DIY

I Tried Making ‘Healthy’ Hot Cocoa To Turn My Winter Vice Into A Virtue

by Kim Wong-Shing
Kim Wong-Shing is a staff writer at LittleThings. Her work spans beauty, wellness, pop culture, identity, food, and other topics. She is a contributing writer at NaturallyCurly, and her work has also appeared in HelloGiggles, Lifehacker, Wear Your Voice Magazine, and other outlets. She grew up in Philadelphia, attended Brown University, and is now based in New Orleans.

healthy hot cocoa

I’m a sucker for traditions. Growing up, I always begged my mom to go all out for Christmas. I also always, always drank hot cocoa when it got cold outside. Now that I’m older, I wanted to make a “healthy” version that I could drink guilt-free without a sugar hangover.

In my youth, I would pile my hot cocoa with all of the toppings: whipped cream, cinnamon, marshmallows, the whole shebang. It’s a shame that Instagram didn’t exist then (and that I’m not much of a photographer), because these hot cocoa creations were straight-up photogenic.

Sadly, I can no longer eat the sugary things that I used to love. That rules out marshmallows and whipped cream. Regular hot cocoa mixes, too, aren’t really an option, since they usually consist of two main ingredients: cocoa powder and sugar.

Luckily, I recently stumbled upon a wholesome and healthy hot cocoa recipe when I was trying to figure out what to do with some maca powder that I bought on a whim from Trader Joe’s. There’s a healthy version of everything, and hot cocoa is no exception!

Unlike traditional hot cocoa, this “healthy” version contains many more ingredients, including maca powder, cinnamon, coconut oil, and cayenne powder. Each of these ingredients adds a unique taste to the hot cocoa that sets it apart from what I remember as a kid.

These unique ingredients also provide a range of health benefits. Maca powder, for example, is a natural mood and energy booster, and cinnamon is rich in antioxidants. Best of all, this hot cocoa contains absolutely no refined sugar. Instead, it uses maple syrup as a natural sweetener.

I played around with the original recipe a bit, and I’ve now come up with my own perfectly yummy and healthy hot cocoa. I’ll definitely be making this for the rest of the cold months. Wintertime is officially complete.

"Healthy" Hot Cocoa Ingredients

"Healthy" Hot Cocoa Ingredients
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The idea of healthy hot cocoa might sound a little strange at first, but hot chocolate was originally invented by ancient Mayans, and it wasn’t sweet — it simply contained cocoa seeds, water, chili peppers, and cornmeal. It wasn’t until the Spanish adopted the drink that they began to serve it hot and sweetened.

Chocolate itself has a range of health benefits, particularly raw cacao (which is slightly different from cocoa). It’s rich in minerals, great for heart health, and a natural mood booster.

So it only makes sense to transform modern hot cocoa — which is usually considered an unhealthy indulgence — into a health drink!

To make this hot cocoa, you’ll need:

  • Almond milk OR your plant milk of choice
  • Raw cacao powder OR unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Maple syrup
  • Maca powder
  • Turmeric (optional)
  • Cinnamon
  • Cayenne powder
  • Sea salt
  • Coconut oil (optional)

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My first attempt at “healthy” hot cocoa came after I randomly bought this bag of maca powder at Trader Joe’s. I had no idea what it was, except that it’s in a lot of healthy smoothie recipes.

Upon further research, I discovered that maca powder originally comes from Peru, and it’s rich in nutrients like vitamin C and iron. It’s another natural mood and energy booster. It’s a natural marriage for chocolate!

However, maca powder also has a really strong and distinct taste. In my first healthy hot cocoa attempt, I used half cocoa powder, half maca powder. It was REALLY “earthy” and took a while to get used to.

This time, I took a different approach.

Step 1: Combine Plant Milk and Water on Stovetop

Step 1: Combine Plant Milk and Water on Stovetop
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First, I added 1/2 cup of plant milk. I recommend almond milk, if you have it. Cashew milk or soy milk will also work just fine. You want a milk with a mild taste that won’t overpower the other ingredients.

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Then I added 1/2 cup of plain, filtered water. You can also substitute this with more plant milk for a thicker, creamier result!

Step 2: Add Dry Spices

Step 2: Add Dry Spices
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Onto the dry ingredients.

Add 1 tablespoon of raw cacao or cocoa powder. I ended up adding more in the end, because I, uh, love chocolate — but you can start with a tablespoon and add more to taste.

Raw cacao is theoretically healthier and more nutritious than cocoa powder, because it’s made from raw seeds rather than roasted ones. Still, either one will work, taste-wise!

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Then add your maca powder. This time, instead of using the same amount of maca powder as cocoa powder, I used just 1/2 teaspoon. The taste was a million times better and more subtle.

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Then I added 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric. Here’s where things got a little iffy, folks.

love turmeric. I love how it smells, I love how it tastes, and I love that gorgeous golden color. It’s also really good for you. It’s a natural anti-inflammatory, and it’s rich in curcumin, which lowers your risk of heart disease and might even prevent cancer.

I normally enjoy turmeric in every dish or drink that I add it to, but here? Not so much. The earthy taste, combined with the maca and cocoa, just tasted off somehow. It was too bitter for me.

Still, I think this might be a personal preference thing, because turmeric is in a lot of healthy hot cocoa recipes. So — I’ll let you decide!

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Next, I added several dashes of cinnamon. Mmm, cinnamon.

As such a common spice, many people don’t realize that cinnamon also boasts an impressive list of health benefits, like anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants. It can also improve your blood sugar.

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Lastly, I added a pinch of cayenne powder for an ever-so-subtle kick, and a pinch of salt.

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Then I mixed it all up in the pot with a whisk until all the ingredients were dissolved.

Step 3: Sweeten to Taste

Step 3: Sweeten to Taste
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Notice anything missing?

There is NO SUGAR in this recipe. We’re a long ways away from my childhood, when making hot cocoa simply meant pouring cocoa and refined white sugar into a mug. Instead, I used plain organic maple syrup to sweeten my hot cocoa. I started with 1 tablespoon, then added more to taste.

You can also use honey or agave as a natural sweetener.

Step 4: Add Coconut Oil

Step 4: Add Coconut Oil
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Next, I added about 1/2 tablespoon of coconut oil, because what would a DIY recipe be without coconut oil?!?!

Coconut oil boosts your energy, reduces heart disease risk, and possibly helps you burn fat more easily.

Coconut oil is also, well, an oil, so it’ll make your hot cocoa look pretty shiny and greasy. You don’t have to add it, but it does add a nice flavor.

Step 5: Stir to Combine

Step 5: Stir to Combine
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With everything finally in the pot, I stirred on low heat until it was nice and hot. Then I dispensed it into my mug.

The Finished Product

The Finished Product
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The resulting healthy hot cocoa was creamy, chocolatey, and just sweet enough. It definitely has a uniquely earthy and just slightly bitter taste, which might not be everyone’s cup of tea. But it satisfies my sweet tooth and my winter hot cocoa craving, and I like to imagine it’s just a tiny bit closer to the original, ancient version of hot chocolate.

With so many different ingredients, I definitely recommend trying this recipe a couple times. There’s a ton of room for tweaking the recipe to make it your very own!