Bite into Barcode’s black cardamom- and Dalle chillies- (from Sikkim) infused chocolate, and the smokiness of the spices hits you first. The soothing tones of Sao Tome Dark (a variety of chocolate) are comforting on the palate. But don’t stop here. Travel further down, and savour chocolates infused with Kanchan amlas (grown in Jharkhand) blended with Ghana milk chocolate and Kesar mangoes (from Gujarat) with Java milk chocolate.
Six of 29 Indian states find representation in the recently launched first edition of Barcode, artisanal chocolates by Mumbai-based chef Varun Inamdar. “When I was at the Cocoa Revolution in Vietnam, I realised that the world looks at India as big consumers of chocolate, but not as producers,” says Inamdar, who researched for six years before launching the brand.
It’s true. India is not a major chocolate producer, but certain pockets of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala produce cocoa that is used by the big guys like Mondelez (which now owns Cadbury), and some smaller companies. But after experimenting with local and international cuisines, chefs and chocolatiers are now looking at chocolates made locally. This trend is in line with our growing appetite for gourmet food products. Pegged as a $2,800 million (Rs 18,897 crore) industry in 2015 by Technopak (a Gurgaon-based consultancy firm), India’s gourmet segment — which includes chocolates, cheese, cold cuts, sauces, among others — is gearing for big growth.
The chocolate industry can be divided into two segments: those who make chocolates from cocoa beans, and those who use this chocolate to create variations like pralines, ganache, flavoured bars, among others. Though the bean-to-bar segment is relatively new, it brings together all the different segments of chocolate-making under one roof.
Puducherry-based Mason & Co is one such company. Started by husband-wife duo Jane and Fabien Mason two years ago, it makes organic and vegan chocolates from locally sourced cocoa beans. “Making chocolates was more of a personal hobby. But I got interested in setting up Mason & Co, when I met the local farmers and started working with them,” says Jane. The journey was not an easy one. The duo had to train the farmers in producing high-quality cocoa with stringent quality checks. “For instance, the beans found here had about 20 per cent mold, compared to 4 per cent acceptable internationally,” says Jane, who worked with the local farmers to make them understand the technicalities of cocoa production. When mold attacks a well-fermented bean, it takes away the aroma leaving it with a foul smell.
Once the beans are ready to be turned into bars, they are cleaned and sorted, roasted and cracked and finally winnowed (to remove the shells). “At this stage, organic sugar is added to the nibs. This process also releases cocoa butter, turning cocoa into a paste,” adds Jane. Most mass-produced chocolates have emulsifiers that give it the melt-in-the-mouth feel. But at Mason & Co, pure cacao butter is added to give the chocolates extra richness. Even during an off season, the company produces about 5,000 bars a month.
Similarly, when chocolatiers David Belo and Angelica Anagnostou moved to Mysore, they launched Earth Loaf, an artisanal chocolate company. The duo sources its entire cacao requirement from farms in Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka.
Unlike Earth Loaf and Mason & Co, Gurgaon-based All Things sources beans from Ghana, San Domingo, Ecuador and Madagascar — some of the best cocoa-producing regions in the world — through an agency. “The region where the bean is grown, the climate, and the soil play a large role in determining its value,” says Kuhu Kochar, co-founder, All Things about their sourcing plans.
Similarly, Anuja and Ankita Jain of Mumbai-based Harsh Chocolates import raw ingredients for their hot chocolate stir-ins (dip in milk to turn it into hot chocolate) and chocolate rocks from local importers.
What sets these companies apart from the mass-produced chocolates is the fact that these are made in small batches, mostly manually, and have quirky packaging. For instance, All Things packages its nuts and maple syrup chocolate called All Things Monday in pinstriped covers. At Earth Loaf, the wrappers and boxes are silk-screen printed by hand, making it a truly artisanal product. “We hope with the new Make-in-India enthusiasm, we match the international raw material standards and go completely local,” says Anuja.
1. Mason & Co
Try: Peanut butter dark chocolate, roasted sesame chocolate bars and espresso dark chocolate (made with coffee from Blue Tokai)
Buy: masonchocolate.com/shop, or Nature’s Basket outlets across the country.
Price: Rs 300 onward
2. Earth Loaf
Try: Gondhoraj and apricot chocolate bar, smoked salt and almond chocolate bar
Price: Rs 270 onward
Try: Amla, lemon, coriander salt with 54% Ghana milk, figs and cloves with 54% Belgium dark
Buy: email on firstname.lastname@example.org
Price: Rs 499 (for Volume 1, containing six flavours)
4. Harsh Chocolates
Try: Cinnamon chocolate stir-In and masala milk stir-In
Buy: to place an order, call 9867080093
Price: Rs 150 for a box of chocolates
5. All Things
Try: All Things Summer which infuses Ratnagiri mangoes and All Things Water - 54.6% Belgian dark chocolate paired with Fleur de Sel
Price: Rs 330 onward