January 31 is National Hot Chocolate Day. A day when we can all celebrate everyone’s favourite winter drink. Hot chocolate, and don’t forget cocoa, is a decadent and delightful beverage which even seasoned coffee and tea drinkers turn to when they want a bit of luxury and seasonal warmth. And whilst as an event National Hot Chocolate Day is as contrived as all the other awareness or celebration days it’s nevertheless a chance for us all to rejoice in our favourite ‘other’ drink.
But I have a confession to make. On every hot chocolate related article on this website, you’ll see my name. The reason for that is that I love hot chocolate. In fact, I don’t drink coffee or tea. I only drink hot chocolate. Which may make me very weird in some people’s eyes but I’m certainly not unique. There are definitely more closet hot chocolate junkies out there.
Is it alright to drink hot chocolate every day?
Whilst every day for me is hot chocolate day I do have to qualify this a little. Yes, I drink three to six cups of chocolate every day. However, the majority of cups are made from low calorie instant powder and boiled water.
When I want a ‘proper’ hot chocolate I use my trusty Velvetiser or make my own chocolate as in the video below. But I don’t do this every day. I think the hit in calories would be a little much but hey, each to their own. Who am I to judge? And to be honest, if I want two or more ‘real’ drinks of hot chocolate in a day I’ll do so. Life’s too short to miss out on a choccy fix.
I guess the question here is why do I, you and countless people around the world enjoy hot chocolate (to be honest I think the answer is pretty obvious) and where did that love of hot chocolate come from? Let’s dive in.
The history of hot chocolate
When you want a comforting drink, what is the first thing that you think of? We’d bet our bottom dollar that for most people, hot chocolate is the first thing that springs to mind. It’s no surprise since this smooth, creamy, delicious drink is enjoyed the world over and there is just something about it that can make a rainy day into one of the happiest times in your life.
It sounds a little over the top but hot chocolate is the drink that has it all but have you ever wondered where the craze began? Would you be surprised if we told you that hot chocolate has a history that goes back as far as 500 BC? That’s a long time, but since the beverage has stood the test of time, this only further proves how well loved it is.
We’ve got a lot of time for all the hot chocolate lovers out there so you’re in good company. We’ve been exploring the world of hot chocolate and have discovered some pretty interesting facts about where it all began and how the drink is consumed today. So, warm up that milk, stir in the choccy flakes and put your feet up as we discover the history of hot chocolate.
Who invented hot chocolate?
While we like to think that the modern world is responsible for a lot of things, we cannot lay claim to the creation of hot chocolate. In fact, you’d have to back quite a few generations to find the founders of this amazing drink, and you’d only find them if you travelled across the globe to Mexico (unless you already live there, of course!)
You see, hot chocolate was invented by the Mayans and it is believed that the drink dates back to around 500 BC. However, the drink that our ancestors would have made is remarkably different to the hot chocolates we see being served in cafes today. The recipe back then was based on ground up cocoa seeds but also included chilli peppers and cornmeal, all mixed into water.
But when we look at modern hot chocolate with that fluffy foam on top, this isn’t such a great difference from the early drinks. Those Mayans had frothed milk down to a T and while they didn’t have the innovative equipment we have today, they used their own innovation to make a thick foamy liquid. This was accomplished by pouring the drink from one cup to another, mixing it, and creating a foam along the way. (If your milk frother ever malfunctions, at least you’ll have this method up your sleeve.)
There was no real separation where hot chocolate was concerned and people from all social classes would enjoy the beverage. However, those with a little more affluence would own large drinking vessels with elegant spouts. They were so prized that many wealthy people would take their drinking vessels to the grave and be buried with them.
Is hot chocolate the same as hot cocoa?
Depending on where you come from, you might refer to hot chocolate as hot cocoa. But in reality, these are not the same drink. While they are indeed similar, hot chocolate and hot cocoa have some clear differences.
While many use the term hot chocolate to describe any warm chocolatey drink, it surprises many that hot cocoa refers only to a drink made from powdered cocoa mixed with hot water. Usually, milk and sugar are added to this to improve the taste and texture.
Must read article: Is hot chocolate powder the same as cocoa?
However, on the other hand, hot chocolate is a term that is used to describe a much more chocolatey drink made from real chocolate. It is usually shaved or chopped and then added to some sort of hot liquid, typically milk, water or cream. This is a much richer drink but not quite as sweet as hot cocoa. But, of course, many of us also drink one of the many, many different varieties of powdered hot chocolate.
What’s the difference between American and European hot chocolate?
When you look at anything from across the pond, it appears to be vastly different from anything we have here in Europe, particularly in the UK. If you have a sweet tooth then you will probably already be aware of the fact that the Americans clamour for our chocolate since it is renowned for its superior taste and texture.
One of the key differences in both chocolate and hot chocolate powder produced in the USA and Europe are where the beans are sourced. For American consumers, most of their chocolate comes from South America, whereas European’s source much of their cocoa beans from Africa.
Of course, the two types of beans have distinctly different flavours and this will affect the taste of the drink. But we have to hand it to the Americans, they’re using beans that would have featured in those very first hot chocolates made by the Mayans.
