Sunday, November 17, 2013

Apple #650: Hot Cocoa vs. Hot Chocolate

 It's a blustery day, and that's got me thinking about hot chocolate.

Or is it hot cocoa?

What's the difference, if there is one?

Can you guess which of these is hot chocolate and which is hot cocoa?  By the end of this entry, I bet you'll be able to.
(Photo from fine cooking)

  • The difference is in the ingredients.  Cocoa and chocolate are 2 different things.
  • You don't go to the candy store and buy a tin of powdered cocoa and eat it plain, right out of the package.  Nope, you buy a bar of chocolate.  The difference there is what is behind the difference between hot chocolate and hot cocoa.

The chocolate is the squares, the cocoa is the powder beneath.  The difference between those two is what makes the difference between hot chocolate and hot cocoa.
(Photo from Texas Cooking)

  • Hot chocolate is made -- unsurprisingly -- with chocolate.  Chocolate is made of
    • Cocoa solids -- the brown, bitter, powdery thing that makes chocolate taste like chocolate. Cocoa powder and cocoa solids are often the same thing.
    • Cocoa butter -- a rich fat that is the cocoa solid's very good friend
    • Sugar
    • Often, vanilla.  (It's one of those seemingly contradictory truisms of life that chocolate tastes better with a little vanilla added.)

  • Hot cocoa is made, as you have probably already guessed, with cocoa powder. Which is primarily just the cocoa solids. Cocoa powder has none of the fat, sugar, or vanilla that chocolate has.
  • The result is that hot chocolate has more of a creamy, luscious texture. If you use a lot of the hot chocolate, you might get something closer to a thick chocolately syrup.

Now that's a gooey cup of hot chocolate. The recipe for this Cioccolato Caldo calls for 6 ounces of dark chocolate.
(Photo from What's Cooking America. Scroll almost to the bottom of the link for the recipe)

  • Hot cocoa, on the other hand, doesn't have that creaminess already built in.  But without that extra fat in there to coat and smooth the cocoa solids, the chocolate flavor will stand out more.
  • In a lot of ways, the difference between the two is similar to milk chocolate versus dark chocolate.
  • That said, a lot also depends on your recipe.  What kind of chocolate are you using?  Is it cheap-o chocolate chips?  Or are you shaving bittersweet baking chocolate?  Or are you using the most gourmet dark chocolate that is 75% cocoa solids?  
  • If you're going the hot cocoa route, are you using generic cocoa powder?  Or will it be gourmet organic unsweetened cocoa powder?  Or are you using Dutch-processed cocoa powder, which reduces the acidity of the cocoa solids?
  • And what kind of milk are you using?  2% milk?  Whole milk? A mixture of milk and cream?  All of these decisions will affect what your hot chocolate / hot cocoa tastes like, and which of the two you might prefer. 

This cup of hot cocoa has whipped cream, sprinkles, and a peppermint stick on top. But the important part is that it's made with a combination of half & half and whole milk.  That'll get you some creamy hot cocoa.
(Photo and recipe from Real MOM Kitchen)

  • Other food bloggers have investigated this duo, and they've done side-by-side tests.  But very few say which of the two they prefer.  One blogger said that her hot chocolate was thicker and creamier, but it was also sweeter, maybe even too sweet.  So her preference fell on the side of hot cocoa.  But it wasn't a runaway victory.
  • Then she added up the calories.  Her mug of hot chocolate had 375 calories; her hot cocoa had 150.  I think that tipped her scales (pun) for certain in the direction of hot cocoa.
  • I'm guessing that, in general, both are delicious, and which one you make will probably depend more on what ingredients you happen to have in the house.


  • I can't talk about these things without giving you recipes.  Here are recipes for hot chocolate and hot cocoa from one blogger at FoodHappy who said these recipes are about as comparable as it gets on a cup-by-cup basis.  So if you want to do your own side-by-side taste test, these might be the 2 recipes to use: 

FoodHappy's Hot Chocolate by the mug

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1.5 oz to 2 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped or grated
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  1. 1.5 oz of chocolate yields a "standard-tasting" cup of hot chocolate.  2 oz yields a more "indulgent" cup.
  2. Combine milk and salt in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan. (A thick-bottomed saucepan will help keep the milk from scalding.) On medium heat, bring to a simmer.
  3. Remove from the heat, add chocolate.
  4. Let the chocolate do its own melting thing for about a minute. Then whisk until the chocolate has fully melted and combined with the milk.
  5. Whisk in the vanilla extract and serve.

