Short answer: experiment and play!
There’s truly not ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to spice your cacao. Anthropologists believe that Mayan peoples (1800BC-AD 250) were spicing their cacao with chilli, vanilla & magnolia. That still sounds like a delicious combination.
We’ve a friend who is a self-confessed cacao aficionado. Max led the charge in preparing cacao for any large gathering, usually before a community meeting or kirtan. He was particular in his method and no batch of cacao was left un-spiced with cayenne pepper. Perhaps it reflected his Mexican roots, or his Aries constitution, but Max believed that cayenne pepper was fundamental in “activating the cacao”. We’re not sure if cacao needs ‘activation’, but we can say that adding a pinch of cayenne pepper adds a real kick & certainly amplifies the heart-warming effects of the cacao!
Over the years we’ve experimented a lot (often depending on what’s available). Ground cinnamon, turmeric, and a dash of cayenne is a regular combo for us. So is adding nutmeg, cardamom and a swirl of vanilla pod.
Some days we keep it simple & just add a small sprinkle of sea salt flakes. If you’ve ever had chocolate with sea salt -it’s a very similar effect and the juxtaposition of salty/sweet is a taste sensation. Just beware not to be too over zealous with your addition of salt – it can sink to the bottom, leaving a super charged salty shot at the end! (We speak from experience).
When it comes to sweeteners, we very much encourage you to experiment again. Natural sugar defiantly seems to work best (i.e. steer clear of refined sugar). In Mexico we used locally made honey, but we found it harder to source honey that we felt good buying in the UK. Our new favourite is agave syrup, available at our local Morrisons. Organic coconut sugar, which is derived from the sap of coconut palms, is also a delicious alternative. Maple syrup is also a great option and brings a unique depth of flavour. We’ve never tried stevia with cacao, but some people swear by it.
Enjoy creating your concoctions! Please share your favourite flavour combinations with us, we love continuing to be inspired.