First up, a little history lesson for you. When the Spanish conquistadors first arrived in the Americas they found the indigenous people there drinking a bitter mixture made from the native cocoa beans. Combine Spanish sugar with Latin American cocoa beans, and hey presto, chocolate, as we know it anyway, was created.
Fast-forward to the present day and chocolate looms large everywhere as Easter approaches. Unfortunately the majority is high in fat and often even higher in sugar – a seemingly irresistible formula that’s far removed from the health tonic the Mayans once enjoyed. But there is hope in the humble cup of cocoa.
Cocoa powder, the basis of all chocolate, is the fourth-most polyphenol-rich ingredient of all foods tested so far, right behind star anise, peppermint and cloves (all of which we eat in much lower amounts).
Being packed full of flavour, but with far fewer calories, it means you can make super-chocolately puddings, milkshakes and hot cocoa without piling on the pounds. With just 4 tablespoons of natural cocoa powder giving you the same amount of polyphenols and minerals as an 85g bar of dark chocolate, a single cup of comforting hot cocoa made using this could give you the beneficial amount for fewer than 250 calories, about half those of eating dark chocolate!
Add this to the fact that cocoa powder is roughly a third fibre, with a serving this size providing around the same amount as a bowl of bran cereal, and you’re onto something pretty special. So, in honour of the Mayans, the original Gods of chocolate, here’s a recipe (plus five tasty variations) from my book, How to Eat Better, for the richest, thickest, virtuously sugar-free hot chocolate to enjoy this weekend. Happy Easter!
Makes: 1 large mug
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
4 tbsp natural cocoa powder (choose ‘non-dutched’ without potassium carbonate)
1 tbsp granulated stevia (baking blend)
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp mixed spice
Pinch of salt
350ml semi-skimmed milk
COMBINE the cocoa powder, stevia, vanilla extract, mixed spice and salt with a little of the milk in a large microwavable mug to make a smooth paste (this is a lot of cocoa, so this can take a while!), then gradually whisk in enough of the remaining milk to fill the mug.
Heat in the microwave on high for 2-3 minutes. Done!
- Orange zest
Make the hot chocolate as above, adding the finely grated zest of 1 orange to the ingredients. Top each mug with 1tsp whipped double cream, a dried orange slice and a few chocolate chips.
Crumble ½ tsp saffron threads into powder over a plate. Make the hot chocolate as above, adding the powdered saffron to the ingredients. Top each mug with 1tsp whipped double cream and a few extra saffron threads.
- Mexican spice
Make the hot chocolate as above, adding ¼ tsp chilli powder to the ingredients. Top each mug with 1tsp whipped double cream, a small slice of red chilli, a sprinkling of pink peppercorns and add a cinnamon stick for stirring.
- Red velvet
Make the hot chocolate as above, replacing half the milk with beetroot juice. (I know this sounds weird but it totally works, just like chocolate beetroot cake does.) Top each mug with 1 tsp whipped double cream and some freeze-dried strawberries.