Hot chocolate (also known as hot cocoa, drinking chocolate or just cocoa) is a heated beverage that typically consists of chocolate or cocoa powder, heated milk or water, and sugar. While hot chocolate is generally thought of as a drink consumed for pleasure, recent studies have suggested that hot chocolate possesses health benefits due to antioxidants that can be found in cocoa. Until the 19th century, hot chocolate was even used medicinally to treat ailments such as _Diseases_of_the_digestive_system.
The first chocolate beverage is believed to have been created by the Mayan peoples around 2000 years ago, and a cocoa beverage was an essential part of Aztec culture by 1400 A.D. The beverage became popular in Europe after being introduced from Mexico in the New World, and has undergone multiple changes since then. Today, hot chocolate is consumed throughout the world and comes in multiple variations including the very thick cioccolata densa served in Italy, and the thinner hot cocoa that is typically consumed in the United States.
The chocolate residue found in jars from the site of Puerto Escondido in Honduras from around 1100 B.C. is the earliest found evidence of the use of cacao to date. An early Classic (460-480 A.D.) period Mayan tomb from the site of Rio Azul, Guatemala, had vessels with the Maya glyph for cacao on them with residue of a chocolate drink. The Maya are generally given credit for creating the first modern chocolate beverage over 2,000 years ago, despite the fact that the beverage would undergo many more changes in Europe.
To make the chocolate drink, which was served cold, the Maya ground cocoa seeds into a paste, and mixed it with water, cornmeal, chile peppers, and other ingredients. They then poured the drink back and forth from a cup to a pot until a thick foam developed. Chocolate was available to Maya of all social classes, although the wealthy drank chocolate from elaborately decorated vessels.
By the 1400s, the Aztecs gained control of a large part of Mesoamerica, and adopted cacao into their culture. They associated chocolate with Xochiquetzal, the goddess of fertility, and often used chocolate beverages as sacred offerings. The Aztec adaptation of the drink was a bitter, frothy, spicy drink called xocolatl, made much the same way as the Mayan chocolate drinks. It was often seasoned with vanilla, chile pepper, and achiote, and was believed to fight fatigue, which is probably attributable to the theobromine content, a mood enhancer. Because cacao would not grow in the dry central Mexican highlands and had to be imported, chocolate was an important luxury good throughout the Aztec empire, and cocoa beans were often used as currency.
The first European contact with chocolate came when Montezuma (then tlatoani of Tenochtitlan) introduced Hernán Cortés, a Spanish conquistador, to xocolatl in the 16th century. What the Spaniards then called "chocolatl" was said to be a beverage consisting of a chocolate base flavored with vanilla and other spices that was served cold. Montezuma's court reportedly drank about 2000 cups of xocolatl per day, 50 of which were consumed by Montezuma himself.
Because sugar was yet to come to the Americas, xocolatl was said to be an acquired taste. The drink tasted spicy and bitter, unlike today's hot chocolate. As to when xocolatl was first served hot, sources conflict on when and by whom. However, Jose de Acosta, a Spanish Jesuit missionary who lived in Peru and then Mexico in the later 16th century, described xocolatl as:
Loathsome to such as are not acquainted with it, having a scum or froth that is very unpleasant taste. Yet it is a drink very much esteemed among the Indians, where with they feast noble men who pass through their country. The Spaniards, both men and women, that are accustomed to the country, are very greedy of this Chocolate. They say they make diverse sorts of it, some hot, some cold, and some temperate, and put therein much of that "chili"; yea, they make paste thereof, the which they say is good for the stomach and against the catarrh.
After defeating Montezuma’s warriors, and demanding that the Aztec nobles hand over their valuables, Cortés returned to Spain in 1528, bringing cocoa beans and chocolate drink making equipment. At this time, chocolate still only existed in the bitter drink invented by the Mayans. Sweet hot chocolate and bar chocolate were yet to be invented.
After its introduction to Europe, the drink slowly gained popularity. The court of King Charles V soon adopted the drink, and what was then only known as "chocolate" became a fashionable drink popular with the Spanish upper class. Additionally, cocoa was given as a dowry when members of the Spanish Royal Family married other European aristocrats. At the time, chocolate was very expensive in Europe because the cacao beans only grew in South America.
The first recorded shipment of chocolate to Europe for commercial purposes was in a shipment from Veracruz to Sevilla in 1585. It was still served as a beverage, but the Europeans added sugar to counteract the natural bitterness and removed the chili pepper, replacing it with vanilla, cinnamon, and other spices. Sweet-tasting hot chocolate was then invented, leading hot chocolate to become a luxury item among the European nobility by the 17th century. Even when the first Chocolate House (an establishment similar to a modern coffee shop) opened in 1657, chocolate was still very expensive, costing 50 to 75 pence (approximately 50.11-75.17 USD) a pound.
In the late 1600s, Hans Sloane, president of the Royal College of Physicians, visited Jamaica. There, he tried chocolate and considered it "nauseous", but found it became more palatable when mixed with milk. When he returned to England, he brought the recipe with him, introducing milk chocolate to Europe.
