How do you like your hot chocolate? If you’re one of the majority of chocoholics who like their hot cocoa sweet, adding a spoonful of sugar makes all the difference. But while there are lots of sweeteners you can use, not all are created equal.
Today we’re digging into the most common, natural sweeteners for hot cocoa, as well as some alternatives you may never have even heard of. Because if you carefully consider the sweetener you use in hot chocolate, the right one will allow you to enjoy your hot cocoa with all of the delicious and none of the guilt.
Homemade Hot Chocolate Hacks
- Start With Sauce. If you make more than one cup of hot chocolate a week, I highly recommend making a batch of 2-ingredient chocolate sauce using real chocolate, and keeping it in the fridge. Rinse & repeat, as needed. You just pick how strong you want your hot chocolate, then add water or your milk of choice until it’s juuuuust right.
- Stir in Some Flavor. Once you’ve gotten your hot chocolate up & running, it’s time to stir everything together, and what better to use than a candy cane or honey stick! This upgrades the flavor, as well as saving one more spoon from a trip to the dishwasher.
- Swap Water for Tea. If you’re trying to make a vegan hot chocolate without compromising on flavor, why not take it one step further with some brew? I’m not talking beer, but I am referring to coffee and tea, two caffeinated drinks that need no introduction. Switching out the water or milk in hot chocolate for a tea brewed to your desired strength can elevate a simple hot cocoa into an earl grey chocolate masterpiece.
- Add a Theme. There are so many things you can add to hot chocolate, but instead of including just one thing, consider adding a combination of spices and extracts to make it a whole new beverage. Think beyond broiled marshmallows here, because the world is your oyster!
Best Sweeteners for Hot Cocoa
If you don’t like the experimentation involved in trying different types of sweeteners for hot cocoa, try one of the dozen-plus explored below.
Refined White Sugar
On top of the list is refined or processed white sugar, which is a traditional sweetener and one of the best-known. It is a purified and granulated sugar, manufactured from any raw cane or beet sugar by the process of purification.
This type of sugar provides sweetness without distorting the chocolate flavor. Thus, it serves to make the cacao underneath taste sweeter., which can help it blend easily with a variety of inclusions. Unfortunately, this type of sugar doesn’t fulfill any nutritional value and too much consumption may pose health concerns.
Unrefined Cane Sugar
Another top common sweetener option is the unrefined cane sugar, a type of sugar that retains most or all of the original cane molasses and has a very dark brown color.
It also has many local names. It’s called muscovado (Mauritius, Philippines), piloncillo (Mexico), jaggery (India), panela (Colombia), among others. If you like a more complex flavor for your drinking chocolate, this may be a good option.
How does this fare with refined sugar? Both types have the same sweetness. It also doesn’t hold much difference in terms of nutritional value. However, the unrefined cane sugar offers a unique taste and aroma, like a smoother version of coconut sugar (discussed below).
If you want to quit refined sugar, you can try switching to local honey instead. Honey, which is produced by bees, is a natural sweetener that requires next to no processing before use.
Many prefer this sweet, thick liquid honey as a healthier alternative to refined sugar because it provides some vitamins and minerals that add a slight nutritional boost to your cocoa.
But the thing is, adding honey to hot chocolate does add both sugar and calories, and changes its overall flavor. Use sparingly.
Another common sweetener for drinking chocolate is molasses, a by-product obtained during the processing of sugar from sugarcane. Note that regular molasses is different from blackstrap molasses, which has a very strong mineral undertone.
It does still come with health benefits still, however, as it contains important nutrients and antioxidants. This makes it a better option for hot cocoa than refined sugar. However, it still has a high sugar content, which can be harmful when consumed in excess.
Aside from that, this sweetener has a strong, spicy flavor that will do more than just sweeten your cocoa; it will change the flavor as well. So if you are looking into trying this out, be sure to add only 1/2 teaspoon of it on your first few tries.
