What Is It About Hot Chocolate That Makes It So Great?

Hot Chocolate. The mere mention of the concoction brings back memories of childhood, snowy hills, sledding, and winter wonderlands. But how did hot chocolate come to be a part of this iconic memory?

NPR is reporting that hot chocolate has a definite spot in American history. According to Dining with the Washingtons, a cookbook published in 2011 by the estate of George Washington, our first American president would have hot chocolate, in his case warm chocolate cream, with his breakfast to wash down his preferred meal of cornmeal hoecakes with honey and butter.

Archaeological evidence suggests that the people of present-day Mexico have cultivated and consumed chocolate in some liquid form for more than 4,000 years.

The 18th century, Washington version of (hot) chocolate cream consisted of grated chocolate solids and sugar mixed into a cup of warm water, milk, or even brandy for a real kick. It was often seasoned with new-world flavors like chili powder, vanilla, and allspice. The colonial settlers were not used to the substance, but it became immediately appealing and worthy of experimentation.

While chocolate was considered a delicacy of the rich in Europe, chocolate was enjoyed by rich man and commoner alike in the new Americas. The biggest reason was because it was so plentiful, so readily available, and, since the chocolate solid was made with cheaper Caribbean sugar, was easy to acquire.

The Guardian is reporting that not only does hot chocolate have immediate benefits, like instant warming of the entire body, a calming of the nerves, and the joyous feeling it brings upon drinking, there are actual, valid health benefits associated with hot chocolate.

One study finds that the warmth actually increases your skin’s microcirculation, warming you. Another study found that the myriad chocolate’s chemical compounds trigger endorphins to be released by the brain that induce feelings of calm. Chocolate also contains mineral, vitamins, and biochemical compounds. Also, high-quality chocolate contains cocoa butter, a high-energy fat found in cocoa beans.

The biggest reason for the proliferation of hot chocolate was during the 1850s, when the processing of cocoa into chocolate became so cheap, anyone could actually afford and like it.

The style of hot chocolate has evolved over the last 135 years. Then, people were still experimenting with distilling chocolate with sugar, or honey for sweetness, then adding all kinds of spices and flowers to enhance the flavor. When hot chocolate got to the new colonies, it was a thin drink filled with sugar, water, but very little chocolate.

The new colonists were able to rectify that with the cheaper chocolate, and over time, hot chocolate became true hot chocolate. Recently, people have been adding coffee, whipped cream, marshmallows, or liquor to hot chocolate, the seminal drink that we came to know and love is now here to stay. It would be hard to make such a glorious drink even better.

[Image courtesy of Culinary Nutrition]