A couple of weeks ago, I introduced all sorts of Indian-inspired chocolates from Britain-based makers. But that was just the tip of the spice-berg; there’s South Asian innovation influencing cocoa creations on a global scale. From competent bean-to-bar chocolate manufactured in the metropolis of Mumbai to paisley-patterned, fiery-flavoured truffles handmade in the good ole US of A , Indian flavours are making their mark in the chocolate world, all over the world…
Across the Pond
Chocolate and cosmetics might not seem the most likely bedfellows, but the combo works exceptionally well for Ecole Chocolat graduate Sarah Ali. Chamak started life as a South Asia-inspired beauty line, expanding into edibles after its founder found her experimental cocoa creations garnering a rave reception.
The brand name is rooted in the subcontinent – ‘Chamak’ is an Urdu/Hindu term meaning ‘to sparkle and glow’. Utilising paisley patterns and lustre dust, the range is often determinedly Desi in design terms – and, accordingly, spice gives life to many of the hand-hewn chocolates; as do a host of ayurvedic ingredients.
The crown shape of the Badaam Badshah chocolate reference the regal nature of its name – translating as ‘almond king’, this noble number cloaks home-made marzipan in rich 60% chocolate. Every bit as elegant is Qadeem (‘antique’), a handpainted, pearlised treat whose heat comes from candied ginger. Sholay – meaning ‘flame’ – is hot in name and nature, combining 61% Venezuelan chocolate with red and black peppers and cinnamon.
Many truffles are titled for Bollywood movies and ‘song hits’ – guava jam-filled Chamak Challo; Patha Patha Booti Booti which earns its name (‘leaf leaf, bud bud’) from the inclusion of fresh basil and curry leaves; the Gulabi Aankhen Jo Teri that’s redolent with rose and rolled in white poppy seeds.
Others wryly allude to South Asian culture; Chai Aur Biscoot, a chocolate inspired by the typical tea-with-cookies custom, a case in point. The white-shelled Fair & Lovely with its rich, deep-brown habshi halwa middle makes mockery of the same-named skin-lightening cream which sadly continues to sell so well, whilst Pyramid of Paan captures all the aromatic enjoyment of the post-prandial mouth freshening mixture in milk chocolate.
Chamak’s fresh, fragrant, fabulous-sounding combinations continue – homegrown lemon, turmeric and coriander leaf; spiced mango buttercream and saffron; cinnamon, roasted almonds and crunchy arabic gum; cardamom and sesame seeds. If you can bear to shuffle away from the truffles, chilli hot chocolate, chai fudge sauce and spice-laced, semolina-based Bombay Brownies are of a similar South Asian persuasion.
Cacao & Cardamom, Texas
With Cacao & Cardamom, Annie Rupani brings a little Indian influence to the Lone Star state. South Asian spices were in the company founder and chocolatier’s life from early childhood, but her journey to a career in cacao was a little more convoluted, involving an enthusiastic amateur ordering 30lb of couverture and a tabletop tempering machine, training courses in Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur, and, at long last, the launch of a Houston chocolate company.
Cacao & Cardamom’s travel-inspired truffles often speak of the subcontinent, from fruited beauties like guava tamarind and a coconut milk-based mango and passionfruit caramel through to fragrant treats infused with cardamom, rose and garam masala, via an interesting number which cleverly combines coconut and curry spice. Designs are as decadent as the treats themselves; richly-coloured, well-decorated, and cast in quirky moulds.
Out of India
The Chocolate Factory Ecuador, Mumbai
At just a year-and-half old, The Chocolate Factory is still in its infancy, but has already gained co-founder Varun Inamdar a reputation as the go-to guy for inventive, indulgent creations. For the adventurous venture, the chef-and-chocolatier teamed up with the Government of Ecuador, touting the chocolates with the tagline ‘grown in Ecuador; made in India’.
Having come to cocoa via his professional work as a pastry chef, Varun is quite the creative chocolatier; using chocolate both an ingredient in his savoury cooking and as an artist’s modelling material, yielding pieces like the life-sized True Spring Woman – an installation made for Mumbai’s Phoenix Food Festival, cast in sixty kilograms of Ecuadorean chocolate.
Purabi Naha, founder of popular food site Cosmopolitan Currymania and member of Mumbai’s bloggerati, who attended the launch of The Chocolate Factory alongside esteemed food writer and critic Rashmi Uday Singh, declared Varun’s wares winners, saying, ‘these luxe chocolates are simply gorgeous… Every piece in his chocolate box is unique in every sense’. With flavours including Guntur chilli, dairy-drink-inspired ‘thandai’, Madras kapi, and rose-nosed Kashmiri gulkand, she’s not wrong.
Bean Therapy, Mumbai
When Pooja Vir, a food writer with all her fingers firmly on Mumbai’s racing pulse, cites Bean Therapy as one of her ‘Bombay Food & Drink Game Changers’ in the Free Press Journal, you know this chocolate’s firmly up quality street. The brand is the baby of chef-chocolatier Sanjoy Solomon’s chocolate offerings, fusing handmade Callebaut-based chocolate bars with ingredients integral to Indian gastronomy.
If chocolate combined with Kashmiri kahwa (saffron-spiced tea) is not your particular cup, Karnataka-grown Watapi coffee might get you all a-buzz. Teja chilli chocolate is a hot favourite, whilst salt from the cool Himalayan seasons another Bean Therapy bar. Lonavala chikki – a much-loved Maharashtra-made nut brittle named for its town of origin, adds a crunchy munch to the mix, whilst further flavourings like black pepper & mango and cardamom & fennel all offer an enticing hint of exoticism to chocolate whose cocoa solids range veer from 54% – 70% across the range.
