As temperatures drop and we don our winter scarves and sweaters, it’s hard to imagine this time of year without rich, cozy hot chocolate to warm our bodies and spirits! Ambitious home cooks may consider whipping up their own, but, just like your favorite store-bought cookie dough, there is something undeniably nostalgic about that single-serve packet of instant hot chocolate. Signifying one of life’s simple pleasures, it just takes heating a cup of water or milk, and stirring in that inconspicuous brown powder to create a magical moment as you cozy up with a steaming mug of cocoa. The secret behind that moment is a few key ingredients, which help create the creamy, decadent and sweet beverage. Below we reveal some of these key ingredients and how they work.
Many hot chocolate mixes start with alkalized cocoa powder, also known as “dutch-processed”. Alkalized cocoa powder is made from roasted cocoa beans that have a majority of the fat removed to produce a dry and intense chocolate powder. As cocoa beans are naturally very acidic with fruity undertones, the alkalizing process lightens the tartness and reduces the fruit flavors in the cocoa, producing a dark and savory chocolate powder. Alkalized cocoa powder adds an intense chocolate flavor to hot chocolate mix while also contributing a rich, brown color.
Mono- and Diglycerides
The magic in hot chocolate mix is watching water and powder turn into a creamy and rich liquid. This reaction is made possible with emulsifiers, such as mono- and diglycerides, which are a group of ingredients that disperse fat in foods to allow other ingredients, such as cocoa powder, to become more water-soluble. Emulsifiers also work to keep your hot chocolate from separating once it’s mixed, so you can take your time and enjoy every sip.
Lastly, you might notice carrageenan listed on your packet of hot chocolate. This food gum, which is derived from seaweed, is often incorporated for added creaminess and a richer mouthfeel, similar to the difference between water and 2% milk. Carrageenan helps turn hot water into a more viscous liquid, similar to the heavy cream one might use when making hot chocolate from scratch – except carrageenan doesn’t add calories or fat!