The chocolate-chile pepper combo has its roots in Mexico, most notably in mole sauce.

The chocolate-chili connection

Chili peppers and cocoa are indigenous to Mexico, where the combination has its roots, most notably in mole sauce.

“Many moles in the U.S. are sweeter than what is common in Mexico,” said Christopher Koetke, chef, vice-president, Kendall College School of Culinary Arts, Chicago. “Still, their adoption in the U.S. is helping Americans embrace the concept of sweet and heat together.”

Black pepper and chocolate are being mixed together, too, said Dominique Tougne, chef and owner of Chez Moi, Chicago.

“Black pepper has the power to increase the flavor of chocolate. Of course, it needs to be done perfectly. A chocolate ganache with a touch of black pepper will work wonderfully to make great truffles.”

The Mexican ancho chili is a classic pairing with chocolate because the subtle smokiness elevates the chocolate flavor, said Joel Reno, chef instructor, French Pastry School, Chicago.

“As a pastry chef, I mostly use sweet heat in my chocolate candies,” he said. “One of my favorites is a chili-mango bon bon, which is a chocolate confection made up of two distinct layers. The first layer is a ganache combining 58% chocolate, habanero chilies and rum. The second ganache is made up of mango puree, white chocolate and lime juice.”

At Beatrix in Chicago, part of Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants, John Chiakulas, executive chef and partner, makes a dessert beverage called White Lightning Latte.

“It’s a coffee drink made with cayenne pepper and a white chocolate base,” he said.
He also has a sweet chili sauce that can be used on appetizers, entrees and desserts. It involves black peppercorns, brown sugar, honey, lime and habanero.