National Hot Chocolate Day
January 31st – the last day of a new year, and what better way to go out than with National Hot Chocolate Day? This holiday was scheduled for exactly the right time of year; cooler winter months where all anyone wants is a hot drink to warm up their hands!
A Short History
Archeologists excavating sites in Mesoamerica were probably surprised to find a version of hot chocolate in the Mayan living areas from as far back as 500BC. Hot chocolate seems, to us, like a fairly modern drink. But in reality, it’s been around for centuries.
The original chocolate drink made by the Mayans, called xocōlātl, consisted of crushed cocoa seeds, water, and chili peppers. It wasn’t long before foreigners looking to conquer the area were introduced to xocōlātl and brought the concept back to Europe, where it grew in popularity quickly.
During this introductory period – in 1500s Spain end eventually 1700s London – chocolate was extremely expensive. That meant that this beverage became a hit with the upper class, as it was seen as a luxury (and still is!).
At some point, Hans Sloane, president of the Royal College of Physicians, came across a recipe from Jamaica that called for mixing chocolate with milk. Milk gave the drink a different texture and a more palatable taste, thus setting the main foundation for the drink we know and love today.
Hot Chocolate Across Cultures
Hot chocolate made its way around the globe quickly, and minute changes were made depending on the locale. The simplest and most common versions of the drink are based on two key ingredients; cocoa powder vs. chocolate sauce.
Hot chocolate is made with sauce, hot cocoa is made with powder. In America, hot cocoa is extremely popular. This is in part due to the convenient packaging of hot cocoa mixes that can be added to any hot milk, water, or milk alternative. Unfortunately, these pre-packaged mixes are usually low quality and not very healthy.
In Italy, they drink a very thick version of hot chocolate called cioccolata densa. It has an almost pudding-like viscosity from the addition of corn starch.
Colombia took their hot chocolate to another level, combining it with another much-loved treat: cheese! Their hot chocolate is topped with soft, gooey farmer’s cheese.
Mumbai hot chocolate, from India, is blended with white chocolate and a variety of spices including cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger for an added kick.
Even if you’ve never experienced Belgian hot chocolate first hand, you’ve probably heard of it. In this part of the world, they use the famous Belgian chocolate, both dark and milk varieties, mixed into whole milk and usually topped with whipped cream.
And then there’s Mexico, where the Mayan legacy still lives on. Rich Mexican chocolate with a pinch of chili pepper brightens the flavor and sharpens the senses.
No matter which version of hot chocolate you prefer, it’s the perfect time of year to take the time to make and enjoy a cup! We’ve had the privilege of experiencing this beverage as it evolved over hundreds of years into a nostalgic childhood marker as well as a comforting cold-weather drink.