The secret to the best seasonal hot chocolate? It's all in the chemistry!

December 13, 2018, University of Southampton
The secret to the best seasonal hot chocolate? It’s all in the chemistry!
For Gregory Limburn, the joy of hot chocolate is the ‘secret science’ that goes into creating it. Credit: University of Southampton

Hot chocolate can trace its roots to the bygone days of the Mayan civilisation and Aztec empire. The drink was originally made from the fermented nibs of the 'food of the gods' - the cocoa or cacao plant—and consumed during sacrificial rituals.

Nowadays, however, the drink is more closely associated with a cosy night in or festive celebrations like Christmas. According to Gregory Limburn, Chemistry Ph.D. candidate at the University of Southampton, the real joy is the 'secret science' that goes into creating the sumptuous beverage.

Gregory is so convinced that his mixture of dark , , sugar, cinnamon, cocao powder and chilli powder actually produces the perfect mug of hot chocolate that he's created a blog featuring a short film to show everyone how it's done—with the aid of resources found in the University's Chemistry lab.

"Hot chocolate has evolved over the centuries into a drink which we now most readily associate, somewhat surprisingly given its history, with a cosy night in or a wander through the warming embrace of a festive market," says Gregory. "The scientific name for the genus of the cacao plant, Theobroma, which derives from 'food of the gods' in Ancient Greek, further alludes to its historical religious significance."

Credit: University of Southampton
"The drink was also believed to empower one with the strength of the gods and, as such, was included as basic rations for the Aztec army," Gregory continues. "Those wishing to increase their libido also turned to the drink; the mooted aphrodisiacal properties of the divine beans have, however, since been attributed to the , theobromine. As a chemical cousin of caffeine, it shares its, albeit weaker, stimulating effect.

"Sugar arrived relatively late to the cocoa scene," he concludes. "It may well be this excess of energy provided what we now associate with times of abundance, contentment and celebration."

Gregory's full blog 'The Chemically Perfect Hot Chocolate' - and, perhaps more importantly, his full recipe and demonstration of how to create the perfect mug of hot chocolate—is available here.

Explore further: Yes, there is room for chocolate in your diet

Related Stories

Myths and facts about chocolate from a nutrition professor

January 21, 2015

With Valentine's Day just around the corner, does chocolate appeal to you for its flavor, symbolic meaning of love or potential health benefits? Dr. Judith Rodriguez, a nutrition professor and chair of the Department of Nutrition ...

Recommended for you

The powerful meteor that no one saw (except satellites)

March 19, 2019

At precisely 11:48 am on December 18, 2018, a large space rock heading straight for Earth at a speed of 19 miles per second exploded into a vast ball of fire as it entered the atmosphere, 15.9 miles above the Bering Sea.

Revealing the rules behind virus scaffold construction

March 19, 2019

A team of researchers including Northwestern Engineering faculty has expanded the understanding of how virus shells self-assemble, an important step toward developing techniques that use viruses as vehicles to deliver targeted ...

Nanoscale Lamb wave-driven motors in nonliquid environments

March 19, 2019

Light driven movement is challenging in nonliquid environments as micro-sized objects can experience strong dry adhesion to contact surfaces and resist movement. In a recent study, Jinsheng Lu and co-workers at the College ...

Levitating objects with light

March 19, 2019

Researchers at Caltech have designed a way to levitate and propel objects using only light, by creating specific nanoscale patterning on the objects' surfaces.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.