I love a rich, dark hot chocolate, but most of the hot chocolates you buy at a café are high in calories with loads of sugar and cream. If you search the internet for dark hot chocolate recipes to make your own, the top results also have so much sugar and cream the drink becomes dessert instead of a warm morning beverage.
This recipe for Low Sugar Dark Hot Chocolate is the recipe my mom always used when we were growing up. However, I've adapted it to have reduced sugar. My mom used to make us this dark hot chocolate after a cold day of playing in the snow and still makes it for us as adults when we visit for the holidays. (I hope she doesn't mind me sharing her secret recipe!)
One of the reasons it's popular in my family is because it has only 5 ingredients, including the milk. It's quick and easy to make, and it uses ingredients you likely already have in the pantry: cocoa, sugar, vanilla, and salt.
Demi-Tasse Sipping Chocolate
This recipe for Low Sugar Dark Hot Chocolate yields just 4 oz. of hot cocoa per serving. Because it is rich, and we're keeping sugar to a minimum, it's recommended to enjoy this beverage in a demi-tasse, or small sipping cup. You can put it in a small mug, espresso cup, or teacup. Think of it as the size of a double espresso (with much less caffeine!).
Which cocoa to use: Dutch-processed cocoa or Regular Cocoa?
Many recipes will call for "Dutch-processed cocoa," as if this is a premium cocoa powder. The truth is that cocoa, or "cacao," is processed from the time it's harvested through to final form. In each phase of processing the cocoa loses some nutritional value.
"Natural" or regular cocoa powder will still retain some healthy antioxidants. However, Dutch-processed cocoa actually removes most of these nutrients in cocoa; therefore, it has less health benefits.
For more information on potential health benefits of chocolate, see Is Dark Chocolate Good For You?.
Cocoa is naturally acidic due to its flavonols, a type of antioxidant. Dutch-processed cocoa removes the acidity with an alkaline solution. In other words, Dutch-processed cocoa removes the flavonols and consumers end up with a cocoa powder without the antioxidants.
I recommend avoiding the Dutch cocoa and enjoy the slightly acidic antioxidants in the cocoa that you use to make your hot chocolate.
(Note: If you ever bake with natural cocoa, from a chemistry perspective, be sure to use baking soda instead of baking powder with the recipe. Baking soda is also alkaline, or basic, and allows the baked good to leaven and rise.)
Choosing More Ethical Cocoa Powders and Chocolate
My final note on choosing cocoa is to choose fair trade brands. Look for Fair Trade International Certified, Fair Trade USA Certified, Rainforest Alliance Certified, UTZ Certified, and Fair For Life Certified products when possible. Slave labor is an unfortunate practice in cocoa bean harvesting. Large companies like Hershey, Nestle, and Mars are often accused of slave and child labor and are unable to deny these allegations since they can't trace all of their cocoa farms back to specific farms. Read more in the Washington Post or in Food Politics.
Fair trade is not a perfect system, but it is a step in the right direction to eradicating slavery. Fair trade products are definitely more expensive and even more so as inflation pushes food prices up.
However, since chocolate is a luxury item, consider if you're willing to put out an extra $5 to prevent child slave labor or if you're willing to just forego purchasing cocoa until you can afford to pay people to harvest those cacao beans for you. If we're not part of the solution, we're part of the problem.
Global Citizen has a list of ethical chocolate brands. Trader Joe's carries Fair Trade cacao powder.
Look for these symbols on your cocoa or chocolate products:
Allergen Information for Low Sugar Dark Chocolate
Low Sugar Dark Hot Chocolate pairs well with a plant-based milk like almond milk, but works just as well with cow's milk. For those with dairy and nut allergies, try soy, oat, rice, or hemp milk.
Once you choose a milk that fits your dietary needs, your Low Sugar Dark Hot Chocolate will be free of the Top 8 or 9 allergens (depending on the milk you choose).
Recipe for Low Sugar Dark Chocolate
Prep Time: 2 mins.
Cook Time: 8 mins.
Total Time: 10 mins.
Yield: 2 servings of 4 oz. sipping chocolate
8 oz. almond milk (or your milk of choice)
2 Tbsp natural, Fair Trade cocoa powder
3 or 4 tsp sugar
2 tsp vanilla
dash of salt
Put each ingredient into a small saucepan over medium heat.
Whisk until ingredients are well combined and chocolate is simmering.
Pour into two small demi-tasse, teacups, or mugs and sip for a cozy pick-me-up!
Each serving has just 8g of sugar per serving if you use all 4 tsp of sugar. (If you only add 3 tsp of sugar to the recipe, each serving will have just 6g of added sugar, but it may not be sweet enough for your taste.)
Saturated fat varies based on milk chosen. Choosing almond milk will render negligible saturated fat (<1g), but will offer about 1g of healthy mono- and poly-unsaturated fats per serving.