Remember when chocolate was just chocolate with maybe the odd almond or raisin thrown in to jazz things up? Fast forward 10 years and chocolate is the Lady Gaga of the confectionary world. It keeps reinventing itself. Now there are more chocolate varieties and unusual flavours than there are days in the year.
The weirder, the better
Everyone from small artisan chocolatiers to mass-market players like Cadbury are stretching the boundaries of the nation’s taste buds. There is gin chocolate, chocolate bacon brownies, green tea chocolate, chilli chocolate, pink pepper chocolate, turmeric chocolate, mint choc Pringles, Marmite chocolate, wasabi chocolate and even a chocolate cheese. Try the delicious-sounding Prestat London Gin Truffles, £12, John Lewis (3).
Willy Wonka would be proud. Or maybe a bit concerned...
“Quirkiness is the biggest trend at the moment, says Jennifer Earle, a chocolate expert who runs chocolate tours in London, Brighton and York. For example, savoury chocolate began as a novelty, but we are seeing more flavours on sale that are less crazy and more palatable, like walnut and rosemary.”
But chocolate cheese? Really? Jennifer says yes. “It’s caramelly and slightly tangy. I enjoyed it but to be honest when you watch a film you’re not going to break out the chocolate cheese. We don’t crave it like normal chocolate. It’s different.”
No gimmicks here
Brace yourselves. A kale chocolate cream was invented to celebrate Milk Tray’s centenary and despite being a great way of eating one of your five a day, its appeal was short-lived. But Cat Black, a food writer who judges the International Chocolate Awards, says we shouldn’t dismiss these unusual flavours as gimmicks. “The good thing about strange flavours being available is it helps people try things they wouldn’t normally. Although I’m not sure kale chocolate is going to do more than give people a laugh!”
The rocky road (apologies) to unusual flavour combos began with salted caramel in France. It travelled to the UK and eventually landed in America where it has been stickily and whole-heartedly embraced ever since and is in everything from cake to coffee. It is the flavour combination of the century: will anything else ever be
Cat says it takes five years for a flavour to move from the artisan world into the mainstream. At the moment she is seeing more flavours from the Far East and tropical fruits. “I’ve certainly seen more unusual fruits – like tamarind, guava and yuzu – in chocolate,” she says.
Get set for super chocolate
She is also excited about the reinvention of milk chocolate, which high street retailers are embracing. “Some call it ‘super milk’ chocolate – it is milk chocolate but with a higher percentage of cocoa beans – similar to that in plain chocolate. The high cocoa content is mellowed by the milk. It’s creamy and delicious,” says Cat.
Health is also a big trend with ingredients like coconut milk being more common, as well as the addition of superfoods like raw cocoa nibs (the central part of the cocoa bean). Try Hotel Chocolat Saint Lucian Cocoa Nibs, £6 (2), on your porridge. Even chocolate giants like Mars are getting in on the health act with high protein bars.
The popularity of odd flavour pairings is set to remain but whilst chocolate lovers may like to try unusual combinations, day-to-day most of us prefer the familiar. Last year we spent £374m on Easter eggs – that is A LOT of chocolate – which shows our infatuation with the sweet stuff has no signs of wavering. Try Dairy Milk Caramel, £6, Waitrose (4)
or Hand Painted Milk Chocolate Artist Egg, £15, Marks and Spencer (1).
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