There is nothing more satisfying than the comfort and deliciousness of drinking a hot chocolate. This decadent drink has a place in most of our hearts as a warming winter treat. A great hot chocolate can range from the velvety potions so sinfully thick that a spoon could stand in the cup, to the creamy and smooth easy drinking chocolate. Hot chocolate powders range from the nutrient packed and healthy, to the not-so-healthy options. This blog has been written to help you identify a healthy hot chocolate and inspire you create a delicious and indulgent homemade drinking chocolate at home.
Are all hot chocolates the same?
Cacao, cocoa, and drinking chocolate... while all of these hot chocolate powders might taste great, there is a big difference between the ingredients and nutrition of a healthy and not-so-healthy hot chocolate variation. Exploring the different ingredients of a hot chocolate blend is the key to creating a healthy and delicious drink at home.
Cacao vs. cocoa
The star ingredient of a hot chocolate is, of course, the chocolate, and that originates as powder from the cacao bean. Cocoa powder is also known as a cacao powder and is extracted from the cacao bean. The beans are processed to separate the cacao butter from the cacao bean and once the fat has been removed, the beans are milled into a fine powder. The fundamental difference between cacao and cocoa is the way they are processed:
- Cacao powder is often referred to as the 'raw' chocolate, as it is processed in low temperatures and never heated above 45°C. This means that all the natural antioxidants, enzymes and nutrients remain intact. Cacao is considered the healthier option.
- Cocoa powder is very similar to cacao but has been processed at higher temperatures. Cocoa powder still has some great health benefits, but research has shown that once a cocoa has been heated above 70°C, the levels of antioxidant levels are greatly diminished.
I would recommend using a low-heat processed and high quality cacao powder as the base of your hot chocolate. Lower grade powders can be processed in a way that leaves little to no nutritional value. It is also important to consider the source of your cacao. I always opt for a fair trade and organic powder to get the most health benefits.
Benefits of cacao powder
Cacao is often painted as a hero superfood and rightfully so. This powder is packed with nutrients and vitamins that have great health therapeutics.
- Cacao is a rich source of magnesium -- a mineral essential for muscle relaxation, nervous system and cardiovascular health.
- Cacao is one of the highest containing antioxidant foods in the world. The antioxidant level of cacao can vary depending on the source and processing of the powder.
- Cacao is a fantastic mood booster. It contains feel-good phytochemicals such as theobromine and phenethylamine, that act as mood boosters and anti-depressants.
Hot chocolate ingredients: it's not just about the cacao
Once you have established the quality of the cacao powder, it is important to turn your attention towards the rest of the ingredients that make up your hot chocolate blend. You can have the finest cacao powder, but if it is blended with sugar, artificial additives, preservative and emulsifiers, the nutritional value of the drink will be diminished. I encourage you to become a food detective and investigate each ingredient on the label. Avoid hot chocolate powders with very long ingredient lists or with the artificial or processed ingredients mentioned above.
The ultimate healthy hot chocolate recipe
With all this discussion about cacao, it is only fair to provide you with a glorious recipe to creating an indulgent-but-healthy hot chocolate at home. Creating your own blend can be a great way to ensure that your hot chocolate does not have any added nasties or artificial ingredients.
- 1 teaspoon high quality cacao powder
- 250ml high quality milk or fresh mylk (a dairy free alternative, such as almond or coconut milk. Choose the fresh kind not the ultraheated kind)
- 1 teaspoon organic spice powder -- choose a single or combination of: ginger; chili; cinnamon; vanilla; or ground aromatic chai spices -- for a hint of flavour and aroma.
- 1 teaspoon raw honey or ¼ teaspoon green leaf stevia powder to sweeten (optional)
1. Add your cacao powder, organic spice blend and sweetener of choice to a mug.
2. Add a dash of hot water to this blend.
3. Stir until it becomes a paste.
4. On a stove, warm up your selected milk/mylk.
5. Once warm, add the milk/mylk into your mug.
6. Stir until combined well.
7. Finish with a dusting of more cacao or spice powder.
Enjoy this delicious, creamy and healthy drink.