‘Tis the season for hot chocolate! Warming up with a mug of hot chocolate is the perfect fix for a cold day. How to make it even better: try making yours a bit differently this year and make it with raw cacao powder! Chocolate, if is the right kind, is classified as a superfood. Yes, you read that correctly! However, we are not referring to a Hershey’s bar when we say this. Instead, we are referring to raw cacao powder or dark chocolate.
Raw Cacao vs. Cocoa: Cacao and cocoa both come from the beans of the cacao tree. The difference lies in the way they are processed. Raw cacao is minimally processed; the beans are crushed to remove the fat, yielding a powder that resembles cocoa powder. Cocoa, on the other hand, is roasted. This roasting process causes the powder to lose many of its beneficial compounds and living enzymes. Due to this, when compared to cocoa, raw cacao is the more nutrient-dense option.
Chocolate gains its reputation of being a health food from its high content of flavonoids – the same compounds that make other plant foods good for us too! It has also been found that other factors in chocolate allow our bodies to actually absorb many more of these flavonoids. So, they not only exist in the chocolate we consume but our bodies are utilizing them too! The flavonoids in chocolate and, more specifically, their antioxidants are important in cardiovascular health. These antioxidants protect our HDL (i.e. good) cholesterol from damage. Chocolate flavonoids also prevent any excessive clumping of blood platelets, which lead to blood clots.
Another major benefit of chocolate is the effect it has on our endothelial cell lining. All blood vessels in the human body, no matter the size, have an endothelial cell lining – an endothelium. Impaired endothelial functioning is the starting point of vascular diseases and is often considered to be an early event in the development of atherosclerosis (the hardening of the arteries).
A study that was conducted at Harvard University in 2013 looked at the effects of chocolate on brain health. A goal in preventing cognitive impairment is to improve blood flow to the brain. The study found that drinking hot chocolate that was rich in flavonols and other nutrients (such as one made with cacao), brought about improved blood flow and brain functioning for participants who had previously showed decreased blood flow and brain functioning. Who would have thought that drinking hot chocolate could improve brain functioning?! The following is a recipe for hot chocolate that will help you to take advantage of all the benefits that chocolate has to offer!
Healthier Hot Chocolate
2 cups milk of choice (we used 1/4 cup canned coconut milk and 1 3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk)
2 tbs raw cacao powder
1 tbs honey (more if you want more sweetness)
1/2 tsp vanilla
Pinch of sea salt
- In a blender, add milk and raw cacao powder. Blend until combined.
- Pour cacao and milk mixture into a saucepan. Add honey, vanilla, and sea salt. Whisk to combine.
- Warm over medium heat, whisking frequently.
- Before serving, taste to see if it is at your desired sweetness. Enjoy!