photo credit: Xoco in Chicago by Kevin P on flickr.
It wasn’t that long ago when Hershey’s made news for claiming that chocolate is the superfruit. It caused a bit of hullabaloo. Do you remember? Don’t be too quick to trade your blueberries in for chocolate bars. Candy is no substitute for fruit. But actually there’s a bit of truth to this claim — or at least if you’re talking about where chocolate comes from. Chocolate is made from the cacao plant, and cacao beans are extraordinarily rich in the same types of natural compounds that made superfruits famous. These flavonoids have been found to improve heart health by keeping blood vessels relaxed, easing blood pressure and helping circulation.
Trouble is, most chocolate bars have squeezed out the bitter-tasting flavonoids and added sugar and fat to give it the smooth, melt in your mouth quality that we’ve come to expect from our candy. Milk chocolate is typically even more diluted. Who knows how many flavonoids you’re actually getting when you break open a Hershey bar. That brings me to XOCO (pronounced “Sho-co”) – the new Rick Bayless cafe in Chicago that specializes in Mexican street food, including authentic tortas, caldos, churros and Mexican hot chocolate. The housemade hot chocolate uses fresh cacao beans that are shipped in from Mexico’s Tabasco state and you can watch them grind the beans in the window of the restaurant. Now this is chocolate. This is what the ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations were talking about.
photo: hot chocolate and churros by cristaa on flickr
I had the opportunity to see the hot chocolate-making in action with Shaw Lash, the executive chef at XOCO, who showed how they grind the cacao nibs until they liquefy. She gave a shout out to Chocolate Alchemy who blogs about making your own chocolate at home..
Here’s Shaw Lash on the right, following her demonstration (which was in the basement of Frontera Grill that’s next door to XOCO).
It all starts with the cacao beans.
You break them open to find these chocolate nibs.
The only thing they add to the chocolate is Mexican cinnamon and organic evaporated cane juice.
Here’s my sample of the hot chocolate, which is more savory than you would expect.
You can order different types of hot chocolate at XOCO, including the Aztec that contains ground ancho pepper and allspice.
And of course, the churros. You dip these crunchy sugar and spice-coated fried dough sticks into your hot chocolate. Amazing. I’ll take this over a Hershey bar any day.