A low-calorie option you can check out is Stevia. It’s a natural sugar substitute that is extracted from the stevia plant (the leaves). It is around 300 times sweeter than sugar, but you don’t have to worry about added calories and increased blood sugar levels.
But stevia also has some drawbacks. They are more expensive than sugar and most other artificial sweeteners. It may also cause side effects and allergic reactions.
Also, not everyone likes the taste of stevia. Some of those who try it in their chocolate find it bitter, while others describe it as similar to menthol (much like the cooling effect of sugar alcohols).
Another healthy sweetener is a pure monk fruit sweetener, though it won’t dissolve as nicely as sugar. Monk fruit is a naturally sugar-free and calorie-free extract derived from dried luo han guo fruit, rarely but skillfully used in some sugar-free chocolates.
Why is there such a fuss about this? It’s because monk fruit sweeteners are a good option for people conscious of their weight. Compared to some artificial sweeteners, this has no evidence of any side effects.
But monk fruits are challenging to grow, harvest, and dry. It’s also expensive to import and process so there is also a limited supply in local stores.
Sugar Alcohols (ex. Erythritol)
Next on the list of sugar-free sweeteners are sugar alcohols. They are known as reduced-calorie sweeteners because they have fewer calories and carbohydrates than sugar. Despite its name, they contain no alcohol.
These sweet alternatives may be helpful for weight loss although it is not the secret to get fit. Sugar alcohols do not have the same negative effects of sugar, such as causing dental cavities. But it can upset your stomach when eaten in large amounts.
One example of a sugar alcohol is Erythritol. What makes this different is the fact that it has no calories and doesn’t seem to cause the same digestive problems as with other sugar alcohols.
I’m sure you’ve seen those signature yellow packets of Splenda in many coffee shops.
Splenda is a go-to powdered artificial sweetener. It is made of sucralose, which is a zero-calorie chemical similar in sweetness to sucrose. But you have to still consider the pros and cons of chemical additives it contains.
This sweetener goes through an artificial process that removes the sugar molecules that are responsible for the calories. And what do you get as a result? It tastes sweeter than sugar, remains completely unprocessed by your body, and produces a quite noticeable artificial taste.
Natural Sweeteners for Hot Chocolate
Agave nectar or syrup, is a natural sweetener that is obtained from processing several species of agave. It is also widely available and popular these days, which had s only come about in the last 10 years or so, after the paleo craze hit.
When adding agave syrup to hot chocolate, it delivers a mild caramel flavor combined with a full-bodied bitter taste. The bitterness is less noticeable with dark roasts and more pronounced with lighter roasts. This sweetener has the same consistency as honey but it has a lower glycemic index.
Some reports have shown that because of its higher levels of fructose than plain sugar, it has greater potential to cause adverse health effects. Several natural sweeteners, such as stevia and sugar alcohols could be healthier choices than agave syrup.
Maple syrup is a thick, sugary liquid that’s made by cooking the sap of maple trees that contains small amounts of minerals, and has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. This popular sweetener can also be added to your hot chocolate, if you enjoy nutty flavors.
However, maple syrup contains high concentrations of sugar, so it should be used in moderation. And try not to mistakenly purchase pancake syrup, which is often made from corn syrup and will not offer you all the benefits of natural maple syrup.
Another natural sweetener that goes well with chocolate is vanilla— I can guarantee it’s anything but plain. Vanilla extract is made by heavily pressing the liquid out of fresh, plump vanilla pods and mixing it with water and ethanol.
It has a potent aroma of vanilla, which actually helps to both boost the sweetness and the bitterness of hot chocolate. Adding vanilla extract to your cup of cocoa can flavorfully boost a rich, buttery, and nearly sweet flavor. It also carries some health benefits too.
Similar to agave, coconut sugar also has a low glycemic index. But this must also be consumed in moderation.
This has a deep and earthy flavor and has a more distinctive and unique taste when mixed with cacao. It also contains more vitamins and minerals than the more refined white sugar and has a lovely caramel-like flavor.