NEW YORK – It's sumptuous, decadent, addictive, even sexy — and this year, chocolate is also spicy.
In the world of cacao bean creations, this year's hot tamale is a blend of rich chocolate and a hint of spices like chili pepper, curry and cardamom.
Such tantalizing concoctions were featured prominently at the 7th annual Chocolate Show (search) in New York City this past weekend.
"The new trend is spices and herbs in chocolate — like cayenne pepper and jasmine," said Avishan Amanat, a manager at a professional tasting lab called The Institute for Sensory Research (search).
In fact, chocolate has come full circle and returned to its roots, said pastry chef Brian M. Donaghy. The earliest chocoholics in Mayan cultures, Mexico and other parts of Latin America consumed the treat in thick, liquid form, without sugar and often with spices added.
"Spices in chocolate is a natural progression," said Donaghy, of Albert Uster Imports, which distributes spice-laden Laderach truffles from Switzerland. "There's a real fusion these days of savory and sweet."
The Laderach truffle "spice collection" features heavenly chocolate creations infused with paprika, allspice, ginger, cardamom, chili, curry, cinnamon and nutmeg — adding a surprising zing to a familiar favorite.
"I like it!" exclaimed one Chocolate Show guest, who lingered over the curry-laden liquid chocolate samples at the Laderach booth.
Another company, Blackflower Chocolate (search), makes truffles with chili pepper and vanilla bean; curry, saffron and coconut; and fresh basil and rosemary.
"It changes people's perception of what chocolate is," said Blackflower owner Cheryl Robbins-Dooley. "It's a food, not a candy. I like blending it with herbs and spices because these are foods."
Robbins-Dooley even creates pieces with Camembert and goat cheese. Cheese … in chocolate?
"They're delicious," she said. "Chocolate and cheese are fabulous."
Also hot this year are organic, healthy, kosher and vegan versions of the tempting treat. Companies like Gary Null make chocolate bars packed with everything from soy protein and organic raw cane sugar to broccoli, Aloe Vera and kale.
"The trend of wanting to be healthy never dies," said Jennifer Blum, director of media relations for Gary Null. "This is revolutionary, having chocolate like that."
Some might not go in for the dry, veggie taste characteristic of such healthy versions of chocolate — but in this fitness-obsessed day and age, others are likely to forgo traditional flavors in the name of nutrition.
Still popular in high-end chocolates are those that are pleasing to the eye as well as the palate. Japan-based Mary's Chocolates, for instance, specializes in "Flower Ganaches," which have delicately hand-painted flowers on each piece.
Spices, organic ingredients and artistic designs aside, some chocolatiers are still just sticking with simple concepts and pure, alluring flavors.
Brand new CKBY's Couture Chocolates offers "cocoa pods," Belgian milk and dark chocolate pieces shaped like cacao beans with a creamy chocolate center.
"Mother Nature designed it and I filled it with chocolate," said company chocolate maker Kevin Burns. "There's nothing pretentious, nothing crazy."
And no matter what the new trends are, chocolate will always have a raw, mystical, universal appeal — especially during the holiday season. In the U.S. alone, Americans consume an average of 10 pounds of chocolate a year, according to the Chocolate Manufacturers Association.
"Chocolate is visceral," said Donaghy. "People get really excited about it."