Biomarkers of food intake for cocoa and liquorice (products): A systematic review

Charlotte C.J.R. Michielsen, Enrique Almanza-Aguilera, Elske M. Brouwer-Brolsma, Mireia Urpi-Sarda, L.A. Afman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Background: To unravel true links between diet and health, it is important that dietary exposure is accurately measured. Currently, mainly self-reporting methods (e.g. food frequency questionnaires and 24-h recalls) are used to assess food intake in epidemiological studies. However, these traditional instruments are subjective measures and contain well-known biases. Especially, estimating the intake of the group of confectionary products, such as products containing cocoa and liquorice, remains a challenge. The use biomarkers of food intake (BFIs) may provide a more objective measurement. However, an overview of current candidate biomarkers and their validity is missing for both cocoa- and liquorice-containing foods. Objective: The purpose of the current study was to (1) identify currently described candidate BFIs for cocoa (products) and liquorice, (2) to evaluate the validity of these identified candidate BFIs and (3) to address further validation and/or identification work to be done. Methods: This systematic review was based on a comprehensive literature search of three databases (PubMed, Scopus and ISI web of Science), to identify candidate BFIs. Via a second search step in the Human Metabolome Database (HMDB), the Food Database (FooDB) and Phenol-Explorer, the specificity of the candidate BFIs was evaluated, followed by an evaluation of the validity of the specific candidate BFIs, via pre-defined criteria. Results: In total, 37 papers were included for cocoa and 8 papers for liquorice. For cocoa, 164 unique candidate BFIs were obtained, and for liquorice, four were identified in total. Despite the high number of identified BFIs for cocoa, none of the metabolites was specific. Therefore, the validity of these compounds was not further examined. For liquorice intake, 18-glycyrrhetinic acid (18-GA) was found to have the highest assumed validity. Conclusions: For cocoa, specific BFIs were missing, mainly because the individual BFIs were also found in foods having a similar composition, such as tea (polyphenols) or coffee (caffeine). However, a combination of individual BFIs might lead to discriminating profiles between cocoa (products) and foods with a similar composition. Therefore, studies directly comparing the consumption of cocoa to these similar products are needed, enabling efforts to find a unique profile per product. For liquorice, we identified 18-GA as a promising BFI; however, important information on its validity is missing; thus, more research is necessary. Our findings indicate a need for more studies to determine acceptable BFIs for both cocoa and liquorice.

Original languageEnglish
Article number22
JournalGenes & Nutrition
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jul 2018


  • Biomarkers
  • Cacao
  • Chocolate
  • Cocoa
  • Licorice
  • Liquorice
  • Metabolites
  • Metabolomics


Dive into the research topics of 'Biomarkers of food intake for cocoa and liquorice (products): A systematic review'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this