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Instant reactions: sweet to sandy
Hot Cocoa Mixes

Instant reactions: Sweet to sandy

Cocoa evokes memories of childhood. For many, that meant bitter unsweetened cocoa spooned into a mug filled with steaming milk and as much sugar as you could beg. A real marshmallow floated about, melting into a creamy circle.

Fast forward to busy schedules, less time for the kitchen, and instant hot cocoa mixes. The basics are whey, sugar, and cocoa, with plenty more if you glance at the ingredient lists. Like making a cup of tea, you can zap hot water in a microwave and add the mix. It's quick, hot , and chocolaty. Well, sort of.

We tasted hot cocoa mix brands without dehydrated marshmallows, so nothing would interfere with the taste. Alas, several entries had sugar as the first ingredient, even before you got to the cocoa. One mix listed sugar, dairy solids, corn syrup, and vegetable oil -- all before the cocoa.

There was no clear winner, but Hershey's Goodnight Kisses got three out of eight votes. One tester suggested we were choosing the "best among a mediocre bunch." One brand elicited both enthusiasm and dissing. Best Friends Cocoa received comments ranging from "the most cocoa-like initial odor" to "has the texture of dirt." At $4.49 for 8 ounces, it is also the priciest. Best Friends is the only brand that doesn't list sugar first ; non fat dry milk tops the list.

When the tasting was over, one person took all her half-finished cups and poured them together. "Now that tastes chocolaty," she exclaimed. -- DEBRA SAMUELS

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