Hot chocolate (also known as hot cocoa) is a heated beverage typically consisting of shaved chocolate, melted chocolate or cocoa powder, heated milk or water, and sugar. Drinking chocolate is similar to hot chocolate, but is made from melted chocolate shavings or paste, rather than a powdered mix that is soluble in water. Also, drinking chocolate usually is not as sweet as hot chocolate.
The first chocolate beverage is believed to have been created by the Mayas around 2,000 years ago, and a cocoa beverage was an essential part of Aztec culture by 1400 AD (Chrystal, 2012).
The beverage became popular in Europe after being introduced from Mexico in the New World, and has undergone multiple changes since then.
Until the 19th century, hot chocolate was even used medicinally to treat ailments such as stomach diseases . 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.
An early Classic (460-480 AD) 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. An example of a glyph is shown.
Figure : The word "kakaw", the Mayan for "cacao" written in the Maya script.
To make the chocolate drink, which was served cold, the Maya ground cocoa seeds into a paste and mixed it with water, cornmeal, chilli peppers, and other ingredients. They then poured the drink back and forth from a cup to a pot until a thick foam developed, a process described in detail by Dufour and de Ledesma (Dufour, 1685).
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 2,000 cups of xocolatl per day, 50 of which were consumed by Montezuma himself .
The drink tasted spicy and bitter, unlike modern hot chocolate, which is typically sweet . 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. Cormier (1978) identified that at this time, chocolate still only existed in the bitter drink invented by the Mayas .
Figure : Cacao tree with fruit pods in various stages of ripening.
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.
Sweet-tasting hot chocolate was then invented, leading hot chocolate to become a luxury item among the European nobility by the 17th century (Brown, 1995; Ross, 1994).
In the late 17th century, 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, the first cocoa powder producing machine was developed in the Netherlands. The press separated the greasy cocoa butter from cacao seeds, leaving a purer chocolate powder behind. This powder, much like the instant cocoa powder used today, was easier to stir into milk and water. As a result, another very important discovery was made: solid chocolate. By using cocoa powder and low amounts of cocoa butter, it was then possible to manufacture bar chocolate. The term "chocolate" then came to mean solid chocolate, rather than hot chocolate.
While hot chocolate is generally consumed for pleasure, there are several potential health benefits associated with drinking hot chocolate.
A 2003 study from Cornell University found that cocoa contains large amounts of antioxidants that may help prevent cancer.
Also, the Cocoa Bean has demonstrated evidence that it helps with digestion.
From the 16th to 19th centuries, hot chocolate was valued as a medicine as well as a drink.
The explorer Francisco Hernández wrote that chocolate beverages helped treat fever and liver disease.
Another explorer, Santiago de Valverde Turices, believed that large amounts of hot chocolate were helpful in treating chest ailments and that smaller amounts could help stomach disorders.
When chocolate was introduced to the French in the 17th century, it was reportedly used "to fight against fits of anger and bad moods", which may be attributed to chocolate's phenylethylamine content. Today, hot chocolate is consumed for pleasure rather than medicinally, but new research suggests that there may be other health benefits attributed to the drink.
On the other hand, several negative effects can be attributed to drinking hot chocolate . Some hot chocolate recipes contain high amounts of sugar.
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 in green tea. 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 .
Figure : Amounts of antioxidants contained in cocoa, red wine and green tea.
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 may be beneficial to cardiovascular health (Visioli, Bernardini, Poli, & Paoletti, 2012).
Several negative effects may be attributed to the drinking of hot chocolate. The types and severity of health risks vary between different styles of hot chocolate. Hot chocolate made from milk also contains the sugars naturally found in milk. Processed cocoa powder usually contains additional sugars. Some brands also contain hydrogenated oils and fats, the most common of which are coconut derivatives .
The very small amount of caffeine found in cocoa may also be a concern, though 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.
One preliminary study showed that post-exercise consumption of low fat chocolate milk provided equal or possibly superior muscle recovery compared to a high-carbohydrate recovery beverage with the same amount of calories.
Brown, P. B. (1995). In praise of hot liquors : the study of chocolate, coffee and tea-drinking 1600 - 1850 : an exhibition at Fairfax House, York 1st September to 20th November 1994. York: York Civic Trust.
Chrystal, P. (2012). A history of chocolate in York. Barnsley: Remember When.
Cormier, R. (1978). The chocolate war. London, etc.,: Macmillan.
Dufour, P. S. (1685). The manner of making of coffee, tea, and chocolate as it is used in most parts of Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, with their vertues. London: Printed for William Crook ...
Ross, R. (1994). The Chocolate Man. African American Review, 28(3), 389-394. doi: 10.2307/3041975
Visioli, F., Bernardini, E., Poli, A., & Paoletti, R. (2012). Chocolate and Health: A Brief Review of the Evidence Chocolate and Health (pp. 63-75): Springer.