Moreover, the way that hot chocolate is made is vastly different in America than it is in Europe. Most Americans will drink hot cocoa, as we discussed earlier, this is typically made from cocoa powder, milk and sugar. However, in Europe, it is much more common to make hot chocolate; which features real chocolate, melted into a liquid though as we can see in the video below simply adding a few chunks of chocolate elevates the normal US recipe to a whole new level.
There are cafes across the continent that specialise in this type of drink particularly in places like Paris where a chocolat chaud is something that any hot choccy lover has to experience.
When did hot chocolate become popular in Europe?
It wouldn’t be for at least a thousand years that Europe would be treated to the delight of drinking hot chocolate. In the first half of the 1500s, an explorer called Cortez was responsible for bringing all the necessary equipment and of course, cocoa beans over to Europe.
But whatever the Europeans were making back then was nothing like what we know and love today. The beverage was taken cold and had a very bitter twang to it. However, that wasn’t to say that it didn’t gain popularity. In fact, it was soon a firm feature in the court of Charles V of Spain who then brought it to the upper classes in the country.
But the Spanish weren’t about to leave the drink as it had always been and they wanted to put their own twist on it. It was at this point that hot chocolate became, well…hot. The chilli peppers were also taken out of the recipe and people began to sweeten the beverage instead. But they weren’t willing to share and those in Spain kept hot chocolate as a heavily guarded secret for over a century.
It wasn’t until the 1700s that hot chocolate found its way to London where the drink gained massive popularity. So much so that chocolate houses were popping up all over the place. These on trend cafes sold expensive hot chocolate and anyone who was anyone had to be seen there.
Sometime later, at the back end of the 1700s, a trip to Jamaica saw Hans Sloane from the Royal College of Physicians, bring back a new take on hot chocolate that would become instantly popular with the Brits. It included the addition of milk which up until now, had never been heard of in Europe.
But in the UK, it was a hit and even today, it is not uncommon for English hot chocolate drinkers to add a dash of milk or make the drink entirely from the dairy product.
Which country drinks the most hot chocolate?
Since leaving Mexico all those hundreds of years ago, hot chocolate has made a serious impact across the entire globe. There aren’t many places where you can’t pick up a steaming cup of this sweet beverage. But of course, there are countries that are a little more partial to a cup of the sweet stuff than others.
In 2017, a study revealed that in North America, as many as 14% of people were drinking between two and three cups of hot chocolate every day! That’s an insane amount. The study also demonstrated that 58% of Americans would drink at least one cup of the beverage every day compared with a whopping 69% of Brits and Germans who took part in the same survey.
But that is nothing on some of the other countries around the world. One statistics website demonstrates that the Portuguese are more than partial to a cup of choc with 100.2 cups per capita having been consumed over the course of 2016.
As expected, Germany featured on the top ten at number 8 with 56 cups per capita and at the bottom of the top ten was Poland whose people were sipping as many as 50.9 cups per capita. Most of the countries were located in Europe but a surprise feature was Columbia who came in at number 3 with people there drinking up to 83 cups per capita in one year.
Why is hot chocolate associated with winter?
Hot chocolate is believed to have originally been favoured as a cure for stomach issues but today, many of us associate the drink with winter. Of course, it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Wrapping up and going for a walk in the snow before coming home to a roaring fire and a mug of delicious hot chocolate is the stuff that dreams are made of.
One of the biggest reasons that the drink is so well loved during the winter months is simply that it warms you up. Wrapping your hands around the warm mug and allowing the contents to warm your insides is one of the best feelings in the world. But did you know that chocolate also releases endorphins in the brain?
These happy hormones make us feel good and boost our mood (they’re also released during exercise and sex!) So, when people are feeling a little low in the winter and need a pick-me-up, what better than a cup of hot chocolate?
Is hot chocolate healthy?
If we tell you that hot chocolate is good for you, are you going to start drinking several cups a day? Then we’d better err on the side of caution and warn you that, while it is healthy in many ways, hot chocolate is also filled with sugars and fats that can cause weight gain and related health problems.
For this reason, it is always best to limit your intake. According to Hotel Chocolat, a single cup of high street cocoa could contain as much as 20 grams of sugar; that’s a heart attack waiting to happen if you get into the habit of drinking too many cups!
However, if you drink it in moderation, hot chocolate actually has some surprising health benefits. For example, cocoa beans are packed with antioxidants that can help to give the immune system a boost as well as ensuring that the body is kept free of free radicals that can contribute to cancer and other nasty diseases. Antioxidants will also reduce inflammation.
What’s more, research has shown that cocoa can have a profound effect when it comes to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. This works by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol as well as reducing the risk of blood clots. This improved blood flow helps your health in more ways than one; with an increase in blood to the brain, it is thought that cocoa may be able to reduce the risk of conditions like Alzheimer’s Disease.
Back to the future
Hot chocolate has one of the most extensive histories of any drink, dating back more than 1500 years. Although most of us probably wouldn’t recognise the drink that the Mayans enjoyed all those years ago.
What’s most interesting is that hot chocolate is used in so many different ways around the world but one thing that every cup has in common is that this is a drink that can bring people together, boost happiness and improve our health. So grab your handy hot chocolate maker and let’s all say bottoms up for National Hot Chocolate Day.
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