By Richard Thompson
The holidays are quickly approaching, and specialty confectioners are looking beyond fruit infusions to cater to more exotic tastes in their chocolate lines. According to the National Confectioners Association, while shoppers are drawn to traditional favorites, they continue to look for new and different items.
Confectioners haven’t been shy to embrace this taste shift and the $79 million dollar market share it represents.“You have got to get exotic now,” says Jack Epstein, Owner of Chocolate Covered Sweets and Gifts. “This is a global craft chocolate thing now…. Some of the more exotic inclusions that I’ve sold have been the bacon bar, Parmesan bar, blue cheese, porcini mushroom bar and paprika bars.”
The salted caramel and chile infusions that ignited the popularity of flavored chocolates has inspired customers to looks for more unique specialty blends such as the Chocolate Covered Company’s Gourmet Chocolate Covered Jalapenos. This gourmet combination comes in sweet peppers or spicy jalapenos and offers a fiery flavor of sweet and spicy.
The Mo’s Bacon Bar from Vosges Haut Chocolat is infused with applewood-smoked bacon, alderwood-smoked salt and rich milk chocolate, for a campfire aroma that offsets the sweetness of the chocolate. The Super Dark Parmesan-Peppercorn Bar is part of the company’s super dark line, containing 72 percent dark chocolate, yet still maintaining a gooey texture.
“You know, a lot of surprising things can taste great in chocolate. With savory flavors, you can go as far as you’d like, even including umami,” says Brad Kintzer, Chief Chocolate Maker at TCHO. Known as the fifth flavor, umami is finding home in chocolate as a savory inclusion, offering a new chocolate-eating experience, says Kintzer.
Traditional pairings with chocolate are making a comeback too, according to Kintzer.“Maple is a beautiful partner,” he says. In addition to maple flavored chocolates, Kintzer has seen bourbon-infused nips come back into favor, this time with less sugar and fewer preservatives.“It’s chocolate re-calibrated for grown-up tastes,” he says.
Jacky Recchiuti, Creative Director and Owner of Recchiuti Confections, along with her husband Michael Recchiuti, has brought out a new Shiitake Mushroom Truffle, which has an earthy, sweet flavor. “We want to maintain our relationship with Far West Funghi, our neighbor in the Ferry Building, and their shiitake mushroom. It’s not about shock value with these infusions; it’s about pairing [the mushroom] with chocolate and finding a nice balance of flavors,” says Jacky Recchiuti.
Currently, Recchiuti Confections continues to refine its flavor combinations with earthy, smoky hints in its chocolate. The next few months will see the introduction of the company’s new line of nougat candies that will be infused with Chinese Five-spice powder, nullifying the traditionally honey notes with a more earthy punch. This line is expected to be launched by the holiday season.