Hot Cocoa: A Health Drink?

Hot Cocoa Health DrinkI never associated hot cocoa with good health. It was just a better, lower fat alternative to an intense craving for, let’s say, ½ pound of dark chocolate devoured in one sitting, or a really big slice of Mud Pie.

But recently, hot cocoa has been elevated to a new status: Health Drink. Recently, researchers at Cornell University have found that cocoa teems with antioxidants that prevent cancer. In fact, cocoa has nearly twice the antioxidants of red wine and up to three times those found in green tea.

This discovery surprised even the researchers: “If I had made a prediction before conducting the tests, I would have picked green tea as having the most antioxidant activity,” says Chang Y. Lee, chairman of the Department of Food Science and Technology at the university’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY, who led the team of researchers in the study.

Faced with the choice of drinking red wine, green tea or hot cocoa, Lee suggests enjoying all three in different parts of the day: “Personally, I would drink hot cocoa in the morning, green tea in the afternoon, and a glass of red wine in the evening. That’s a good combination,” he says.

However using this good news as an excuse to polish off more chocolate bars is a no-no: “Although a bar of chocolate exhibits strong antioxidant activity, the health benefits are still controversial because of the saturated fats present,” researchers of the study write. They explain that cocoa has about one-third of a gram of fat per one cup serving, compared with the eight grams of fat in a standard-sized 40 gram chocolate bar.

Okay, so hot cocoa (minus the whipped cream) is a good way to fight cancer, but can’t you get just as many antioxidants from eating a carrot stick?

Well, yes, any vegetable you pick up at your produce section (particularly grapes, garlic and spinach) is bound to give you healthy boost of cancer-fighting antioxidants. But how much fun can you possibly have munching on garlic cloves while curled up by the fire on a cold winter night? So this winter season, drink up your hot cocoa – after all, it’s good for your health!

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When making hot cocoa, skip the pre-packaged mixes in your supermarket: they’re laden with too much sugar and other ugly additives your body does not need.

Here’s my own homemade mix that I keep on hand in my pantry to make creamy hot cocoa in a moment’s notice:


1 cup nonfat dry milk
3/4 cup light brown sugar
½ cup cocoa


Add 2 tablespoons of one of these ingredients to the above mix:
Ground cinnamon
Ground cloves
Ground allspice

Combine ingredients and mix well. Store in airtight container…no need to refrigerate.

To make the hot cocoa, add 2-3 tablespoons of mix to a mug (1 cup) of cold milk and whisk well until dissolved. Microwave mug 1 minute on high. Add mini marshmallows if you’d like.

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Larry Burdick, owner of L.A. Burdick Chocolate café and shop in Walpole, New Hampshire was not surprised by Cornell University’s findings. “Chocolate – good chocolate – is complex food that is good for you,” he said. The bad rap chocolate gets in regard to obesity, tooth decay and skin problems has more to do with the consumption of lower grade chocolate products that are laden with sugar and cheap fats, Burdick says. “There’s actually very little chocolate in a Hershey bar…it’s mostly sugar.”

Burdick’s famous hot chocolate recipe calls for both ground chocolate and cocoa powder. You can lower the fat content of the recipe by using skim or 1% milk. Note there is no added sugar in this recipe: “The slight sweetness comes naturally from high quality chocolate,” he says. If the hot chocolate is too thick for your taste, use more milk.

Burdick’s Hot Chocolate

Makes 1 ½ cups

1 ½ cups milk (1% or skim)
2 heaping teaspoons of cocoa powder
¼ cup ground dark chocolate (use high quality chocolate that has 60% or more cocoa content)
ground nutmeg or cinnamon to taste
Heat milk to just below boiling. Whisk in cocoa powder and ground
chocolate, and spices.

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Tom Fegley, of Tom and Sally’s Handmade Chocolates in Brattleboro, Vermont investing in European cocoa for the best-tasting hot cocoa. “The difference in taste between a French cocoa and Swiss Miss is astounding,” he said. The store sells 2.2 pound bags of cocoa imported from France for $11. Here’s a simple recipe:

Tom and Sally’s Hot Cocoa

Makes 1 cup

1 cup of hot milk, half & half, OR light cream
1 heaping tablespoon of cocoa powder
Sugar to taste
Heat milk (do not boil). Whisk in cocoa powder and sugar to taste. Stir and add whipped cream if desired.

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Victor Beguin, owner of La Bonne Table in Peterborough, New Hampshire – a café, catering facility and cooking school – insists that melting chunks of dark chocolate is the best and most authentic way to make the drink, dating back to the Aztecs, who drank their hot chocolate using only melted chocolate and cayenne pepper. “People who really love chocolate are missing out using (pre-mixed) … using a good quality chocolate is the ultimate,” Beguin says. He recommends the Droste brand of Dutch chocolate for this recipe; however, Lindt or Ghiradelli dark chocolate is also flavorful. For a lower fat version, use Droste cocoa. Beguin also forgoes regular sugar for succanat, evaporated cane juice crystals available in health food stores. “It is not only healthier (than white sugar), but it give the hot chocolate a beautiful caramel taste.” Beguin adds a pinch of salt to his hot chocolate “…it seems like a little thing to add, but it really helps to bring out the flavor.” Here’s a recipe to serve your apres skiing or sledding guests:

La Bonne Table’s Party Hot Chocolate/Cocoa

Makes 1 gallon

1 gallon whole milk
1 cup chopped semi-sweet dark chocolate OR ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa
1 cup succanat
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract or 1 vanilla bean
1 pinch of salt
dash of cardamom or saffron
Heat milk (if using vanilla bean, add bean during the heating process) and simmer. Add chocolate pieces and succanat and whisk to blend. Check for taste and add more sugar or chocolate if desired. Add salt, and cardamom or saffron. Remove vanilla bean before serving. (If using vanilla extract, add before serving)

NOTE: If using cocoa powder, whisk into the milk BEFORE you heat the milk for easier solubility.

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· There were 1,040 U.S. manufacturing establishments producing chocolate and cocoa products in 2001. These establishments employed 45,913 people and shipped $12 billion worth of goods that year. California led the nation in the number of chocolate and cocoa manufacturing establishments (with 116) followed by Pennsylvania (with 107).

· There’s a difference between hot cocoa and hot chocolate? Hot cocoa is made from cocoa powder, which is chocolate pressed free of almost all fat. Hot chocolate is made from chocolate bars melted into cream.

· The original hot cocoa recipe hailed from the Aztecs thousands of years ago; they used a mixture of ground cocoa beans, water, wine and peppers. This recipe was adapted by the Spaniards who sweetened the concoction with sugar. The English took this recipe in the 1600s, and added milk to the mixture.

About the Author

Marcia Passos Duffy is editor and publisher of From the Heart of New England Ezine, which celebrates the best of New England’s cooking, travel, gardening and culture. To subscribe to this free monthly newsletter, send a blank email to

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