We currently serve hot chocolate at AYZA West Village, and as you may guess, we love a steaming delicious cup on a cold day, and realize we are not alone. But we also noticed that many Americans do not know that hot cocoa and hot chocolate are two distinct chocolate drinks. The confusion is almost universal among Americans even though they have different compositions. The difference is simple: one has cocoa butter, while the other does not. Cocoa butter is often separated from cocoa powder when ground cocoa beans are pressed. Hot cocoa contains only the cocoa powder whereas hot chocolate relies on bar chocolate that contains cocoa butter.
Hot cocoa and hot chocolate are easy to tell apart. Hot cocoa is usually less thick than hot chocolate. Its powder is usually mixed with nonfat dried milk and sugar, which can be stored indefinitely, and mixed into hot water when served. Also, it’s more healthy than hot chocolate because the absence of cocoa butter makes it significantly lower in fat and calories while still containing the antioxidants found in chocolate.
Hot chocolate tastes and is served differently than hot cocoa. Traditional around the world, milk, dark, or bittersweet chocolate pieces are melted into hot milk, making for a thicker and creamier drink than hot cocoa. Since it contains bar chocolate, which is made with cocoa butter, it contains more calories and fat as well.
The History of Chocolate
Cacao trees require tropical rainforests to grow, as in Central and South America. In the Mexican Yucatan peninsula, evidence of chocolate drinking found in Maya ruins suggests hot cocoa was made as early as 460AD, more than 1550 years ago.
The flavor and presentation of early chocolate drinks was different than today. The first chocolate drink was made with ground cacao seeds, water, cornmeal, chili peppers, and other spices. The original chocolate drinks were bitter-tasting and served cold. At that time, there was no way to extract the cocoa butter from the cocoa solids (powder). The Aztec king Montezuma popularized a chocolate drink flavored with vanilla and other spices and it entered mass consumption by the noble class. Because of its prevalence, all social classes had the drink.
Chocolate was brought to Spain as part of the conquest of the Aztecs in the early 1500s. It grew in popularity among the Spanish upper class, but the Spanish started heating the drink, left out chili peppers and added sugar; hot chocolate remained a luxury because it was expensive to import cocoa from South America. It wasn’t until the late 17th century that the flavor was improved with sweeter chocolate and milk. About the same time, chocolate consumption spread all over Europe.
Modern Hot Chocolate
In the United States, warm chocolate drinks are most commonly associated with cold winter weather. Originally, the different ingredients of hot chocolate or hot cocoa, whether sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa solids, or milk, were added separately but now much is sold over the counter in a mixed form. Indeed at some point, most Americans became unaware of the exact ingredients. Elsewhere in the world, especially Europe, the thicker hot chocolate is served alongside breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Some versions, like the “cioccolata densa” in Italy, make it particularly thick and heavy. In Mexico as well as parts of Europe, hot chocolate is as popular and social as coffee in the US.
Health and Chocolate
The flavor of chocolate drinks may not be the only reason to enjoy them, and you can definitely fine less healthy calories. Antioxidants in chocolate reduce the risk of heart disease through a number of routes, including the reduction of free radicals, which are dangerous to the DNA of cells. Both hot chocolate and hot cocoa contain more antioxidants than wine and tea. Chocolate drinks also contain flavanols which improve of blood flow and cardiovascular health.
Whether for the health benefits or the rich flavor, hot chocolate and hot cocoa in their many different forms remain popular worldwide just as they were centuries ago.
Creative Commons Photos from Flickr