As you probably know (and in case you didn’t), dark chocolate has been linked to all sorts of health benefits, and when used in small, sensible amounts, it can be a fantastic addition to your diet. Poke around the Internet and you’ll see study after study that show the flavonoids, flavanols, minerals and antioxidants in better brands of dark chocolate are great for the heart, brain and blood, among other things. Believe it or not, dark chocolate also contains theobromine, which can strengthen tooth enamel and works as a heart stimulant and diuretic, among other benefits.
Now, before you drop everything and rush out to the corner store for that cheap, over-processed candy bar, let’s get a few things straight. Good chocolate costs more and is worth that extra money, particularly if you’re using it for its health benefits. If you’re a home cook who happens to bake or a total novice new to dark chocolate, you want to buy the right kind whether it be powdered, bars, nibs or other forms.
Avoid the usual pre-sweetened brands and go for pure, unsweetened cacao that’s certified organic/kosher as well as gluten free, vegan and non-GMO. Brands such as Viva Labs, Navitas Natural or Freedom Super Foods that state “natural” or “raw” on their packages are your best bet. Other non-organic brands from companies such as Guittard, King Arthur, Ramstadt-Breda and Choclatique are phenomenal substitutes, but all carry a premium price point. The options are staggering, but if you love chocolate and are willing to experiment, you’ll just need to flip a coin and choose.
While unsweetened “Dutch” processed cocoa powder may seem like a great (and less expensive) alternative, caveat emptor. They’re all treated with alkali to neutralize cocoa’s natural acidity. You want your chocolate as pure as possible for those benefits as well as the taste difference, which is notable the better quality the chocolate you buy. If you’re buying dark chocolate in bars, look for at least 70 percent cacao, nothing less. Yes, your taste buds may scream at you initially. But once you get accustomed to it, you’ll want to keep playing around with assorted recipes every chance you get.
Speaking of recipes, if you’re thinking of making hot dark chocolate, a few things to keep in mind:
While whole milk or a mixture of skim milk and half and half work best, you can also use almond, cashew or coconut milk if you want to keep it a bit more healthful. Soy milk doesn’t seem to do well in the recipes I’ve tried, but that’s a personal preference.
If you drink a lot of hot chocolate, you can (and should) make a large quantity of dry dark chocolate mix to use as you go and store in an airtight container. This will save you time if you’re making a larger quantity for friends or that special someone.
When making your cup, absolutely do NOT put your milk or any chocolate you’re making it with into a microwave. Seriously. Take the time to whip this up right and you’ll see, smell and taste the difference from the first cup.
After playing around with a few recipes from friends and online sources over time, this one is the simplest no-fuss/no fault one I fall back on:
Mix together 2 cups dark cocoa powder and 1 cup unrefined sugar (maple sugar is great). Optional: 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon and/or 1 teaspoon vanilla powder and/or a pinch of sea or kosher salt. Store as noted above in an airtight container. This should make about 12 cups, but feel free to double the recipe if you’re a total chocoholic. To whip this up, per serving add 1 cup milk and 2-3 tablespoons cocoa mix into a small saucepan, turn the heat on and stir constantly until heated. Don’t boil it!
If you want a less sweet or unsweetened mix, lessen or omit the sugar entirely and drop the pinch of salt if you’ve used it. Guests can add their own sweetener (maple syrup, agave syrup, honey, etc.) and definitely add a drop of organic vanilla extract to each cup. As for making hot chocolate with dark chocolate bars or other solid-form chocolates, invest in a double boiler and poke around the Internet for recipes you can try out. The extra work involved is worth it if you want a really deep chocolate flavor as well as something that just looks sexy when you’re making it from scratch for someone else. There are more than enough types and brands of dark chocolate to choose from, so be prepared to do a lot of hunting.
Finally, while I’m not a marshmallow fan, if you go that route as an addition to your cups, take the time to look up a decent marshmallow recipe so you control what’s inside them. Popular brand store-bought marshmallows are pretty disgusting as a “treat” once you read the ingredients. You’d be wise to hit up a search engine for “gelatin-free homemade marshmallows” and see where that takes you. No matter how you go about making it or even if you eat it straight from the bar, absolutely try out dark chocolate and learn to love it. With proper moderation and in addition to other healthy lifestyle choices, the benefits will speak for themselves.
Edited by: Avery Osborn
Don’t Just Be Fit. Be Gamer Fit.