You Should Really Add A Pinch Of Salt To Your Next Hot Chocolate

A good cup of hot chocolate doesn't ask for much. All you need is milk or cream; a bar of chocolate (as opposed to cocoa powder — that's for hot cocoa); some heat; and voila! You have velvety drink that can satisfy any chocolate craving. But while this basic formula gets the job done, a truly great cup of hot chocolate — the kind with deep layers of rich, complex flavor — begs for some salt.

Look at any dessert recipe that uses lots of chocolate, and you'll likely find a big pinch of salt somewhere on the ingredients list. Salt not only makes ingredients taste more like themselves, boosting the flavor of any recipe, but it also triggers glucose (or sweetness) sensors on your tongue, enhancing your ability to perceive sweet flavors. This makes salt an invaluable addition to desserts, and chocolate in particular can benefit from a generous sprinkle.

When added to your mug of hot chocolate, salt adds a pop of contrast to the rich sweetness, while also bringing out the notes in the chocolate you choose, whether you select a dark, high-cacao bar or a more milky, bittersweet one. To try it, just melt a pinch of salt into your pot of dairy and chopped chocolate, and/or add a sprinkle of kosher salt on top of the finished cup. Even pro chefs love this trick: Alton Brown uses salt in his toasty hot chocolate, along with toasted milk powder.

Look in your pantry for more ways to upgrade hot chocolate

Salt might be the easiest and most effective addition to hot chocolate, but your pantry is home to tons of other great ideas. Spices are a no-brainer — warm, wintry types such as cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg can enhance the comforting properties of the drink. Punchier spices like chili power are a must for a Mexican hot chocolate recipe that tickles your tongue and warms your stomach.

Spreads, sauces, and extracts can also provide a boost when stirred into your cup. A scoop of Nutella will add an extra-chocolatey, nutty flavor and creamy texture, while salted caramel can add both saltiness and buttery, rich vanilla notes in one fell swoop. Coconut or peppermint extract are also delicious, if you're fond of those flavors. 

Coffee is another obvious partner for chocolate. It can enhance the flavor of your hot chocolate and add deliciously deep bitter notes, while providing a kick of caffeine. Add a shot of freshly-brewed espresso or a teaspoon or two of instant coffee to your cup. You could even switch up the kind of milk that you use to make the drink. Swap the dairy-based milk for almond milk to add a nutty taste and make the beverage friendly to lactose-intolerant folks, or use eggnog as a base for the ultimate holiday mashup drink.