There is an important difference between hot cocoa and hot chocolate. These terms are often used interchangeably, but the distinction is in the nutritional properties. Hot cocoa is made from raw cocoa powder, which is pressed chocolate which removes the fat of the cocoa butter. Hot chocolate is made from chocolate bars melted into a cream or ground into a powder. Often hot chocolate has a very high sugar and fat content and low cocoa content. Cocoa can be very good for you, especially if you minimize the sugar and fat.
Hot cocoa has been around a long time and for good reason. It is one of the most potent antioxidant beverages you can drink, plus it is naturally delicious! Archeologists have found that the oldest civilization of the Americas, the Olmecs, (1500-400 BC), were probably the first users of cacao. The Mayans continued consuming-based drinks made with beans. Chocolatl was the name of a drink made from roasted cocoa beans, water and spices and was consumed voraciously by the aristocracy. They primarily drank cocoa but the beans were also valued as a currency.
Drink of the gods
Originally these ancient people drank and unsweetened version of hot cocoa. This hot cocoa recipe was a mixture of ground cocoa beans, water, wine, and peppers. Soon the Spaniards begin heating the mixture adding sweeteners like sugar. In England, they added milk and created a sweet after dinner drink.
Nowadays people are discovering the powerful nutritional benefits of the cocoa bean. Recent research has found that the flavonoids in chocolate are more powerful than vitamins such as ascorbic acid in protecting circulating lipids from oxidation. And researchers discovered that people who eat chocolate and sweets up to three times each month live almost a year longer than people who eat too much or folks that steer clear of junk altogether. (This is from a study done at the Harvard School of Public Health)
Now that we understand that cocoa is good for us, how do we make sure we are getting the bountiful health benefits of the cocoa chocolate? First get pure cocoa powder. You can identify it by its dark brown color and bitter taste. Next, try mixing it with hot water and low fat milk or milk substitutes, like soy or coconut milk powder. Add a natural sweetener like agave nectar, honey or turbino sugar.
Hot cocoa provides more antioxidants
Even though cocoa beans have 500 times more anti-oxidants than blueberries; studies indicate that adding a diary product actually blocks the body's ability to properly absorb them. In order to get the most antioxidants, mix ground cocoa with non-dairy liquids for hot chocolate, smoothies or shakes. You can enjoy drinking cocoa if it is hot or cold but heating the cocoa triggers the release of more antioxidants.
For many years the common conception of hot cocoa was that of a commercially prepared packet mix that was basically sugared flavored chocolate turned into a sweetened instant powder and marketed to children. Now adults are finding that the drink they loved as kids is better than taking vitamins! Drink your cocoa hot and pure and enjoy the best tasting health drink available.