By Kate Steffens, Chocolate Expert for Menuism.com
Image used under a Creative Commons license by snowpea&bokchoi.
1. Kind Chocolate
Many people are starting to pay attention to where their food is sourced and how it is produced. Some chocolate purveyors have been accused of child labor practices, while others use non-organic cacao which can contain pesticide residue. Luckily, more and more companies have jumped on the fair trade bandwagon and it is now easy to find guilt-free chocolate at your local grocery store.
Tip: Look for chocolate marked "Fair Trade Certified" to be sure you're buying the best.
2. Savory Chocolate
Chefs from around the world are using new culinary technologies to experiment with chocolate as an ingredient in savory dishes. For years, mole sauce from Mexico has been the most well-known savory chocolate food, but that has been changing. Recently, chefs like Heston Blumenthal and Alice Medrich have created unusual main dishes using chocolate: white chocolate and caviar, and chocolate mushroom ragout being two of the most memorable. Vosges sells a very popular chocolate bar containing bacon.
Tip: Keep an eye on your menus because we will be seeing many more savory chocolate dishes in years to come.
3. Vegan Chocolate
You know veganism has triumphed past its tasteless beginnings when the winner of the Food Network's "Cupcake Wars" is a vegan! Surprisingly, decadent items like cupcakes and donuts are quite delicious when "veganized" and it is easy to find vegan chocolate hiding among everyday grocery store stock. Most high-quality chocolate chips are naturally vegan, with cocoa, sugar and vanilla being their only ingredients.
Tip: Try an at-home taste test: make two chocolate cakes, one using butter and eggs, and one using oil and vinegar (yes, vinegar!). I'll bet you'll be surprised at the intense chocolate taste of the vegan cake.
4. DNA Sequencing (not just for humans anymore!)
As of September 2010, two rival chocolate companies--Mars and Hershey--have completed sequencing the genome of the cacao tree. As a result, it will be easier to create disease-free cocoa trees as well as chocolate that is healthier and tastes better.
Tip: Look out for many more innovations in chocolate as more companies explore the results of the genome sequencing.
5. Custom Chocolate
There are dozens of ways to personalize your chocolate purchase, from M&Ms printed with a message of your choice to images printed directly on your chocolate bar. There is a chocolate available to suit almost any interest. This year alone I've seen chocolate clothing and shoes, chocolate-scented wallpaper, a functional chocolate boat and chocolate pet portraits. If you have a dream, it can probably be made out of chocolate.
Tip: Use your imagination--there is no limit to what can be created out of chocolate!
Kate Steffens is a pastry chef, writer, DJ, artist, designer and all-around Renaissance woman. She is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy and the University of Texas at Austin. She runs the rock-and-roll chocolate company, Straight Outta Chocolate. When she's not elbow deep in chocolate, you can find her reading, gardening, working on art projects and listening to old records.