Chocolate continues to head into uncharted territory in 2011, both in flavor combinations and in sales numbers. We’re seeing a continuation of trends already visible in many other food areas-especially the application of nutritional supplements or nutraceuticals to foods in the form of “functional chocolates,” and the addition of exotic spices and flavors like blood orange, hibiscus, and olive oils. Driven by consumers’ increasing demand for convenience, some semblance of nutrition (or a weak excuse to indulge in something not usually considered healthy but now not only somewhat healthy but “enhanced”), and a growing demand from niche markets, chocolates that are vegan, non-dairy, kosher, or with other specific characteristics are becoming increasingly common.
I’m a strong advocate of eating healthy, but I’m not a firm believer in getting your nutrients through highly processed and concentrated and intensely purified powder or liquid. Too little is known (and unknown) about meeting your nutritional needs through concentrated substances and vitamins, so I say eat more fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, healthy fish and poultry, and high cocoa percentage chocolates in reasonable quantities. You’ll get all around better nourishment in more ways than one by eating right and preparing your own food as much as possible, and still be able to indulge in the real thing-pure chocolate or a rich ganache made with cream and butter, not some synthetic or processed filler.
Traditional favorites are also seeking a new twist to get in on the chocolate craze; case in point-chocolate covered Jelly Bellys. While I’m not confident this is a winning combination, at least they are sticking to tried-and-true flavor combinations such as cherry, coconut, raspberry, orange, and strawberry.
And while consumers are increasingly interested in origin and authenticity, it doesn’t seem to be on the radar of the food writers and sites I have surveyed in putting this together. It’s too difficult for any of the big manufacturers and well-known names that set many of the trends to source single origin cacao. It’s also cost-prohibitive and logistically complicated to ensure a steady supply of beans from a single origin for the mass markets they serve.
These trends will come and go, as they all do. I’m surprised I haven’t seen some new molecular gastronomy technique applied to chocolates; perhaps using the calcium chloride spherication technique to encapsulate some new funky flavor-and if it the spheres can be made sturdy enough, then panning them in chocolate. Personally, I prefer the classic flavors such as caramel, coffee, or nuts combined with or used in a ganache, properly subdued, and combined with good chocolate. If you are looking for a more healthy way to consume chocolate, look for dried fruits and/or nuts combined with chocolate via dipping or in bars. There will be new flavors, combinations, and “enhanced”chocolates, but if you are looking for real chocolate flavor you can always fall back on the classics.