Temperatures have dropped and the snow is coming! Not sure about you but having a hot chocolate is on my mind! There's nothing better to warm you up after a cold day at work or running around with the kids.
Hot chocolate often takes us back to our childhood. I can just picture sitting at the edge of our frozen pond in a snow bank with my ice skates on sipping away on the chocolaty warmth. But back then and still today, many still buy a box and rip open a packet called “Hot Cocoa” or “Hot Chocolate”. But what’s the difference? And do the ones we like even contain chocolate? The powders may seem to be an easy option, but are they really the best option given all of the artificial ingredients and the mass of sugar chock full in these products?
It’s interesting to see that even when there are consumer studies ranking the best “hot chocolate” in America they include products that don’t even contain chocolate or cocoa. Hmmm, makes you think…. But let’s also not lose focus on the fact that even though some products do have real chocolate in it or that it’s organic chocolate, doesn’t mean it’s going to taste good!
What’s the difference between hot chocolate and hot cocoa? There apparently isn’t always a distinction. You’d think hot cocoa should contain cocoa powder of some sort and hot chocolate should contain chocolate (ground, shavings, chunks). It doesn’t sound hard yet many products that contain cocoa powder call themselves hot chocolate and products that contain real chocolate call themselves hot cocoa?? Then there is drinking chocolate, which is a European term…defined as a beverage made with chocolate. And then there are those that don’t contain cocoa or chocolate and call themselves hot cocoa and hot chocolate. Seems there should be some sort of rule or regulation, no?
Some interesting facts to know about these hot “chocolaty” beverages:
Historically, chocolate was sipped, not nibbled, until 1847 when the first solid chocolate bar was developed
Many “hot chocolate” and “hot cocoa” brands are chocolate flavored and don’t contain chocolate at all or contain the tiniest amount. Doesn’t seem to make sense. But oftentimes we never find much information because most products don’t list how much chocolate or cocoa is really in there. Keep in mind what we’ve learned about other mass produced chocolate brands…they use the minimum the FDA will allow (10%) because cacao is expensive and using real chocolate requires special handling and technique = $$. If it doesn’t say how much is in there, assume it’s the minimum, especially when it says “artificial favor” on the label. See the Swiss Miss label below. Look for chocolate/cocoa first on the label
Starbucks Hot Chocolate contains no real chocolate! It’s only flavored… “Steamed milk with vanilla- and mocha-flavored syrups”
Hot chocolate made with real chocolate offers health benefits. Research continues to show us that antioxidants help prevent cancer, heart disease, age-related macular degeneration and aging in general because they fight free radicals in the body
Many “hot cocoa” and “hot chocolate” products can contain artificial additives, preservatives and lots of sugar, including ingredients not acceptable to a gluten-free lifestyle. Read the labels. I personally try to stay away from artificial ingredients and labels that list the first ingredient as sugar. A great resource to learn about product ingredients is Food Facts. Here is one label from Swiss Miss.
Swiss Miss Milk Chocolate Flavor Hot Cocoa Mix Ingredients: sugar, modified whey, cocoa (processed with alkali), hydrogenated coconut oil, nonfat milk, calcium carbonate, less than 2% of: salt, dipotassium phosphate, mono- and diglycerides, artificial flavor, carrageenan. Contains milk.
The reason why some cocoa powders are Dutched or processed with alkali is because the manufacturer wants to makes the cocoa powder a richer brown color, have less acidity, a milder taste and easier to blend into liquids
Dutch process chocolate contains lower amounts of flavonols which are antioxidants than chocolate. Dark chocolate is an antioxidant super food. Some studies show that 60-90% of the antioxidants are destroyed by Dutching
Chocolate milk (with real chocolate) is effective in promoting muscle recovery following endurance exercise. More than 20 studies support the benefits of recovering with the high-quality protein and nutrients in chocolate milk after a tough workout. Hot chocolate is hot chocolate milk
So how to get all of the health benefits without the sugar, preservatives or anything artificial AND still experience the purest enjoyment that hot chocolate can bring? Just keep it simple... Scald milk, throw in good 64% or higher % dark chocolate that you would enjoy all by itself and any natural flavoring like cinnamon. Stir and enjoy!
And if you’re looking for a fun experiment at home, try making some homemade marshmallows! Great for a snowy afternoon in with the kids. The kids can watch you make it (it gets hot!) and then once you spread in a pan, they can help you punch out different shapes with cookie cutters.
Lisa Mecray Rogers, award-winning Master Chocolatier and Founder of Luxx Chocolat® xquisite artisan chocolate, ChocoVin Chocolate & Wine Tastings® and Luxx Academy du Chocolat offering classes with adults in mind, Ridgewood resident, recognized as one of the Best Chocolatiers & Confectioners in America. Luxx Chocolat offers unique handcrafted works of art. Nothing artificial, no preservatives, not mass produced.