cocoaNot to be confused with sweetened hot cocoa mix, antioxidant-rich pure cocoa comes from roasted cacao nibs; after extracting most of the natural cocoa butter, the resulting “liquor” gets ground again into powder. (A cold-press process removes fats for “raw” cocoa.) “Dutched” cocoa is treated with an alkali to tame cocoa’s natural acids, making it mellower, darker, and more easily dissolved. To choose cocoa, take a good whiff: It should smell naturally sweet and slightly acidic. Store in a cool, dark place (not the fridge). Whisk or sift to break up clumps.

Hot chocolate. Blend or whisk 1/4 cup cocoa, 3 cups hot milk, and your favorite sweetener, plus a dash of vanilla, cayenne, and cinnamon. For an authentic touch, use a molinillo, a traditional Mexican tool spun between your hands to create a frothy drink.

Shake. Make a high-protein, low-calorie snack by blending 2 tablespoons cocoa powder, 1 tablespoon peanut or almond butter, a scoop of vanilla whey protein powder, 1 cup unsweetened almond milk, and a couple of ice cubes.

Soup. Cocoa’s rich flavor and depth enhance meaty soups and stews; stir a tablespoon or two of unsweetened powder into your black- or mixed-bean soup, chili con carne, or braised beef.

Baking. Dust greased cake or muffin pans with cocoa powder instead of flour for a gluten-free and tasty no-stick assist.

Crazy about cocoa: 6 recipes

Cocoa-Almond No-Bake Cookies

These tender vegan cookies are a breeze to make. For a completely gluten-free treat, use gluten-free oats.

Place 1 cup natural cane sugar, ½ cup unsweetened almond milk, ½ cup virgin coconut oil, 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa, and ¼ teaspoon sea salt in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil; boil for 90 seconds, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in ¾ cup almond butter, 2½ cups quick-cooking oats, ½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut, and 1 tablespoon vanilla extract. Drop by rounded teaspoons onto parchment paper, flattening slightly. Chill 30 minutes to set. Store in refrigerator. Makes 3½ dozen.

PER SERVING: 95 cal, 6g fat (2g mono, 1g poly, 3g sat), 0mg chol, 2g protein, 10g carb, 1g fiber, 19mg sodium

Cocoa-Infused Black Bean Soup

Serves 6 / Easy, healthy, and different. The cocoa adds an exotic note that melds sensually with black beans’ deep flavor and creamy texture. View Recipe

Cocoa Bison Tostadas

Serves 4 / Cocoa powder adds a pleasant bittersweet note to the bean mixture, which also works well in tacos and burritos. View Recipe

Chewy Cocoa Oatmeal Crispies

Makes about 36 / The applesauce, oats, and whole-grain flour add heart-healthy fiber to a delicious cookie. Soy milk adds another good-for-you twist to these treats. View Recipe

Chocolate-Coconut Chia Pudding

Serves 6 /
A great and easy-to-make snack for kids (or adults)! Chia seeds work in this soft pudding like little tapioca pearls, but with a slight crunch. View Recipe

Earl Grey Hot Chocolate

Serves 2 / Before Europeans arrived on the scene in Mexico, chocolate was enjoyed dairy free. In this truly classic (and much healthier) hot chocolate, just a hint of old-world sophistication in the form of Earl Grey tea brings the two continents together. View Recipe