Hot Cocoa vs. Hot Chocolate: Creating A Healthy Homemade Alternative

As the weather cools down and winter months are around the corner, nothing is better than a warm mug of hot chocolate when you’re trying to stay cozy. However, is what you have in your hands hot cocoa or hot chocolate? The terms hot chocolate and hot cocoa are used interchangeably so often that we don’t realize there is a difference between the two.

Hot Cocoa is generally cocoa powder, sugar, cream and milk. Some flavors such as vanilla or ground cinnamon are also added. Typically, this is a sweet and light in body drink. Those Swiss Miss packets are hot cocoa and not hot chocolate.

Hot Chocolate is melted chocolate. The chocolate is shaved or finely chopped so that it is quickly melted when combined with milk, hot water or cream. It also contains added flavors such as vanilla or cinnamon but not sugar because the chocolate already contains sugar. The result of hot chocolate tends to be less sweet and a thicker, rich beverage.

It is best to make your own drinks because packets of store-bought mixes are filled with sugar and hydrogenated oils. Although not considered a health drink, it is a nice treat to have once in a while during the cold winter months. Here are some ideas to help you create a healthier homemade version!

1. Use unsweetened cacao powder instead of buying store-bought mixes. This eliminates the added refined sugars, oil, and preservatives. Unsweetened cacao powder is a darker, rich base for a cup of hot chocolate.

2. Nut milks such as almond or cashew milk are great alternatives to creamers. They are alternatives for vegans and those who are lactose intolerant. Nut milks bring different flavor profiles, which are fun to experiment with.

3. Consider using unrefined sweeteners over white sugar. Try experimenting with maple sugar, coconut sugar, honey, or agave to see what you like.

4. Add warm spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, or ginger. Cardamom is known to increase energy levels, cinnamon helps metabolize blood sugar, and ginger aids with digestion. These spices are a simple way to boost your body’s systems while giving your drink a delicious twist of flavor.  

A simple recipe with just a few ingredients makes a delicious alternative! In a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk together 2 tbsp unsweetened cacao powder, 1 tbsp sweetener, ¼ cup almond milk, and a pinch of salt. When all is mixed and heated, stir in the rest of the milk and vanilla extract. That it! To treat yourself, top it off with some mini marshmallows to enjoy on a cold winter day.