This month’s Chocolate Show in New York City was something to behold. More than 50 vendors were on hand, showcasing specialty products ranging from artsy pocket-sized tins of chocolate nibbles to gorgeous gift-packaged artisan chocolates that truly looked like they belonged in a jeweler’s display case. I was sorry to have missed the opening night’s Chocolate Fashion Show, but many of the designer choco-frocks were on display throughout the exhibit.
In addition to the well-known chocolatiers, including Jacques Torres, Guittard, and Valrhona, there were fresh new faces representing brands that have just debuted this year. Barnes & Noble had a fantastic selection of chocolate-themed volumes for sale; cooking demonstrations, book signings, and kid-friendly crafts were happening throughout; and even a couple of savvy wine & spirit exhibitors, a tea & spice vendor, and an all-natural peanut butter company were there to demonstrate their products’ complementary qualities to the chocolate samples available at every turn.
The hottest trend seems to be “raw” chocolate, which is made with cacao beans that are not literally raw but prepared with low-heat techniques that preserve the fruit’s nutrients and antioxidants. Raw chocolate, created to capture the healthiest benefits of cacao, is usually made with organic ingredients; refined sugar is replaced by agave and other natural sweeteners. Fruit and nut additions are also usually limited to organic or minimally processed selections. So, how does it taste? Probably a little weird to most palates, with a slightly grainy texture and a heartier chew than you get from the usual silky-smooth packaged bars. But when paired with the right ingredients, raw chocolate can be delicious.
My favorite of the brands sampled was Gnosis, which bills itself as “the world’s most nutritious chocolate.” The Pomegranate Acai Bar includes brazil nuts, barberries, pomegranate, acai berry, blue-green algae (mmm!), vanilla bean, and, according to the label, love. The bar is crafted to “help address the effects of aging and free radical damage.” It’s chunky and sweet and has a nice mix of crunchy and chewy bits. The Aphrodisia Bar with figs, coconut oil, raspberries, and something enticingly called “horny goat weed” is another good one to sample, and is also available in a drinkable hot chocolate form. The Fleur de Sel Bar has a simple, clean taste that seems to exemplify the chocolate-as-health-food spin raw chocolate creators champion. I had a notion of chopping up the salty-sweet chunks to sprinkle over a salad as a kind of decadent-healthy crouton. Gnosis Chocolate can be ordered online (www.gnosischocolate.com) and found in many Whole Foods outlets in NJ.
Next: My own Best of Show, with tips for holiday gift-giving. So, stay tuned.
Deanna Quinones is the Jersey Bites Regional Editor for Morris County. A freelance writer, blogger, and unrepentant chocolate addict, Deanna spent 20 years in the San Francisco Bay Area where life was good and the burritos even better. She recently returned to the Garden State and now resides in Morristown, where she and her Texas-born/Jersey-raised/California-found husband are raising two wild and wonderful kids. An experienced book marketer, award-winning greeting card writer, and entertainment writing dabbler, Deanna can be reached at [email protected] (photo credit Pete Genovese/The Star-Ledger)