Sweet news in a sour economy
Chocolate has a starring role on Valentine's Day. But smart marketing as a mood enhancer, heart-disease preventer and affordable luxury in a gloomy economy has given it prominence year-round.
PREDICTIONS are plenty that the worst recession since the Great Depression has taken the bloom off Valentine's Day. But a different story can be told about chocolate.
It appears this rich and dark substance is blessedly recession proof.
While the National Retail Federation reports worrisome trends of Valentine's Day spending falling by 15 percent, another trend watcher, research firm IBISWorld Inc., predicts consumers will put their limited money into luxury chocolates or greeting cards.
The former is good news for Seattle, which boasts an impressive number of high-end chocolatiers, including Fremont's Theo Chocolate and world renown Fran's Chocolates. It seems little cannot be improved upon by adding chocolate, from chocolate panna cotta to chocolate pot de crème to chocolate sushi.
This isn't your parents' chocolate — even as old brands, such as M&Ms, jump into the game with premium offerings.
High-end chocolates start at $8 a pound. The best are fresh, handmade in small batches and boast descriptions that appear to have been written by a wine sommelier. Notes, finishes and aftertastes are debated and add to the ambience of luxury.
Grocery stores sell chocolate bars with exotic or unexpected ingredients, from bacon to sea salt or from Sichuan pepper to caramelized ginger.
Sales of dark chocolate has grown 10 times faster than milk chocolate, representing a quarter of what Americans buy and equaling $4 billion last year. Xochiquetzal, the Mesoamerican goddess of the cacao bean, would be happy.
There is something egalitarian about the rise of chocolate. Its origins can be traced to cacao trees in the rain forests of the Amazon. Today, roughly two-thirds of the world's cocoa is produced in Western Africa, with close to half of the total coming from Côte d'Ivoire. In the global marketplace, these two regions produce ingredients for success.
For the rest of us, $8 for a taste of heaven seems a good deal.
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.