The Lighter Side to Dark Chocolate
2012 signified two major events for me; the 2012 London Olympics, which I was lucky enough to attend, and the year I found out milk did not agree with me. I’m intolerant, not allergic, but this was enough to make me think I could never enjoy chocolate again – would this be the end to my sweet tooth? But then I noticed the dark chocolate SKUs on the confectionery shelves in my nearby supermarket.
My initial thoughts towards dark chocolate had always been the same: an acquired taste and an ingredient reserved for fancy tray bake recipes in artisan cafes. Since 2012, I have noticed dark chocolate flourish within confectionery and other food categories. Digestives, rice cakes, breakfast bars and protein shakes have already expanded their ranges to include dark chocolate options.
Luckily for me, there is no milk in dark chocolate. For it to be considered ‘dark’ or ‘pure’ it needs to consist of at least 70% cocoa. The health benefits continue to be studied, but in recent years have revealed it improves blood flow to the brain and lower blood pressure, it is full of antioxidants including polyphenols, flavanol and catechins. Flavanols reduce the risk of skin damage, improve blood flow to the skin, and increase skin density and hydration. It all sounds pretty good.
So why haven’t I paid any attention to dark chocolate before?
On shelf, milk chocolate bars are bright, bubbly and full of personality. Dark chocolate, on the other hand, is mysterious but alluring. The packaging appears to be of a better quality than milk chocolate, even for own label. Dark chocolate bars escape childish packaging and gimmicky new square shapes. Delicately wrapped in subtly branded foil in a cardboard outer, dark chocolate has positioned itself as far away from milk as possible.
Premium big brands such a Lindt, Green & Blacks and Godiva have got all variations of the dark realm covered. From varying cocoa percentages to infused dark chocolate with chilli or sea salt, Cadbury’s even launched a dark milk chocolate: ‘Dark Milk’, in Autumn last year. Although at 40% cocoa, it’s difficult to compete with the ‘real dark chocolate’ players.
Keeping dark chocolate mainstream and widely available is as important for these brands as it is for me. As food analyst Anita Winther says, ‘references to provenances have become prevalent in premium chocolate’, driving the growth of small independent brands as they connect with ‘consumers on a connoisseur level’. Although it’s not always best when big brands poke their nose in, in doing do, they are actively keeping dark chocolate popular and readily available – something I’m grateful for.
With dark chocolate an elite member of the confectionery category, it allows me to take it to the checkout feeling less guilty of my sugar craving. It shows a reflection of my nutritional knowledge of cocoa and my premium taste buds. As dark chocolate continues to gain popularity, it would be interesting to see how brands will begin to push the boundaries and dare to transform dark chocolate into a much less mysterious profile.
It looks like my relationship with confectionery without milk won’t be so dark after all.