Chocolate. Just the word conjures up the taste of rich hot cocoa and the snap of a pure chocolate bar. For some, it is tied to the memory of a favorite birthday cake or the fluttering nerves of a first Valentine’s Day date. For others, it’s an everyday treat to be slowly savored with a mug of tea.
We often think of chocolate only in the context of a sweet dessert. Yet, the chocolate we know today is quite different from how it was consumed originally. Did you know that during the vast majority of chocolate’s 2000-year history it was enjoyed as a beverage—and not even a sweet one? As far back as 1400 B.C.E., chocolate was prepared as a bitter drink that was sometimes fermented. It wasn’t until after Europeans set foot in the Americas that chocolate was sweetened. The first chocolate bar was created hundreds of years later, in the mid-19th century.
Today, chocolate is big business, with Americans buying more than $345 million in chocolate candy during Valentine’s week, making up 5.1 percent of annual sales. How much chocolate do people eat around the world?
With the abundance of chocolate in stores across the U.S., we may think we eat the most of anyone. Not true! People in Germany, Switzerland, and the U.K. eat about twice as much chocolate per year as those in the U.S. Europeans consume nearly half the world’s cocoa (Americans consume just over 20 percent) of the supply.
Enough statistics. How about nutrition? Cocoa contains vitamin E and some of the B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin and niacin), as well as minerals such as magnesium, copper, phosphorus and zinc. Chocolate is also rich in flavanols, a substance that protects the body against oxidative damage and may help improve blood flow to the brain and heart. To benefit from these flavanols, choose dark chocolate over highly processed milk chocolate and cocoa powder that has not undergone Dutch processing. Enjoying an ounce of chocolate once in a while is something to which I can raise my glass!
Speaking of raising my glass…how about a mug of spiced chocolate tea? It’s perfect for those days when you want a taste of chocolate without the calorie-commitment of hot cocoa. Sweeten and spice to your taste.
Spiced Chocolate Tea
Recipe by Jessie Erwin, RD, LDN
½ cup milk
½ cup water
1 black tea bag or 1 Tbsp. loose black tea
4 to 5 chocolate chips
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ Tbsp. sugar or to taste (optional)
- Place teabag or loose tea in strainer into mug. Add chocolate chips and cinnamon. Add sugar (if using).
- Mix water and milk. Heat in small saucepan over low heat until bubbles form.
- Pour heated mixture into mug. Mix until chocolate is melted. Top with whipped cream and more cinnamon for an extra special treat.