The Healthy Hot Chocolate Recipe This Nutritionist Loves
Registered dietitian and plant-based diet specialist Cynthia Sass shares her healthy hot chocolate recipe with plant-based ingredients, like oat milk, cashew butter, and maple syrup.
Healthy hot chocolate with oat milk
Wrapping your hands around a mug of hot cocoa and delighting in its chocolaty aroma is a comforting winter ritual. But many of the just-add-water varieties are loaded with refined sugar and unwanted ingredients, like preservatives and hydrogenated oils. Fortunately, it’s easy to whip up a do-it-yourself version with healthful, plant-based ingredients that provide more nutrients, and all the satisfaction. (Also, here are the best protein vegan powders and how to use them.)
Health benefits of cocoa
The star ingredient in hot cocoa—cocoa powder—is rich in anti-inflammatory flavonols known to support heart health. These protective compounds are substantially reduced when the cocoa is processed with alkali to reduce acidity—this is also known as Dutch processing or Dutching; that’s why the recipe below specifies non-Dutched cocoa.
According to a review of studies, published in 2020 in the journal Nutrients, consuming antioxidant-rich cocoa reduces the risk of heart disease and metabolic disorders, has a positive impact on the immune and nervous systems, curbs cancer risk, and supports intestinal and systemic anti-inflammatory activities. Cocoa antioxidants also act as prebiotics, which feed beneficial gut bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, while simultaneously reducing the number of potentially harmful intestinal bacteria. (Here are the signs your gut health is in trouble.)
How to make healthy hot chocolate with oat milk
I like to use oat milk as the base for hot chocolate. Its creamy texture mimics the richness of dairy milk. And since it’s made from whole grain oats, it also provides energy-supporting B vitamins and antioxidants, according to a study published in a 2018 issue of Food Research International. It’s also one of the most eco-friendly plant options, due to its lower water requirements, suggests a study in Science.
Use cashew butter
The cashew butter further richens the texture of the drink, and adds healthful fat, about four grams of plant protein, antioxidants, and a range of nutrients, including B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, iron, and manganese.
Sweeten with maple syrup
I opted for maple syrup for its distinct flavor, sweetness, and nutrients. This natural sweetener has been shown to contain dozens of unique antioxidants, according to a study in Pharmaceutical Biology. One tablespoon provides over 30 percent of the Daily Value for manganese, a mineral that supports bone health, collagen production, and wound healing. (Here are the other health benefits maple syrup nutrition has to offer.)
Add cinnamon and vanilla
In addition to its warm, earthy flavor, cinnamon adds bonus anti-inflammatory antioxidants and has been shown to help regulate blood sugar levels, lower “bad” LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, and boost “good” HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. The vanilla extract and sea salt add additional layers of flavor to each blissful sip.
Healthy Hot Chocolate
Courtesy Cynthia Sass, MPH, MA, RD, CSSD
This cocoa is like a cashew dark chocolate bar in a liquid form. Relish it as a treat, and savor it mindfully. This recipe makes one serving, but you can double, triple, etc. if you’ll be enjoying it with others.
1 cup unsweetened oat milk
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
1/3 cup filtered water
1 tablespoon non-alkalized, or non-Dutched cocoa powder
2 tablespoons cashew butter
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon sea salt
Dairy-free whipped cream (optional)
½ teaspoon 70% dark chocolate, shaved or finely chopped (optional)
Place the oat milk and maple syrup in a small saucepan over low heat. Warm, stirring continuously, for about two minutes. Add the water, cocoa powder, cashew butter, cinnamon, vanilla, and sea salt, and continue to stir until the solids are dissolved and the mixture is smooth and uniform (about five minutes).
Transfer to a mug and garnish with dairy-free whipped cream and dark chocolate (if desired).
Note: If you’re allergic to nuts, replace the cashew butter with sunflower seed butter. If you’re allergy-free and enjoy mixing things up, test out different types of nut or seed butter, like pumpkin, hazelnut, peanut, walnut, macadamia, or pecan.
For some more hot chocolate recipes, check out Taste of Home:
- Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: "Impact of Alkalization on the Antioxidant and Flavanol Content of Commercial Cocoa Powders"
- Nutrients: "Cocoa Polyphenols and Gut Microbiota Interplay: Bioavailability, Prebiotic Effect, and Impact on Human Health"
- Food Research International: "Oats in healthy gluten-free and regular diets: A perspective"
- Science: "Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers"
- USDA: "Cashew butter"
- Linus Pauling Institute: Micronutrient Information Center: "Maganese"
- Pharmaceutical Biology: "High-Performance Liquid Chromatography Characterization and Identification of Antioxidant Polyphenols in Maple Syrup"
- BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies: "Medicinal properties of ‘true’ cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum): a systematic review"