Earth Loaf, Mysore
Raw bean-to-bar chocolate company Earth Loaf might be found in Mysore, but its founders’ food-and-bev backgrounds were built in Britain: Angelika Anagnostou’s in the London cocktail scene and David Belo’s mixing mixology, bread-making and patisserie, chocolate and raw foodism. Set up in 2010, all of Earth Loaf’s products encapsulate elements of the duo’s holistic approach to diet and wellbeing.
It wasn’t until two years later that Earth Loaf commenced its chocolate-making, yielding a range of all-vegan bean-to-bars, rendered from raw cacao, palm sugar, and cold-pressed coconut oil. All ingredients, including the cacao for the company’s signature 72% chocolate, are sourced from South India, where the pair works with local farmers. Packaging is as attractive as what’s within; decorated with designs by specially-commissioned artists.
In one bar, the bitter bite of cacao nibs is offset by the round, mellow sweetness of palmyra jaggery, whilst chai masala bon bons encase black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, cassia bark, clove, cardamom, nutmeg, vanilla, palmyra jaggery and rock salt-laced cashew cream in the same signature 72% chocolate. And anyone who’s made the acquaintance of the intensely-aromatic, lusty-zesty Bengali ‘gondhoraj lebu’ will be as excited as I am by the prospect of a product that combines the powdered rind of the inimitable citrus with chocolate and North Indian apricots.
Mason & Co, Pondicherry
Remember the old Jetsons cartoons? Pondicherry’s ‘experimental township’ Auroville is similarly futuristic – a sort of inhabited Eden Project that some consider close to utopia and some … don’t. Whatever your view, the fact that it’s home to Mason & Co, the eponymous bean-to-bear chocolate business of French couple Fabien and Jane Mason, might serve to sweeten you up.
The business came about when an India-arrived, quality-chocolate-craving Jane missed her favourite treats so much that the couple took it upon themselves to create their own; starting with industry research, farm visits, and small-batch kitchen table experiments. The rapturous reception from friends, family, and fellow cocoa nuts convinced them of the venture’s viability, and the home lab was replaced with an artisan factory.
Organic raw materials for all eight of Mason & Co’s chocolates are sourced from farms in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, and the vegan range contains locally-popular flavourings like roasted cashew, coconut milk, and chilli & cinnamon. Budding bean-to-bar-ist? Fabian and Jane will train keen chocolate-makers and welcome visitors for a walk around the factory floor.
Smitten Bakery & Patisserie, New Delhi
Mandakini Gupta did not embark on a career as a chocolatier from the outset; working in broadcast journalism before launching the successful baking business which earned Smitten Bakery & Patisserie its stellar reputation. Under the same label, Mandakini now also offers hand-made dark chocolate bars, using Callebaut and Cacao Barry couvertures as base materials into which she introduces Indian ingredients including indigenous spices, seeds, fruits, and nuts.
Smitten’s colourful-yet-clean, graphic packaging is rather Mast Brothers-esque, and, in the same vein as the Brooklyn-based artisans, Mandakini makes much of local produce in her own products. The citrus component in the company’s hazelnut, fig and orange chocolate is sourced from the founder’s family farm, whilst a roasted coffee-infused offering uses beans from Indian company Blue Tokai. Pumpkin seed and candied chilli, meanwhile, is a spicy-sweet treat with real appeal to the some who like it hot. Beyond bars and back to baked goods, popular website Brown Paper Bag rates Smitten’s dark chocolate sea salt cookies and yeasted chocolate cinnamon chocolate swirl bread.
Chockriti, New Delhi
Chocolate tastes even better when it improves lives. Such is the case with the creations from Delhi-based Chockriti, founded in 2013 by Pragati Sawhney – a social entrepreneur, health professional, and, latterly, chocolatier. Chockriti’s lotus logo represents purity and goodness, summing up both the company’s wares and ethos. The social enterprise improves local women’s wellbeing, empowering through employment within a company where they will learn AND earn.
Owing to Pragati’s peripatetic life, Chockriti’s creations are internationally-inspired, with collections and flavours referencing not only India, but also France, England, Japan, and Arabia. But its the Indian-esque items that are of interest here – and they are interesting indeed. Some are simply subcontinentally spiced; cardamom coffee, masala chai, smoked chilli and spice. Other chocolates capture the essence of favoured flavours – like mouth-freshening mixture, paan; or sweet-spicy-tangy mango chaat.
Indian sweets meet cocoa in yet more Chokriti chocolate, each named for the mouthwatering ‘mithai’ that it alludes to: kaju (cashew) halwa; syrupy, round motichoor laddoos – syrupy, round and plump motichoor laddoos; candyfloss-like sohan papdi; and the stuffed, celebratory pastries, ‘gujiya’. The truffles are as much treat for the eyes as the mouth – variously shiny with silver leaf, printed with patterns, or strewn with spice.
- To read about Indian-style chocolates made in Britain, click here
- To read my piece on the British-Indian and Indian chocolate scenes for DESIblitz, click here
- To read about Indian sweets on Culinary Adventures of The Spice Scribe, click here
- For the recipe for my Bombay Bad Boy chocolate cheesecake, click here
- To read more on The Chocolatier, click here
- To read more on Duke of Delhi, click here
- To read more on Devnaa, click here
- To read more on The East India Company, click here