Hot Chocolate is a winter tradition for a reason: it makes the house smell great, it's warming to hold in your hands, and yes, it tastes amazing. In fact, our enamored relationship with the cozy beverage is nothing new: hot chocolate was the very first way chocolate was consumed … sort of. Over a millennium ago, far before even a single chocolate bar ever existed, the Mayans and the Aztec cultures would create hot chocolate drinks made from ground cacao beans, spices and water. Certainly with no marshmallows in sight, these drinks were unsweetened and quite potent, but were decidedly valued and even deemed sacred.
These days, while the commercial blends of hot chocolate may taste better than the drink's ancient formulations, the ingredients are rather significantly worse. High amounts of sugar, artificial flavorings, and extremely processed ingredients often make up the bulk of these ready-to-drink blends … a far cry from hot chocolate's healthy roots. Luckily, hot chocolate is exceptionally easy to make at home. Gently heat a little milk, powdered cocoa or cacao, and sweetener (more on all these ingredients in a moment), and you've got an incredible drink that's not only light years more healthy, but in fact more flavor-rich as well. Here are the secrets to making a best-ever hot chocolate:
The Magic Starts With The Milk.
Though many people are accustomed to using cow's milk in hot chocolate recipes, the truth is many plant-based milks taste strikingly better. That's because each of these “alternative” milk varieties offers slightly different flavor nuances – many of which are shoe-in flavor combinations for chocolate. Some favorites to try include almond milk, hazelnut milk, cashew milk, and due to its ultra-creamy viscosity, even milk made from peas, surprisingly.
Quality Chocolate Makes A Difference.
Unsweetened cocoa powder is a good start, but if you use cacao powder (basically think of it as real chocolate), you'll gain an immense nutritional boost in the form of antioxidants. What's more, cacao powder has a more delicate flavor than cocoa, which plays well with the drink's creamy base.
Use Sweeteners To Enhance Flavor.
Even though it's the most commonly used sweetener in the world, cane sugar is a little, well, boring in terms of its flat taste (not to mention a nightmare for your immune system, and beyond). Instead, put to use alternative ingredients that can not only up the sweetness of your drink, but add to its flavor profile as well! Maple syrup, molasses, and caramel-like coconut sugar are all excellent choices! Conversely, if you're wanting to cut sugar even further, you can use a little stevia, monkfruit, or erythritol to help slash the calories.
Create Creaminess With A Little Fat.
If you want a truly luxurious treat, a small amount of healthy fat goes a long way to making a good hot chocolate truly great. A small spoonful of coconut oil or MCT oil makes a solid choice, or better still, use a little of cacao butter to exaggerate the chocolate flavor even further (and create an intoxicating aroma at the same time). For the truly chocolate-obsessed, you can even melt in a small amount of dark chocolate into your drink to create the ultimate indulgence.
Add A Little Superfood Finesse.
Functional drinks are a hot topic these days, and in the case of our subject here, the pun is very much intended. Chocolate can mask many flavors of potent superfoods, making it a great base for small amounts of super-ingredients like maca, medicinal mushrooms, adaptogenic blends, and more, which can amp up its healing benefits.
Finish Drinks In The Blender.
While a whisk does a good job of combining your ingredients while on the stovetop, a quick blitz in the blender earns you the professional hot chocolate maker title. Hot chocolate's ingredients benefit greatly from the high speed of the blender blades, which whips the mixture together into a proper emulsion that feels smoother while consumed. Plus, a blender will naturally create a slight foam that tops your mugs once the hot chocolate is poured, which adds a invitingly pillowy start to your decadent beverage.
As for whip cream or marshmallows? That's a debate only you can resolve.