In 1828, Coenraad Johannes van Houten developed the first cocoa powder producing machine in the Netherlands. The press separated the greasy cocoa butter from cacao seeds, leaving a purer and less fattening chocolate powder behind. This powder — much like the instant cocoa powder used today — was easier to stir into milk and water, and led to another very important discovery: solid chocolate. By using cocoa powder and low amounts of cocoa butter, bar chocolate was then possible to manufacture. The term "chocolate" then came to mean solid chocolate, rather than hot chocolate.
Generally, the terms "hot chocolate" and "hot cocoa" are used interchangeably, but in reality there is a distinction between the two. "Hot cocoa" is made from a powdered mix of cocoa, sugar and thickeners without cocoa butter. "Hot chocolate," on the other hand, is made directly from bar chocolate, which already contains cocoa, sugar and cocoa butter. Thus the major difference between the two is the cocoa butter, which makes hot cocoa significantly lower in fat than hot chocolate, while still preserving all the intrinsic health-giving properties of chocolate.
Hot chocolate can be made with dark, semisweet, or bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces and stirred into milk with the addition of sugar. American hot cocoa powder often includes powdered milk or other dairy ingredients so it can be made without using milk. In the United Kingdom, "hot chocolate" is a sweet chocolate drink made with hot milk or water, and powder containing chocolate, sugar, and powdered milk. "Cocoa" usually refers to a similar drink made with just hot milk and cocoa powder, then sweetened to taste with sugar.
In the United States, the drink is most popular in instant form, made with hot water or milk from a packet containing mostly cocoa powder, sugar, and dry milk. This is the thinner of the two main variations. It is very sweet and often topped with marshmallows, whipped cream, or a piece of solid chocolate. Hot chocolate was first brought to the U.S. as early as the 1600s by the Dutch, but the first time colonists began selling hot chocolate was around 1755. Traditionally, hot chocolate has been associated with cold weather and winter in the United States, and is now rarely taken with meals.
In Mexico, hot chocolate remains a popular national drink. Besides the instant powder form, traditional Mexican hot chocolate includes semi-sweet chocolate, cinnamon, sugar and vanilla. Hot chocolate of this type is commonly sold in circular or hexagonal tablets which can be dissolved into hot milk, water or cream, then blended until the mixture develops a creamy froth. Mexican cinnamon hot chocolate is traditionally served alongside a variety of Mexican pastries known as pan dulce and, as in Spain, churros.
Among the multiple thick forms of hot chocolate served in Europe is the Italian cioccolata densa. German variations are also known for being very thick and heavy. Hot chocolate and churros is the traditional working-man's breakfast in Spain. This style of hot chocolate can be extremely thick, often having the consistency of warm chocolate pudding.
Even more variations exist. In some cafes in Belgium and other areas in Europe, one who orders a "warme chocolade" or "chocolat chaud" would receive a cup of steamed white milk and a small bowl of bittersweet chocolate chips to dissolve in the milk. In England, some types of powdered drinks are actually as thick as pure chocolate varieties.
On the other hand, several negative effects can be attributed to drinking hot chocolate. Hot chocolate contains high amounts of calories, saturated fat, and sugar. Caffeine found in the cocoa that makes up hot chocolate may also have negative effects on health.
Research has shown that the consumption of hot chocolate can be positive to one's health. A study conducted by Cornell University has shown that hot chocolate contains more antioxidants than wine and tea, therefore reducing the risk of heart disease. In a single serving of cocoa, the researchers found 611 milligrams of gallic acid equivalents (GAE) and 564 milligrams of epicatechin equivalents (ECE), compared with 340 milligrams of GAE and 163 milligrams of ECE in red wine, and 165 milligrams of GAE and 47 milligrams of ECE. Chang Yong Lee, the professor and researcher at Cornell who conducted the study, revealed that a larger amount of antioxidants are released when the beverage is heated.
The flavonoids found in the cocoa that makes up hot chocolate also have a positive effect on arterial health. A particular study performed by the National Institutes of Health grants and Mars showed high amounts of improvement in blood flow after drinking a flavanol-rich cocoa beverage. In the study, the subjects (27 people ages 18 to 72) drank a cocoa drink containing 900 milligrams of flavonols every day, which resulted in an improvement in blood flow and the function of endothelial cells that line blood vessels. In further studies conducted by Dr. Norman K. Hollenberg, professor of medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School found that flavonols may also help vessels dilate and help keep platelets from clustering on the blood vessel walls. Flavonoids found in hot chocolate are beneficial to the health mainly because they shield the walls of blood vessels from free radical damage. Flavanols are also thought to help reduce blood platelet buildup and can balance levels of compounds called eicosanoids, which are may be beneficial to cardiovascular health.
Because of high levels of calories, saturated fat, and sugars, obesity and dental problems are health risks. The main source of saturated fats in hot chocolate is the cocoa butter found in variations made directly from chocolate rather than cocoa powder. Hot chocolate made from milk also contains significantly larger amounts of fat and sugar. Processed cocoa powder usually contains additional sugars despite the fact that cocoa butter is removed during processing.
Caffeine found in cocoa may also cause health problems. Compared to coffee, hot chocolate only has minimal amounts of caffeine—a typical eight ounce cup of hot chocolate contains nine milligrams of caffeine, while an eight ounce cup of coffee may contain up to 133 milligrams depending on the brand. As such, caffeine is not a major health concern associated with hot chocolate.