December 13th is National Cocoa Day. With the cooler temps and winter upon us, what better way to warm up than drinking a cup of hot cocoa? Americans often use hot chocolate and hot cocoa interchangeably despite there being a difference between the two. So let’s dive in and look at cocoa and its potential benefits.
Hot chocolate is ground chocolate containing cocoa butter (or vegetable oil) mixed with hot milk or water, leading it to be called drinking chocolate in many countries. Unlike Hot Chocolate, Hot Cocoa is made from cocoa powder. Cocoa powder is made when cocoa beans are harvested, dried, fermented, and heated. Cocoa butter is removed with the heating process, and then leftover solids are milled into cocoa powder.
Cocoa is one of the richest sources of polyphenols. It is especially abundant in flavanols, which have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Studies have suggested that cocoa may improve cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure, reducing clotting, and improving lipid and glucose metabolism. The increased nitric oxide availability, which reduces blood pressure, and its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties may be a possible reason for this. Unfortunately, there isn’t a reliable way to estimate which chocolates have more antioxidants as they are affected by heating and other processes. Also, these studies looked at cocoa powder and dark chocolate, not just chocolate. So, if you want to add chocolate to your diet, do so in moderation, as most commercial chocolate has ingredients that add fat, sugar, and calories. Sticking to the portions recommended for chocolate and combining them with a healthy, well-balanced diet is essential.
Even though more research continues on this topic, we think National Cocoa Day is a delicious reason to enjoy a hot cup of homemade hot cocoa. If you want a chocolate flavor and not a hot beverage, add plain cocoa to your low-fat milk or morning oats. Try our Tomah Health recipe and make your cup of homemade hot cocoa!