Whether you like it dark or milk, as a bar or a drink, pure or with fillings, there is nothing quite like chocolate to sweeten the day. With World Chocolate Day being celebrated annually on July 7, it’s time to pay tribute to the dreamy concoction, a simple whiff of which makes life feel better.
This year, why not look beyond the big-name candy bars at the grocery store? Explore some home-grown chocolatiers we have access to in the UAE, so you can sink your teeth into the sweet stuff, while also supporting local businesses.
Here are eight brands worth discovering.
Boasting the world’s first camel milk chocolate factory, Al Nassma is a UAE brand that has become synonymous with the taste of Arabian chocolates – not only in the region, but throughout the world (in 2015, the brand struck a deal with Harrods to sell its chocolates in the famed London department store).
Al Nassma was set up in the UAE in 2008 after years of research into camel milk. Today, its chocolates come in a range of flavours and shapes. Choose between white, milk and dark bars, with or without nuts, or try the camel-shaped chocolates, which make for great souvenirs and gifts.
This Emirati artisanal chocolatier was founded in 2017 by Mohammad Al Qassimi and prides itself on its bean-to-bar chocolate making, all of which happens within the UAE.
Cocoa beans are sourced from places such as Madagascar, Tanzania, Peru, Ecuador and Guatemala, and roasted and blended to create an array of flavours to tantalise the taste buds. There’s everything from ganache to pralines and truffles to tablets (or bars), plus chocolate-covered nuts and dates to choose from.
Customers can pick different flavours for boxes or customise chocolates for special occasions. For a taste of the unusual, try Blu's yoghurt, cheesecake, Arabic coffee ganache or a strawberry chocolate and cocoa nibs slab.
Prices range from Dh195 to Dh350 per kilogram; available at Mirdif Street, Dubai; Nation Towers, Al Bateen, Abu Dhabi; and via Instagram: @bluchocolateae
Most UAE foodies would have heard about Brix Dessert Bar, a chic brand born in the UAE, situated in Jumeirah Fishing Harbour (it also recently launched in Time Out Market). While many of its creations are the stuff of dreams (its African Powerhouse cake is a must-try), most don’t know that it also creates handmade chocolate bars, which look like works of art.
There are three flavours to choose from: rose, with a white chocolate base and rose essence; pistachio, with dark chocolate, pistachios and nuts; and salted caramel, an indulgent dark chocolate, salt, cream and cocoa nibs creation. Brix also has a range of truffles and chocolate bonbons.
Dh35 each for the bars; available at Jumeirah Fishing Harbour and Time Out Market in Souk Al Bahar; and via Instagram: @brix_desserts
The brand was inspired by sisters Iman and Luchie Suguitan’s desire to find healthy chocolate after their mother was diagnosed with diabetes. Their journey took them to the island of Mindanao in the Philippines, where they worked with local farmers to learn more about cacao.
Co Chocolat, launched in 2016, specialises in chocolates with good-for-you ingredients such as turmeric, macha and moringa. The brand limits its use of refined sugar, preferring coconut sugar or dates, and also supports farmers in the Philippines through Overseas Filipinos Supporting Filipino Farmers, a social enterprise.
“Our USP is that our cacao is farm-to-table,” says Iman. “We have control over how our cacao trees grow, how the beans are fermented. We see the quality being produced and know exactly how farmers are empowered throughout chocolate”.
Co Chocolat's range includes everything from chocolate spreads to hot chocolate. Meanwhile, the bars come in creative, brightly coloured wrappers and designs, perfect for gifting.
Bars are priced at Dh28 each; available at Candylicious in The Dubai Mall and Dubai Airport; Yas Mall, Abu Dhabi; online at www.cochocolat.com
Started as a one-woman passion project by Emirati Najah Al Muntafiq in 2010, Coco Jalila has now grown to count the likes of Emirates Airline, Emaar Hospitality and Jumeirah Hotels and Resorts as clients. The secret is its unique creations: they are made with less sugar and more cocoa butter, and the melt-in-your-mouth chocolates can also be enjoyed on their own, but also work incredibly well with coffee.
The brand has also collaborated with master chocolatier Guido Gobino from Turin to produce a range inspired by Italian taste and flair. On the must-try list is the Coco Luna, filled with hazelnut gianduja and crushed pistachios; the Coco Rocca, made with crushed caramelised almonds, nougat, coffee nibs and a date paste; and the Sea Salt Cremino, milk chocolate with organic sea salt and olive oil.
Prices start from Dh250 per kilogram; available at patisserie counters within the lobby lounge areas of Address Hotels & Resorts; and online at www.cocojalila.com
Forrey & Galland
While this isn’t a UAE brand per se, it does have an intriguing history. Forrey & Galland was first set up in Paris, selling luxury chocolate in the early 1900s. However, when UAE residents Isabelle Jaouen and Vincent Moret realised that Moret’s family used to own the brand, they decided to revive it in the Middle East.
Today, Forrey & Galland only has two branches: in The Dubai Mall and in Fiorenza La Piazza, in Riyadh. Enter these stores and you’ll find it’s all about the experience, from customisations to tastings. Customers can choose classic or luxury boxes and mix and match chocolate flavours that include zaatar milk ganache, Omani halwa and Arabica coffee.
A classic box is priced at Dh115; available at The Dubai Mall; and online at www.forreyandgalland.com
Made by Two
For chocolate that looks more like a work of art, Made by Two is your best bet. It is a sister brand to Instagrammable cafe Two at Symphony, and can be found in Fashion Avenue at The Dubai Mall.
This home-grown artisanal chocolate boutique was launched in November 2020 by Mouza Alabbar, to deliver a “niche chocolate experience” inspired by art and design. This is why each chocolate sold is hand-painted and features myriad designs created using strokes of colour and gold dust.
The brand is also all about celebrating traditional Emirati tastes though its collections. Some nostalgic chocolate flavours include Gahwa Sky, an Arabic coffee creation, and Halawa Dust, with a taste of traditional halwa and pistachio, both made of chocolate from locally sourced cacao beans. There’s even a Chips Oman chocolate for those who want something sweet with a hint of spice.
Prices for individual chocolates vary and can be bought at the cafe; customised boxes start from Dh290; available at The Dubai Mall; Instagram: @made.bytwo
It’s impossible to list home-grown chocolate brands without mentioning Mirzam. The Emirati-owned brand launched Dubai’s first bean-to-bar factory in Al Quoz in 2016, and has since picked up numerous awards for its craft chocolates, namely its Single Origin Dark Chocolate India, Dark Chocolate with Dates and Fennel, and Dark Chocolate with Rose.
Named after a star, Mirzam sources its beans directly from Vietnam, Indonesia, Madagascar, India and Papua New Guinea, all countries that were part of the spice route and dhow maritime trading with Arabs in this region.
Its chocolate-making process is completely transparent, and the brand also offers factory tours, tastings and workshops.
For those looking for a taste of the region, Mirzam has an Emirati collection, with flavours such as milk chocolate with luqaimat, dark chocolate with halwa, dark chocolate with khabeesa, and white chocolate with aseeda. The brand also works with artists to create the wrappers for its chocolate bars, making this a creative and delicious gift option.
Prices start from Dh34 for a bar; available in Al Quoz, Dubai; Qasr Al Hosn, Abu Dhabi; and online at www.mirzam.com