In China, most chocolates are bought as presents or for ceremonial use, such as wedding candy, rather than for daily snacks. Chocolates are increasingly being offered as gifts during special occasions such as the Lunar New Year, for example, when visiting family or friends at home. Among young Chinese men and women, premium chocolates with elaborate fancy packaging, have also become a popular choice to give as presents during Western Valentine’s Day in February or Chinese Valentine’s Day, which usually occurs in August.
According to the Association of Chinese Chocolate Manufacturers, consumers eat only around 70g of chocolate per capita every year. This figure is dwarfed by 2kg in neighbouring Japan and South Korea. In Europe, the average consumption of chocolate is 7kg per person per year, with Switzerland leading the pack at a whopping 9kg per person per year. But in China, with its population of about 1.4 billion, the chocolate market as of 2019 is already worth around US$ 5.2 billion, up from $1 billion in 2009.
It’s not hard to see what all the fuss is about. All-natural chocolate is rich, smooth and complex; the mass-produced variety – low in cocoa solids, bound with vegetable fat, sticky with glucose syrup – contains additives that makes it waxy, gritty and super-sweet.
Until recently, the best chocolate confectioners were concentrated in Europe: Belgium and Switzerland. Tiny Belgium boasts more than 2,100 chocolate shops, while Zurich is home to the closest thing the real world has to Willy Wonka: Barry Callebaut, a company with an annual chocolate-related turnover of more than US$3.5 billion, which now operates Chocolate Academy Centers in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, training more than 5,000 Chinese people in the craft of chocolate-making and hosting a series of online home baking sessions in Mandarin, which have attracted over 130,000 viewers since February 2020. Germany, however, still reigns as the world’s top exporter of chocolate in 2019, shipping over $5.2 billion worldwide, with Belgium coming in second, shipping over $3 billion.
Not to be outdone, in September 2020, the Swiss opened what has been billed as the “world’s largest chocolate museum, chocolate fountain and Lindt chocolate shop” with the Lindt Home of Chocolate in Zurich, approximately 6,500 square metres of interactive exhibitions detailing the history of chocolate, chocolate making workshops, a chocolate cafe and shop and a chocolate fountain that is an impressive 9 metres tall, with 1,500kg of chocolate flowing through it.
But now there are minnows nipping at the tails of these behemoths. Across America and Europe, individual pâtissiers with absolutely nothing Belgian, Swiss or German about them are opening shops selling their own artisan products. Small, highly respected producers such as Tcho and Amano in the US, Italy’s Amedei, Oriol Balaguer in Spain and Chantal Coady’s Rococo shop in London have shaken up the market.
And if all that wasn’t good news enough for chocoholics, research has revealed that dark chocolate is also a superfood, with anti-oxidant properties that have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke. Scientists led by Dr. Brian Buijsse, a nutritional epidemiologist at the German Institute of Human Nutrition, found that flavanols, substances in cocoa that boost the body’s supply of nitric oxide, can contribute to chocolate eaters’ lowered blood pressure. People who eat 7.5 grams a day – the equivalent of one small square – are less likely to suffer a stroke.
Now that’s the kind of health advice that could be addictive.