A cold December day is the perfect time to make yourself a cup of hot cocoa and enjoy National Cocoa Day. Each year on December 13, people across the country celebrate their favorite cold weather comfort drink.
Hot cocoa is a warm beverage made with cocoa powder, heated milk or water and sugar. The terms hot chocolate and hot cocoa are often used interchangeably by Americans causing a bit of confusion. To make hot chocolate, we use ground chocolate which contains cocoa butter. It’s mixed with hot milk and is actually a drinking chocolate.
Hot chocolate is a richer beverage made from ground chocolate which contains cocoa butter. Mixed with hot milk, the resulting mug is full of chocolate flavor and the fat and calories that come with it.
Hot cocoa is made from cocoa powder. Through the fermentation, drying, roasting and grinding process of cocoa beans a paste called chocolate liquor is produced. Through another process, the cocoa butter is separated leaving cocoa powder. It is this cocoa powder that we use to make hot cocoa. It has very little fat and calories and is mixed with either hot milk or water.
Both are enjoyed in a variety of combinations, topped with whipped cream or marshmallows. Sometimes a sprinkle of cinnamon or a dash of peppermint makes the chocolate extra special.
It is believed 2000 years ago that the first chocolate beverage was created by the Mayas and a cocoa beverage was an essential part of Aztec culture by 1400 AD. Europe popularized the beverage after it was introduced from Mexico in the New World and it has undergone multiple changes since then. Up until the 19th century, hot chocolate was used medicinally to treat ailments such as stomach diseases.
In the United States, an instant form of the drink is popular. It is made with hot water or milk and a packet containing mostly cocoa powder, sugar and dry milk. People enjoy topping it with marshmallows or whipped cream.
There are health benefits to drinking hot cocoa. Cocoa contains large amounts of antioxidants that may help prevent cancer. It has also been shown that the cocoa beans help with digestion. The flavonoids that are found in the cocoa also have a positive effect on arterial health.
Cocoa was first used to make “hot chocolate” by Aztecs. The drink was called “xocolatl”, which means bitter water.
The Swiss consume the most chocolate per capita, which is 22 pounds each compared to 11 pounds each in the United States.
Cocoa grows from cacao trees and the name cocoa bean was from a spelling mistake made by English importers in the 18th century.
Fine chocolate is pricy because every stage of cocoa production is down by hand: planting, irrigating, harvesting, fermenting and drying.
Amsterdam is the world’s most important cocoa port: 500k-600k tonnes of cocoa per day.