Food | CHILI and CHOCOLATE
HOT CHOCOLATE: THE SWEET UNION OF
CHILI & CHOCOLATE
By Selicia Kennedy-Ross
They have become regular stock with gourmet chocolatiers everywhere – dark chocolate bars infused with the heat of the chili pepper.
As chocolate lovers develop a more discerning palate, the Latin-inspired recipe that creates a spicy sweet union between chilies and chocolate has become something that higher end chocolatiers are taking notice of. In recent years, a centuries-old tradition passed down from the Mayans and the Aztecs to modern-day Latinos. Oh yes, these great cultures already knew what many are just discovering today: chocolate + chilies = delicious.
Vosges Haut-Chocolat, a high end Chicago-based chocolatier, was among the very first to hone in on this trend a decade ago, creating its Red Fire Exotic Chocolate Bar, which features dark chocolate infused with Mexican red chilies and a touch of cinnamon. While this bar is smooth and delicious, the heat definitely begins to build.
“The History of Cacao: Chocolate’s long lost secrets can be traced back over 2,000 years to Mexico and Central America,” explains Katrina Markoff, CEO and owner of Vosges Haut-Chocolat. “First discovered by the Aztec and Mayan peoples, the original chocolate brew, xocatyl, was made by grinding the cacao bean with chilies, herbs, annatto and cornmeal. The frothed tincture was held in the highest regard, believed to bestow wisdom and virility to all who sipped it.”
When Spanish conquistadors made an offering of xocatyl to Queen Isabella, Her Majesty instantly declared her distaste for the spicy and bitter drink, Markoff says. However, when Cortez presented the court the cacao drink having substituted the spices for sugar, it was accepted, she says.
“The Spanish aristocracy concurred and the popularity of chocolate spread like wildfire throughout Europe – and lost was the marriage of chili peppers and chocolate for 500 years…until now,” Markoff says. “Vosges takes chocolate back to its roots with the Red Fire bar, blending dark chocolate with ancho and chipotle chili peppers and Ceylon cinnamon.”
Another of the Mexican-inspired Vosges creations is the Oaxaca Bar, named after the region in Mexico, and which rounds out a mildly spiced bittersweet dark chocolate with guajillo & pasilla chilies infused into a rich Tanzanian chocolate.
Most of the recipes feature dark chocolate as opposed to milk chocolate since the darker richer chocolate tends to enhance, rather than overwhelm, the flavor of the chilies. Almost all use dark chocolate with anywhere from 55 percent to 75 percent cacao, which allows for a richer taste.
The more adventurous chili chocolate lovers will want to try James’ Hot and Spicy Ginger & Chili Chocolates. According to chocoblog.com, the premiere chocolate review blog, the flavors are strong and the chili provides much more kick.
For those who prefer a more mild heat, the high-end chocolatier Lindt boasts the Excellence Chocolate Chili bar, an exotic candy bar so popular it even has its own facebook fan page.
Its mild heat from premium red chilis and sweet dark chocolate also calls to mind the Mayans & Aztecs love affair with chocolate fragranced with chilies.
“The Excellence Chili Bar, which launched in 2006, is the hottest creation of the Lindt Maîtres Chocolatiers,” said Nina Keller,spokeswoman for Lindt. “The mixture of finest dark chocolate with a touch of chilli is hugely successful with consumers.”
The combination was so successful that the company launched its Creation Cherry & Chili Bar the following year, a special bar containing 70% of finest dark chocolate combined with a filling of hot chilli and fruity cherries.
One of the reasons that people are drawn to the heat of the chili pepper is because spicy foods like chilies cause the body to release the body’s natural pain-relievers, endorphins, when ingested. This process is kick-started by capsaicin, a chemical in the chili pepper that causes us to perceive the spiciness or the sensation of heat, thus causing the release of the natural high of the endorphins.
The chili-cocoa trend has made its way to more affordable chocolate makers as well. Target stores, which markets its own brand of affordable chocolates called Choxie, is also getting in on the game. The Choxie brand also pays homage to the Latin history of the flavor combination in its Aztec Thins, which are infused with a touch of cinnamon and full-bodied Ancho chilis. Moonstruck Chocolatier also created the Dark Chocolate Chile Variado Bar, a dark chocolate with Ancho and Chipotle chiles, resulting in a bar with a mildly spicy finish. Cost Plus World Market, which created its own line of gourmet exotic chocolate bars, also carries the Chili & Lime Dark Chocolate Bar, infused with the Latin-inspired flavors of tangy citrus and chilies.
While most of these exotic gourmet bars use dark chocolate to set off the heat and flavor of the chilies, one UK-based chocolatier called Montezuma’s has taken a different approach to the Mexican tradition– organic milk chocolate, which is used in Montezuma’s Organic Chilli & Lime bar. But for the more traditional chili-chocolate lovers, they also make a very Dark Chocolate blended with chilies for cacao purists.
Markoff said she doesn’t know if the chocolate chili combination can honestly be called a new trend, as something as old as this recipe is made new again.
“I do not see it as a trend as it has been around for over 2,000 years,” she says. “I do find that the public loves to experience new flavors therefore opening door for such combinations.”
Where to buy chili-chocolate bars:
Red Fire Bar and Oaxaca Bar: www.vosgeschocolate.com
Lindt Excellence Chili Bar: www.lindtusa.com/
Dark Chocolate Chile Variado Bar: www.moonstruckchocolate.com
World Market Cost Plus Chili & Lime Dark Chocolate Bar: www.worldmarket.com
Montezuma’s Organic Chilli & Lime Chocolate Bar: www.montezumas.co.uk