Slideshow: Not your ordinary chocolate

by Donna Berry
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Donna Berry
This past week there were a number of Winter Fancy Food Show trends reports published, as the expo took place Jan. 19 to 21 in San Francisco. Something I noticed while walking the show floor is the booming category of better-for-you chocolate.

Most innovations focused on the use of antioxidant-rich dark chocolate and ethically sourced ingredients. For example, Ripple Brand Collective, Congers, N.Y., introduced two limited-edition seasonal flavors of barkTHINS snacking chocolate. Both are Non-GMO Project Verified, fair-trade ingredient certified and contain no artificial colors or flavors. The dark chocolate base serves as a canvas for layers of extra flavors. The two new varieties are dark chocolate pumpkin seed and dark chocolate peppermint pretzel.

Click for a slideshow of innovative chocolate products from the Winter Fancy Food Show.

Deborah Holt, chief marketing officer of Ripple Brand Collective, who previously held a similar marketing position at Ciao Bella, Florham Park, N.J., said that what differentiates products such as barkTHINS is they deliver goodness in every bite.

“We give consumers something they can enjoy and feel good about eating,” she said.

Endangered Species Chocolate, Indianapolis, takes a similar approach. The company debuted a dairy- and gluten-free filled bar line to its natural bar line-up. The new range features six fillings, including almond butter crème, sea salt and lime crème, coconut crème, blueberry vanilla crème, raspberry orange crème and lavender mint crème — all surrounded by 72% dark chocolate.

As with all of its dark chocolate products, the products feature ethically traded, sustainably grown chocolate and are Non-GMO Project Verified, gluten-free and vegan certified. All of the bars also include an educational inner wrapper infographic detailing each species’ conservation status and promoting wildlife non-profits that work to protect each endangered animal.

Whitney Bembenick, research and development manager, said the new fillings feature certified-sustainable, single-source, organic palm oil.

“Being an eco-conscious company we wanted to be on the forefront of using sustainable palm oil in our filling for these products,” he said. “By utilizing it as the dairy-free crème base in our filled bars we’re able to develop new and innovative vegan-friendly flavors such as our sea salt and lime crème bar. These flavors are commonly used in many types of cuisine, but pairing them together with the richness of our dark chocolate and smooth crème results in a bright, fresh experience for the pallet. This flavor profile would not have been achieved without the use of sustainable palm oil.”

Coco Polo, Highland Park, N.J., uses stevia to give its chocolate bars a better-for-you image by being sugar free. The line includes six varieties of 70% cocoa dark chocolate bars. Labels explain that they are all natural, sugar free, gluten-free, have no bioengineered ingredients, are made with sustainably sourced cocoa without child labor, and contain the prebiotic fiber inulin for digestive health.

Here was a real show stopper. Chicago-based Vosges Chocolate rolled out a line of chocolates under the sub-brand Super Dark, which is suggestive of the super foods and the dark chocolate that the confections are made with. The six unique flavors in the line include: coconut ash and banana, acai and golden berries, matcha green tea and spirulina, guajillo and chipotle chili, pomegranate and goji, and Reishi mushroom and walnut.

The new collection combines dark chocolate with fellow super food ingredients, resulting in healthfully decadent haut-chocolate, according to the company. For example, the Reishi mushroom and walnut variety touts that it is loaded with antioxidants, calcium, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, polyphenols, polysaccharides and potassium. It is described as a heart-healthy chocolate that contributes to enhanced brain function, stress reduction and general wellness.

Seattle Chocolate Co., Seattle, has a couture line marketed under the brand jcoco. The agave quinoa sesame bar is made with single-origin Vanuatu milk chocolate. It includes toasted sesame seeds and high-protein quinoa seeds that has been puffed under low heat and coated with blue agave to seal in the airy crunch.

Other decadent delights include two more milk chocolate varieties: edamame sea salt and Vanuatu coconut pecan. In dark chocolate, there’s noble dark with cocoa nibs and black fig pistachio. There’s also cayenne Veracruz orange white chocolate.

But by far, my favorite chocolate sampled came from Sonoma, Calif.-based CocoaPlanet, which markets a namesake line of healthy premium dark chocolates that are low in calories, sugar and net carbs. Living up to its tagline of “More taste, less sugar,” each CocoaPlanet chocolate has fewer than 100 calories and a mere nine net carbs. This is achieved by making round wafers using 64% cocoa and employing patent-pending technology to suspend drops of filling throughout the wafer. The result is 15% filling versus 60% to 80% filling found in most flavor-filled chocolates. Flavors are: salted caramel, cocoa mint, deep dark truffle, Mandarin orange and vanilla espresso.

The founder of the company, Anne McKibben, believes that just because a chocolate tastes decadent doesn’t mean it can’t be healthy.

“By distributing flavored fillings throughout the chocolate, you get a rich flavor experience with much less filling,” she said. CocoaPlanet chocolates are also made with all-natural and mostly organic ingredients. They are gluten free, kosher and Non-GMO Project Verified.

Who knew candy could be this good?
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