FoodHappy's Hot Cocoa by the mug

  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 to 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  1. 1 tablespoon of brown sugar makes a somewhat sweet mug of hot cocoa.  2 tablespoons makes it quite sweet.
  2. In that small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine 2 tbsp of the milk, cocoa powder, brown sugar, and salt. Whisk over medium heat until the cocoa powder and brown sugar have dissolved.
  3. Then add the rest of the milk and over medium heat, bring to a simmer.
  4. Remove from heat, whisk in the vanilla extract, and serve.

Now here are a few more hot chocolate & hot cocoa recipes, in case one strikes your particular fancy:

Yasmeen Health Nut's Easy & Organic Hot Chocolate

  • 2 cups reduced fat organic milk
  • 1/2 cup or 4 oz high-quality dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
  1. Combine the chocolate and the milk in a saucepan and heat together over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Takes about 10 minutes. Serve.

An Educated Palate's Easy Creamy Hot Cocoa

  • 2 tsp Dutched cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp cream, not heated
  • 6 oz boiling water
  1. Combine cocoa powder and sugar in the mug you'll be drinking from.  Mix well.
  2. Add the cream and stir into a smooth paste.
  3. Add boiling water and stir until smooth and well-blended.  Drink.

From Scratch Club's Spiced Hot Chocolate for 4

  • 2-1/2 c whole milk
  • 4 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  1. In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, warm the milk over medium heat until it's hot and a bit frothy.
  2. Whisk in chocolate and sugar, and keep whisking until sugar has dissolved.
  3. Whisk in vanilla, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper.  Serve.

This mug of spiced hot goodness is made using both cocoa powder and semi-sweet chocolate, plus cinnamon and nutmeg and cayenne pepper and espresso.  Yowza.
(Photo and recipe from OMFG So Good)

Jo and Sue's Single Serving Hot Cocoa

  • 2 tbsp baking coca powder
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/3 c water
  • 2/3 c 1% milk
  1. In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, mix cocoa, brown sugar, and salt.
  2. Slowly stir in vanilla and water.  Then turn on heat.
  3. Heat over medium heat until boiling.
  4. Reduce heat to medium-low and keep on a slow boil for 2 minutes, stirring the entire time.
  5. After 2 minutes, add milk.  Heat to desired temperature, being careful not to allow it to boil.


Of course you can add all sorts of things to your hot cocoa or hot chocolate for further deliciousness:
  • Marshmallows
  • Homemade marshmallows (if you have a whole lot of time)
  • Whipped cream
  • Cinnamon stick
  • Peppermint stick
  • Bailey's Irish Cream
  • Brandy
  • Nutella
 I wonder if sliced bananas would be good. Oooh, maybe sliced bananas coated in chocolate....

Hot chocolate with Nutella
Photo & recipe from Honey, What's Cooking?)


  1. Harold McGee tells a possibly apocryphal yarn somewhere about some grand Spanish colonial ladies who, after being forbidden by the bishop to drink hot chocolate during mass, poisoned him with a cup of the drink. I am too indolent to supply a citation.

    Dig this one from Ferdinand Columbus:

    "They seemed to hold these almonds [referring to the cacao beans] at a great price; for when they were brought on board ship together with their goods, I observed that when any of these almonds fell, they all stooped to pick it up, as if an eye had fallen."


  2. A couple of weeks ago I went to La Chatelaine in Worthington for a cup of their very indulgent hot cocoa. I hadn't had it there in a few years, but I remembered it as very rich and delicious. This time, what they brought me was a big latte bowl full of this incredible cocoa covered in a HUGE MOUND of whipped cream and shaved chocolate. I mean, it was a HUGE MOUND. I had to scrape most of it off because, while I love it, I'm not trying to kill myself. Still, I highly recommend it. "It is so choice."


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