“Want to taste? Come on! It’s a bit like the sushi of chocolate,” calls out raw chocolate maker Frederic Marr, beckoning the curious to his stall at Paris’s annual chocolate extravaganza, the Salon du Chocolat.
Touted as a “super food” by some, raw chocolate is the latest trend in the world of chocolate.
Proponents say it has health benefits because the cocoa beans used to make it are heated to much lower temperatures than for standard chocolate.
As a result, they say, raw chocolate has more nutrients such as iron, zinc, magnesium and copper as well as higher levels of antioxidants.
According to Marr, who is based at Montreuil, near Paris, recent refinements in the raw chocolate making process mean that in addition to being a good health option, it also tastes good.
“Historically raw chocolate was not very good. It was consumed for nutritional reasons, so there was less care taken in its manufacture,” he said.
“But quality raw chocolate is now starting to be successful in countries that also care about taste, including France,” he added.
Lauren Bandy, nutrition analyst at consumer market researchers Euromonitor International, said raw chocolate was still a niche product but had seen a steady rise in popularity over the past few years.
Sales of standard dark chocolate have risen by $1.4 billion globally over the past five years, with an annual growth rate of seven percent, she said.
– ‘ Lot of promise’ –
“Many consumers buy raw chocolate for the same reasons they buy dark chocolate (so) if dark chocolate sales are to be used as an indicator for raw chocolate’s potential, then raw chocolate has a lot of promise.”
More expensive than other types of chocolate, raw chocolate costs around five euros ($6.30) for a 45-gramme bar.
But Kris McGowan, of the UK-based Raw Chocolate Company, said consumers were willing to pay extra for food if they had confidence in how it was made and what had gone into it.
“Probably over the last 10 years there’s been a real shift amongst consumers; they are taking much more care of what they buy,” he said.
“They want to know more about where things come from and after various food scandals people no longer trust the big companies to do things cleanly,” he added.
For Nefeli Bouzalas, of import company Hacienda del Cacao, the emergence of raw chocolate highlights a trend for chocolate that is less sweet.
“There have always been some people who love dark chocolate but now more and more people who before would have chosen a milky chocolate are chosing dark chocolate.
“Now people are even asking us for 100 percent cocoa — which is really bitter,” she said.
Whatever the claims made for raw chocolate, French nutrition consultant Laurent Chevallier, warned against relying on it as a source of nutrients.
“The nutritional benefits of chocolate are only worth anything in very large quantities,” he said adding that from a health point of view levels of antioxidants in chocolate were “infinitesimal”.
“Chocolate does not have nutritional value when you consume it in reasonable quantities and if you eat it in unreasonable quantities you will get fat,” he said.
The Salon du Chocolat runs until Sunday in Paris.