Jan. 9, 2013 at 4:29 PM ET
By Kara Reinhardt, Cheapism.com
On winter days that see warm breath steaming from rosy noses, cold hands eagerly grasp steaming mugs of hot cocoa. It’s an affordable treat that can cost as little as a dime. Cheapism.com recently convened a seven-person tasting panel to judge three popular and relatively inexpensive powdered cocoa mixes: Swiss Miss, Nestle, and Ghirardelli. While the latter might seem an outlier, it still undercuts brands such as Starbucks and Land O’Lakes, not to mention gourmet mixes from Godiva and Bellagio.
Here’s how the hot cocoa mixes stacked up in Cheapism’s blind taste test.
Cheapism prepared all three hot cocoas according to the package instructions, using hot water for the Swiss Miss and Nestle mixes and whole milk for the Ghirardelli hot cocoa. (The mixes that call for water already contain milk in some form.)
The brands listed above also market myriad other packaged hot cocoa mixes, such as mint, marshmallow, hazelnut, dark chocolate, caramel, diet, and sugar-free. Consumers can choose mixes in canisters that must be measured out, boxes of single-serving packets, and (for Swiss Miss and Ghirardelli) K-cups or pods for Keurig-style coffee makers. For a twist on the traditional drink, try adding hot cocoa mix to your morning coffee in place of sugar, along with milk, to create a “poor man’s mocha.”
Perhaps the cheapest and tastiest approach is to make hot cocoa with baking supplies you may already have on hand. A recipe from Alton Brown of "Good Eats" on the Food Network combines powdered sugar, cocoa, powdered milk, cornstarch, salt, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. The mix earns an average of five stars from more than 200 reviewers and will keep in the pantry all winter.
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