How to Make Healthier Hot Chocolate 

Nothing says settling in to enjoy winter more than making yourself a mug of hot chocolate. Whether you’re in the pro-marshmallow camp or not, there is something relaxing about stirring together chocolate and warm milk – or dairy alternatives – to create a rich and steamy cup of sweet goodness on a cold day. It’s the go-to drink for kids coming in from sledding, as an after-shoveling treat, or just a way to sip and relax by yourself. 

In the U.S., when most people talk about hot chocolate, they think about a powdered mix that calls for either hot water or milk to be added and mixed. But these can taste too sweet, be gritty or have unmixed dry clumps floating in the mug. To create a better-tasting and healthier hot chocolate, it is really easy to make your own mix from just a handful of ingredients you likely already have in your kitchen. Homemade hot chocolate has fewer of the preservatives and additives found in the commercial hot cocoa mixes, so this makes the from-scratch version a healthier choice. Making it yourself also lets you control how much sugar you use, and lets you decide how deep you want the chocolate flavor to taste. Let’s look at a couple basic recipes that you can have prepped to sip in minutes. 

Prep your chocolate. Most from-scratch recipes for hot cocoa call for either unsweetened cocoa powder, which you can find in a container or bag in your grocery store’s baking aisle, or chocolate pieces. These can be chocolate chips, baking chocolate bars cut into chunks, or chocolate that has been shaved or grated.  

Pick your dairy alternative. Cow’s milk has long been the most popular choice when making homemade hot chocolate, but there’s been a shift in that recently, with people exploring the health and taste benefits of dairy alternatives. Some people are making the switch to plant-based products due to social or environmental reasons, but there’s also a large number of people who have lactose intolerance. About 68% of the world’s population has some form of lactose intolerance, according to U.S. health officials. Especially as people get older, they may discover they are not able to digest lactose, a type of natural sugar found in milk. Drinking milk can cause bloating, gas or other digestive issues, so these people find it much easier to pick a non-dairy alternative. Some popular choices include: 

  • Oat milk 
  • Almond, cashew or another nut milk 
  • Soy milk 
  • Rice milk 

Once you decide on a milk alternative, look at the sugar content and think about how that will affect the recipe. For example, if you are using a sweetened almond milk or even a vanilla-flavored milk alternative, you likely will want to add less sugar to your recipe at first. You can always add more later once you taste it. 

Easy recipe. One of the easiest hot cocoa recipes has just five ingredients and can be made on your stovetop. Here is a version of the basic recipe. Whisk the ingredients together in a pan over low heat on the stove until it reaches a light boil, then cool, pour into mugs and serve.  

  • ¼ cup granulated sugar 
  • ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder 
  • 4 cups whole milk or milk alternative 
  • ½ cup semisweet chocolate 
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract 

European flair. Most Europeans have traditional cocoa drinks that are more centered on the rich chocolate flavor. Many start by using either chunks or shavings of bittersweet chocolate containing 70% cacao. Want to add a little more depth to the flavor at home? Stir in a pinch of cinnamon or even chili pepper to a recipe like the one below. Combine all the ingredients in a pan and whisk slowly over medium heat until it reaches a light boil. Cool and serve. 

  • 4 cups whole milk or milk alternative 
  • 8 oz. dark baking chocolate, chopped 
  • ¼ teaspoon of salt 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 


 Photo credit: Getty images

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