Not 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.
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. Tortillas vary widely in sodium, so look for lower-salt varieties. View Recipe
Chewy Cocoa Oatmeal Crispies
Makes about 36 / It’s no sin to indulge in a little cocoa now and then. Cocoa is actually a decent source of potent antioxidants. 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
Citrus Cocoa-Nib Salad
Serves 6 / Antioxidant-rich cocoa nibs—crushed, roasted cocoa beans—are available in natural foods stores and specialty shops. They aren't at all sweet but add a lush, flavorful note to simple salads like this one. You can also sprinkle them on granola or cereal, blend into smoothies, or use as a substitute for nuts or chocolate chips. View Recipe