Chocolate critic and author Clay Gordon recently surprised a friend—a professional in the chocolate industry—with a one-of-a-kind taste sensation disguised as a beautifully molded truffle. The unsuspecting taster's face turned to shock as he felt something in his mouth crack and hiss. The secret ingredient? Pop Rocks.
It used to be that you had only three choices when it came to chocolate: white, milk, or dark. With so many offbeat flavors nowadays, not even the experts know what to expect.
It’s no surprise that confectioners are experimenting with adventurous flavors: chocolate is an increasingly popular and valuable commodity. Between 2000 and 2008, the consumption of chocolate confectionary products increased 11 percent in top industrialized countries throughout the world, according to the Chocolate, Biscuit and Confectionery Industries of the E.U. and the International Confectionery Association. The market is worth about $90 billion, up from $50 billion in 2000, according to data published by Euromonitor.
Because of the sheer volume and varieties available, chocolate can complement a range of flavors, from the traditional to the exotic. "It’s a plastic medium," says Gordon. "There’s thousands of different flavors in chocolate. You can take the bright acidity of a Madagascan or the richness of a Grenadan, and you have a whole palette of flavors to play with."
The kinds of flavors that chocolatiers exploit are a matter of personal taste. Mexicans see chocolate as a savory ingredient, incorporating it in mole. In Asia, lemongrass and yuzu are common. "Every culture has its favorite kind of flavors. Some cultures like chocolate spicy, some like it very sweet or acidic or salty," says Mary Jo Stojak, executive director of the Fine Chocolate Industry Association.
Experimental artisans like Catalan pastry chef Oriol Balaguer, who makes the aforementioned Pop Rocks chocolate, balance sweetness with salt. Others appeal to nostalgia; Komforte Chockolates’ French toast–inspired chocolate contains crunchy bagel chips, cinnamon, nutmeg, and molasses. Then there are confectioners like Dubai-based Al Nassma, who turn to local delicacies, like camel’s milk. Nomadic tribes in the Middle East have traditionally subsisted on it, and proponents say it’s a panacea, using it to treat everything from autism to diabetes.
Before you turn up your nose at this list of unusual flavors, remember that today’s camel’s milk might be tomorrow’s salted caramel: small-scale artisans embraced that pairing before Starbucks and Wal-Mart caught on.
"Get over your idea of what can be in chocolate [and vice versa]. I use white chocolate in hollandaise sauce," says Gordon. Hollandaise truffle, anyone?