Therapeutic Hot Chocolate

Lisa Ganora, CSCH Director

What would the Winter holidays be without some rich, creamy hot chocolate to warm us up from the inside out? But then … all that sugar can’t be good for the immune system, which is already challenged when we’re cooped up inside with dry air, or breathing all kinds of viruses as we travel.

Surprisingly, you can make an amazing hot chocolate that goes light on the sweetener and is still richly satisfying and delicious. The trick is to go ‘paleo’ with a recipe inspired by the ancient Cacao drink that was sacred to the original peoples of Central America thousands of years ago.

Cacao itself is really a super-food. Plain Cacao powder is bitter and rich in antioxidant polyphenols including OPCs and flavonoids; it also contains a group of stimulating compounds, including theobromine (a relative of caffeine), as a bonus. While theobromine is toxic to dogs, it helps light up the human brain during the dark days of winter! And if we take our Cacao with healthy fats instead of sugars, the uplifting effect is sustained without leading to an unpleasant blood-sugar crash after the indulgence.

Traditional Cacao drinks were powerfully concentrated and spiced with hot peppers. Just the right touch of Cayenne – not too much – gives our modern version a nice glow that stimulates circulation and the flow of Qi. Cayenne is also rich in flavonoids, carotenoids, and vitamin C, which add to the antioxidant effects. Ginger, Cinnamon and Cardamom contribute more warmth and antioxidant power along with the familiar holiday spice notes, and Turmeric with Black Pepper gives our Cacao drink a touch of anti-inflammatory action and a liver-supporting kick.

Finally, our base of Coconut milk and Cacao butter adds rich sources of healthy non-animal fats that provide sustained warmth for winter vegans, support paleo and lower-carb diets, and add that irresistible creamy deliciousness that we have come to expect from our holiday treats.

Holiday-Sized Gathering Recipe

This recipe is vegan and paleo simultaneously, and gluten- and dairy-free too!

Ingredients – makes almost a gallon of Therapeutic Hot Chocolate

  • Light Coconut Milk – ~ 8 cups (64 fl. oz.)
    • You can use unsweetened canned Coconut milk (5 13.5 oz. cans), or one carton of unsweetened Vanilla or Original/Plain; Vanilla is a nice touch
  • Spring or Filtered Water – 4 cups (32 fl. oz.)
    • If you start with hot water, the process goes faster
    • For a thicker drink, use  3 cups of water instead of 4
  • Honey – 3/4 cup (6 fl. oz.)
    • At CSCH we teach a honey pharmacy class in our Fundamentals program, and every semester we end up with about a quart of delicious, fresh Ginger-infused honey; this is a wonderful addition to the recipe, but plain honey works just fine too
    • If using plain Honey, increase the amount of powdered Ginger added below
    • Warming the honey ahead of time also speeds up the process
  • Cacao powder – 1 cup (16 Tbsp.)
    • Organic, unsweetened – often sold as ‘cocoa powder’ or sometimes as powdered ‘baking cocoa’
    • Read the label; you want the Cacao-only version; some organic ‘hot cocoa’ products have added ingredients like milk powder and sugar
  • Cacao butter – 5 Tbsp. (a bit less than 1/3 cup)
    • You’ll need to gently melt this before using

Spices – to save time, you can mix up a small jar of these ahead of time. Just take everything below times 4, and you’ll have enough for four batches. If you keep this in the freezer, it will keep until the next holiday season.

  • Ginger powder, organic
    • ½ to 1 tsp. if you’re using Ginger Honey; double this if you have plain honey
  • Cinnamon powder, organic
    • ½ to 1 tsp.
  • Cardamom powder, organic
    • ½ to 1 tsp.
  • Cayenne powder, organic
    • ¼ tsp. to ½ tsp. – the quarter tsp. gives a subtle heat; the ½ tsp. is more distinct
  • Turmeric powder, organic
    • ¼ to 1 tsp.
  • Black Pepper, fine grind
    • ¼ – ½ tsp.


  • Immersion blender (stick blender)
    • Since the liquid needs to be kept warm as you make it (to melt the Cacao butter), it doesn’t work as well in a regular blender
    • A wide-mouth quart-size Mason jar to stand your oily stick blender up in
  • A suitably-sized stock-pot or double-boiler
    • This recipe makes 96 fl. oz. (3/4 gallon), so a one-gallon (128 fl. oz.) vessel is the minimum. A larger one is better, though, because of foaming and splashing.
      • If using a stock-pot, keep the heat low to avoid burning the Cacao
    • Someone suggested making this in a crock-pot, which seems like a good alternative, although I haven’t tried it …
  • A small vessel to melt the Cacao butter in
  • A great big wooden stirring spoon
  • Can opener (if using canned Coconut milk) and a big spoon to dig the Coconut milk out of the cans
  • Measuring cup/s
  • Measuring spoons
  • Mason jars to keep extra Cacao drink in

Make It!

  1. Gently melt your Cacao butter and keep it slightly warm – be careful! It melts fast and it’s easy to burn.
  2. Warm up your Coconut milk in the stockpot or double boiler – keep below a simmer.
    1. If using canned Coconut milk, and it comes out of the can separated, blend it with the stick before adding other ingredients.
  3. Add the honey and blend until it is well mixed with the Coconut milk, then warm it back up.
  4. Sprinkle in the spice powders while continually blending the warm mixture.
  5. Next, add the Cacao powder, one Tbsp. at a time while blending. If you add it too fast, it will clump up.
  6. Finally, blend in the melted Cacao butter. Keep at it for about 3-5 minutes until the mixture is thoroughly emulsified and doesn’t separate.
  7. Serve hot and enjoy! If you really want to go nuts, mix it half-and-half with Coffee for the Best. Mocha. Ever.
  8. You can store extra in a Mason jar in the fridge – if it separates, just warm it back up and blend with the stick until it’s homogenized again.

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