World's Strangest Chocolates
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?
French Toast: Seattle
Created in 2009 as a backlash against highbrow tastes, Komforte Chockolates found inspiration with comfort foods, such as ramen, tortilla chips, and French toast. The latter is made in small batches and contains 33 percent milk chocolate, bagel chips, molasses, cinnamon, and nutmeg, with an undertone of butter flavor. The $3.50 bar is available at specialty stores across the country, and from seattlechocolates.com and amazon.com.
Komforte Chockolates, Seattle; komfortechockolates.com
Camel’s Milk: Dubai
Founded by Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Al Nassma is the first and only company to make camel’s-milk chocolate. Considered "liquid gold" in the Middle East, the milk has half the fat and at least three times the vitamin C of cow’s milk. It's also notoriously difficult to obtain; camels yield a fraction of the milk of cows. Described by tasters as minerally and malted, the chocolate is sold at specialty shops and hotels in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Japan, and is shipped throughout the world via its website.
Al Nassma; al-nassma.com
Pop Rocks: Barcelona
As the former pastry chef of one of the world’s top restaurants, El Bulli, Oriol Balaguer is known for his avant-garde chocolates. His most popular flavor, though, was designed for the kid in all of us. Mascletà chocolates consist of hazelnut praline, crunchy Maldon sea salt, and Pop Rocks coated in cocoa butter (to preserve their structural integrity). The Pop Rocks explode in your mouth, mimicking fireworks, which gave the chocolate its name. Available online.
Oriol Balaguer flagship store, Plaza Sant Gregori Taumaturg, 2, Barcelona; 011-34-93-201-1846; oriol-balaguer.com
Shiitake Mushroom: Madison, WI
Shiitake is used in Asian cuisine for umami, the savory fifth taste, but here it lends a subtle, warm flavor to truffles (named for their similarity in looks to another mushroom). The ganache, which contains dried mushrooms and earthy Peruvian dark chocolate, is hand dipped in nutty 70 percent Colombian chocolate. Because Fair Trade certification is expensive for small farmers and doesn't guarantee quality, Gail Ambrosius personally works with farmers to improve their cacao and ensures that they earn a fair wage. The truffles are available in select stores in the Midwest, plus online.
Gail Ambrosius, 2086 Atwood Ave., Madison, Wisconsin; (877) 412-2462; gailambrosius.com
Gouda Cheese: Japan
As part of a marketing ploy, Nestlé began offering limited-edition Kit Kats in Japan in 2007. Since then, more than 200 flavors have surfaced, and they’ve become coveted souvenirs among tourists and locals. Soy Sauce remains the most popular flavor. According to collectors, one of the most difficult to find is European Cheese, which contains 58 percent Gouda by weight, giving it a smoky, salty, and sour taste. Expats and Americans can find it online at J-List and eBay.
Kit Kat, Japan; breaktown.com
Havana Tobacco: Belgium
Self-proclaimed shock-o-latier Dominique Persoone crafts 60-odd varieties of truffles, but his most illicit is the Havanna (sic), made with cigar leaves that are marinated in rum and cognac. It leaves a peppery feeling in your throat, simulating the sensation of smoking a cigar. The truffles are available in The Chocolate Line’s shops in Bruges and Antwerp, as well as upscale restaurants in Holland, Germany, and Belgium. Just remember, it’s illegal to bring them back to the U.S.
The Chocolate Line flagship store, Simon Stevinplein 19, Bruges, Belgium; 32-50-34-10-90; thechocolateline.be
Peanuts and Ketchup: Austria
Bean-to-bar chocolate maker Josef Zotter created this irreverent chocolate in honor of President Barack Obama’s victory and to celebrate American tastes. The predominant component is peanut nougat, but it’s flavored with tomatoes, apples, grappa, bird’s eye chiles, and raisins before being covered in dark, organic, and fair-trade chocolate. Bars are available via Zotter’s Austrian site with a 20-euro shipping charge for the United States. Limited varieties are also available via mail order from the U.K.
Update: This bar is no longer available, but Zotter continually releases new flavors such as pineapple with celeriac, apple and carrots with ginger, and cranberry thyme.
Zotter, 8333 Riegersburg, Bergl 56A, Austria; 011-43-3152 5554; zotter.at
Cucumber Vodka: Los Angeles
This handmade truffle is the brainchild of husband-and-wife team Christian Alexandre and Whajung Park, who've made their name with exotic chocolate flavors. Crafted with traditional French methods, their boldly flavored white chocolate ganache—infused with cucumber purée, vodka, and mint—is covered with dark chocolate and leaves a slight tingle (from the alcohol) on the tongue. Because L'Artisan du Chocolat insists on fresh ingredients, the preservative-free truffle is available in the shop and online for only six months out of the year, starting in April.
L' Artisan du Chocolat, 3364 West 1st St., Los Angeles; (213) 252-8721; lartisanduchocolat.net
Plum Liqueur: Tokyo
Each of these hand-decorated truffles from Mary’s Chocolate contains ganache made with umeshu, Japanese plum liqueur. Despite the name, the liqueur is actually made from unripe apricots that are soaked in sugar and shochu, a semi-strong distilled Japanese spirit. Mary’s is based in Japan but the chocolates are also available in Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and China. The only way to purchase them in the U.S. is at the annual New York Chocolate Show; it doesn’t ship here.
Mary’s Chocolate, Tokyo; mary.co.jp
Absinthe: New York
Rhonda Kave’s absinthe truffles started as an underground experiment: she was struggling to complete the last flavor of her cocktail collection, until her son, Corwin (chef of New York's Fatty Crab empire), brought her home-brewed absinthe on Christmas Eve. At the time, absinthe was banned in the U.S. for its alleged hallucinogenic properties, but the ban has since lifted. Recent studies show that contaminants, among other factors, were the culprits. Kave's creation consists of a Callebaut bittersweet chocolate ganache with pear, fennel, aniseseed, and commercially brewed absinthe. It's available at her Lower East Side shop and online.
Rpni-Sue's Chocolates, 120 Essex St., #11/12 Essex Street Market, New York; (212) 260-0421; roni-sue.com
Pig's Blood: Portland, OR
Unsurprisingly, pig's blood is David Briggs's least popular flavor at his eclectic chocolate shop. The former sous chef makes only about 100 for Halloween and Valentine's Day, and most are given away. The inspiration comes from blood sausage, popular in Western Europe and Asia. His savory ganache is made with cinnamon, smoked Spanish paprika, and blood, then enrobed in Felchlin 72 percent Ecuadoran chocolate and dusted with more paprika. It's sold only at Meat Cheese Bread in Portland during Halloween and Valentine's Day, or through special order online.
Xocolatl de Davíd at Meat Cheese Bread; 1406 Southeast Stark St., Portland; (503) 234-1700; xocolatldedavid.com