Hot chocolate (also known as hot cocoa, drinking chocolate, or just cocoa) is a heated beverage that typically consists of shaved chocolate or cocoa powder, heated milk or water, and sugar. While it is generally thought of as a drink consumed for pleasure, recent studies have suggested that it possesses health benefits due to antioxidants that can be found in cocoa. Until the 19th century, it was even used medicinally to treat ailments such as stomach diseases.
Around The World
The first chocolate beverage is believed to have been created by the Mayan peoples around 2000 years ago, and a cocoa beverage was an essential part of Aztec culture by 1400 A.D. The beverage became popular in Europe after being introduced from Mexico in the New World, and has undergone multiple changes since then. Today, this hot, savory chocolate drink is consumed throughout the world and comes in multiple variations including the very thick cioccolata densa served in Italy, and the thinner hot cocoa that is typically consumed in the United States.
Americans have come to use the terms “hot chocolate” and “hot cocoa” interchangeably, obscuring the considerable difference between the two. “Hot cocoa” is made from powder made by extracting most of the rich cocoa butter from the ground cacao beans. On the other hand, the chocolate version of the drink is made directly from bar chocolate, which already contains cocoa, sugar and cocoa butter. Thus the major difference between the two is the cocoa butter, which makes hot cocoa significantly lower in fat than the chocolate version, while still preserving all the intrinsic health-giving properties of chocolate.
Again, when comparing the chocolate and cocoa versions, the chocolate version of the drink is made with dark, semisweet, or bittersweet chocolate, and chopped into small pieces and stirred into milk with the addition of sugar. In contrast, American hot cocoa powder often includes powdered milk or other dairy ingredients so it can be made without using milk. In the United Kingdom, “hot chocolate” is a sweet chocolate drink made with hot milk or water, and powder containing chocolate, sugar, and powdered milk. “Cocoa” usually refers to a similar drink made with just hot milk and cocoa powder, then sweetened to taste with sugar.
In mainland Europe, most forms of this delightful drink are very thick due to being made directly from chocolate. In the United Kingdom, however, it is often of the thinner variety. Some types of powdered chocolate drinks in the UK are actually as thick as pure chocolate varieties. As Europe was where it was first popularized, many different forms exist.
Among the multiple thick forms of hot chocolate served in Europe is the Italian cioccolata densa. German variations are also known for being very thick and heavy. In Spain churros is the traditional working-man’s breakfast. This style can be extremely thick, often having the consistency of warm chocolate pudding. In the Netherlands, it is known as chocolademelk, and is often served at home or at the cafes. In France, it is often served at breakfast time, and sometimes sliced French bread or croissants, spread with butter, jam, honey or Nutella are dunked into the chocolate drink; there are also brands pecially formulated for breakfast time, notably Banania.
Even further variations exist. In some cafes in Belgium and other areas in Europe, one who orders a “warme chocolade” or “chocolat chaud” would receive a cup of steamed white milk and a small bowl of bittersweet chocolate chips to dissolve in the milk.
Potential Health Benefits of Hot Chocolate
While generally consumed for pleasure, this drink has several potential health benefits associated with it. Studies have shown that the chocolate drink form contains large amounts of antioxidants that may be beneficial to one’s health. From the 16th to 19th centuries, it was valued as a medicine as well as a drink. The explorer Francisco Hernández wrote that chocolate beverages helped treat fever and liver disease. Another explorer, Santiago de Valverde Turices, believed that consuming large amounts was helpful in treating chest ailments, but in smaller amounts could help stomach disorders.
When chocolate was introduced to the French in the 17th century, it was reportedly used “to fight against fits of anger and bad moods”, which may be attributed to chocolate’s phenylethylamine content. Today, hot chocolate is consumed for pleasure rather than medicinally, but new research suggests that there may be other health benefits attributed to the drink.