contain as much as 3%, or it can be diluted to less than 0.5%.

Like caffeine, theobromine is a diuretic, and it also acts as a stimulant. In addition to causing the heart to beat more rapidly, it also widens the blood vessels, reducing blood pressure. Unlike caffeine, however, the substance does not act as extensively on the central nervous system, so it is unlikely to cause the shakes and tremors associated with excessive caffeine consumption. The compound is also a bronchiodilator, and it has been used in the treatment of asthma with some success.

This alkaloid is only one among many substances that can be found in a chocolate bar. Many of them must actually be consumed in very high concentrations to offer health benefits, making chocolate a less than ideal source of health food, despite articles in the news to the contrary. For many animals, especially dogs, chocolate is actually extremely dangerous, since they metabolize theobromine very slowly. Pets should not be offered products with chocolate in them, as it only takes a small amount to be deadly.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon947318 — On Apr 25, 2014

This is not a good workout supplement. Do not combine with caffeine. it

causes a high heart rate which leads to supraventricular tachycardia heart rhythm. A cardio version can be difficult. Be cautious.

By anon348315 — On Sep 15, 2013

Theobromine is also an excellent workout supplement.

By anon238167 — On Jan 02, 2012

White chocolate does not contain theobromine.

By anon219783 — On Oct 04, 2011

Do you know if the amount of Theobromine increases in brewed cacao beans, such as in 'Choffy'? I want to improve my bad cholesterol and my husband wants to lower his blood pressure. Choffy sounds like the perfect solution, but I don't want to fall victim to ad hype. Thanks!

By anon170278 — On Apr 25, 2011

anyone know if white chocolate contains theobromine?

By anon140483 — On Jan 07, 2011

I had to do this science project and this article had really helped me find most of the information that I need. Thank you WiseGeek.

By louiseburns — On Feb 02, 2009

There are numerous health reasons for Chocolate lovers to eat dark chocolates on a daily basis.

*Tons* of studies show that Dark Chocolate is good for Diabetes, High cholesterol and even your skin and losing weight.

If you want to learn more, google (cut and paste)

How to To Improve your Health With Dark Chocolates

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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