Sugar High Friday #29: Hot Cacao

hot cacao

No, it’s not a typo. Cacao is not the same as cocoa, just as hot chocolate isn’t the same as hot cocoa. According to David Lebovitz (author of The Great Book of Chocolate), cacao refers to the bean, while cocoa refers to the powder after the bean is pulverized.

Cacao beans are like chocolate-flavored nuts. They are borderline savory and 100% addictive. Last year, Marc Boatwright, owner of Choctal, sent me a sample of cacao crunch (candied cacao nibs). This guy really knows his beans. Choctal claims to be the only maker of single-origin chocolate ice cream. Cacao tastes vastly different based on its origin, which is why Kalimantan and San Dominican chocolate ice cream are two distinct products. So, it was no surprise that each of Choctal’s nibs had subtle distinctions. Some tasted fermented, others tasted nutty, and still others tasted like toasted bread. It was like getting a variety pack of chocolate.

For this month’s Sugar High Friday dessert event, I substituted Choctal’s nibs in a hot chocolate/cocoa recipe. You won’t be able to grind the nibs into a fine powder, but you will infuse the milk with deep chocolate flavor. Only make this drink if you want something rustic; the sandy cacao bits are like “pulp.”

If you have candied nibs, just add two tablespoons per cup of milk. Otherwise, follow the amounts below. Look for nibs at Whole Foods or other fine retailers. For online ordering, I recommend Dagoba’s or Valrhona’s nibs from

For more “raw chocolate” ideas, check out Chocolate in Context, which will round up recipes with nibs, beans, cocoa butter, untreated cocoa powder, and fresh cacao fruit on Friday.

Hot Cacao

Makes 1 serving

1 cup milk or unsweetened soy milk
1 1/2 Tablespoons cacao nibs
1 Tablespoon sugar

In the microwave, heat the milk on HIGH for two minutes. Combine the hot milk with the cacao and sugar in a blender. Blend for about 30 seconds, or until the cacao is sandy and the drink is frothy on top.
Variation: Cold milk can also be used.

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