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Fri, Dec. 13

Get comfortable with a cup of hot chocolate

Cure the holiday blues with a wonderful cup of hot chocolate. (Adobe Images)

Cure the holiday blues with a wonderful cup of hot chocolate. (Adobe Images)

If the frenzy of Christmas shopping and planning for all of those holiday festivities is leaving you a bit overwhelmed, why not take a break? Turn off your phone and curl up with a steaming cup of hot chocolate.

Some form of this chocolate drink has been around for over 2,000 years, and we have the Olmec civilization to thank for their curiosity and innovation because they were the first to roast the fruit of the cacao tree, grind it down and mix it with water, albeit cold.

The Mayans and Aztecs decided to add chilies and toasted corn to their version of the chocolate drink, and when the Spaniards came across this elixir, they added sugar, cinnamon and heated it up.

Of course it evolved from then into what we drink now, which is mostly hot cocoa not hot chocolate, even though we use the terms interchangeably.

Chocolate starts out as cacao seeds that are fermented, dried and roasted, leaving cacao nibs. The shells are removed and the nibs crushed into a thick paste called chocolate liquor.

It was a Dutch chemist and chocolate maker back in the 1800s who invented a process that separated the fat from the chocolate liquor leaving a dry powdery cake, hence the name Dutch process cocoa, so when we drink hot cocoa it is either made from cocoa powder, natural or Dutch process.

True hot chocolate is made with shaved or ground cacao that has its full fat and a slightly acidic bite. That bitterness also means we get the full benefit of all of the antioxidants that chocolate has, so when we drink the real thing we can feel good about it, not that we wouldn’t feel good about drinking it anyway. It is a natural anti-depressant after all.

And since it’s an anti-depressant you may want to save some for after the holidays so you won’t feel so bad when you open up those credit card statements.

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