In any random survey of everyone’s favorite guilty-pleasure food, chocolate undoubtedly would top the list. It’s one of the most popular confections in the world, with chocolate makers dominating candyindustry.com’s Global Top 100 Candy Companies. But in truth, chocolate isn’t really a guilty pleasure at all: In its purest form, chocolate is loaded with nutrients. So, in honor of this exciting fact, here’s a healthy version of Mexican hot chocolate loaded with mood-elevating and brain-boosting ingredients that will satisfy your cravings.
What, exactly, is chocolate?
Chocolate is a highly concentrated powder made from chocolate liquor, a paste derived from cocoa beans — the fruit of the cacao. Many of us are used to chocolate in bar form, which is typically highly processed and loaded with additives like sugar, milk and artificial flavors. This version of chocolate is not healthy at all. If you’re going to pick up a chocolate bar, dark chocolate is a better bet; it has less sugar and provides more of the health benefits of the cacao fruit.
If you want to truly reap the benefits of the cacao plant, go for raw cacao powder. This superfood contains high amounts of sulfur, magnesium, phenylethylamine, flavonoids and antioxidants, which help keep you focused and alert, lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, burn fat, and our personal favorite: foster a great mood.
This healthy version of hot chocolate is called chocolate caliente in Mexico. That’s because the cacao plant actually originated in the equatorial regions of the Americas and was probably first cultivated by the indigenous Mayan, Tolec and Aztec peoples more than 3,000 years ago. In Mexico, hot chocolate is traditionally prepared with whole milk and tablets of “table chocolate,” which is available in most Mexican grocery stores. These tablets contain a mix of chocolate, cinnamon and sugar. This recipe uses cacao powder to avoid the processed sugar but includes the cinnamon, which also has brain-boosting benefits. To make this vegan and complete its healthy profile, homemade oat milk replaces cow’s milk.
The good-for-you ingredients
All in all, this hot chocolate recipe is not only healthy but packed with ingredients that can help lift your spirits:
Cacao powder: Cacao stimulates the brain to release particular neurotransmitters, which help elevate and regulate mood. Cacao produces two chemicals when consumed. One is phenylethylamine (PEA), an adrenaline-related chemical that the body produces when excited, quickening the pulse and increasing focus and awareness. The other is anandamide, a lipid known as the “bliss molecule.”
Oats: Oats contain high levels of the amino acid tryptophan, which is converted to serotonin in the body and helps promote relaxation and anxiety relief.
Cinnamon: Cinnamon battles inflammation, which is believed to a leading cause of depression and anxiety.
And now that we have that important business out of the way, let’s dive into this recipe.
¼ cup sweetener (Medjool dates, agave, maple syrup and raw cane sugar all work well)
½ tablespoon cinnamon + 1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean powder
⅛ teaspoon of cayenne pepper (optional)
Pinch of salt
Preparing your own oat milk is actually quite simple. Many recipes advise soaking the oats before making the milk, but this makes the oat milk somewhat slimy and not as appetizing. Also, not soaking makes oat milk a five-minute process.
Simply add the oats, water, dates and salt to a high-powered blender, such as a Vitamix or Blendtec. Standard (low-powdered) blenders are great for smoothies and other liquids, but they typically don’t have enough power to adequately blend nut and grain milks. Blend the ingredients on high until completely smooth (about 60 seconds). The dates are for sweetness, so adding more dates will make your oat milk sweeter, but you can leave them out if you prefer. The oil is also optional, but the oil emulsifies while blending, making the oat milk creamier and thicker.
When you’re done blending, strain out the remaining pulp. The easiest way is to use a nut-milk bag, which is made of very fine mesh fiber that can filter out fine pulp. Lacking that, you can use cheesecloth or paper towels over a fine mesh sieve, or even a clean cotton t-shirt. Once you strain the milk, taste it. It will be very creamy and thick. If you prefer a thinner consistency, simply add water as desired. This recipe will yield 4-5 cups depending on how much additional water you add.
Store your oat milk in an airtight container in the fridge for up to five days. Some separation will occur; just shake it well before using.
To make the hot chocolate, add 2 cups of oat milk and 2 cups of water to a saucepan with a stick of cinnamon. (If you heat it on its own, homemade oat milk tends to get slimy.) The mixture will still thicken as it heats, but it actually works perfectly to give the hot chocolate a thick, decadent consistency — which is what happens naturally when you use melted table chocolate rather than cacao powder. Heat the mixture over medium-low heat until the cinnamon is fragrant, about 5-10 minutes. Once fragrant, remove the cinnamon stick and add the liquid and remaining ingredients to the blender. An unrefined sweetener such as dates, agave or maple syrup works. Processed sugars can cause inflammation, which could lead to anxiety and depression and defeat the purpose of this mood-boosting recipe. The cayenne pepper is optional but recommended. The chili-chocolate combo is a popular Mexican flavor pairing and is surprisingly delicious — not to mention, the cayenne provides a nice kick that helps wake you up in the morning. With the additional focus and alertness provided from the cacao, this recipe makes a great replacement for your morning coffee.
To serve, simply pour the Mexican hot chocolate into mugs. It’s especially delicious and appealing with a dollop of whipped coconut cream and a dash of cacao powder. The beverage is perfectly delicious as is. And that’s all there is to it!