Less sugar, more flavour: why we should be eating luxury chocolate

We examine the lure of luxury chocolate

Swiss chocolatier Laderach prides itself on its artisan chocolates
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A love for chocolate runs in David Zulman’s blood. The third-­generation chocolatier and ­managing director of Firetree ­believes the sweet stuff is not simply meant to be eaten, but to be savoured – from the sound each nugget makes when snapped off the bar and the deep aroma you can breathe in, to the way it melts on your tongue and the luxurious aftertaste.

Zulman grew up playing amid cocoa sacks in his grandfather's chocolate company in South Africa. In 1986, he moved to the UK, but continued to work in the industry. When he met Martyn O'Dare and Aidan Bishop, who both had a wealth of experience of their own, the three decided to launch a "premium brand" they named Firetree Chocolate, in the UK in 2017.

Less is more

In a world where shelves full of cocoa, sugar and milk are readily available in every corner store, I ask what makes chocolate premium? Zulman says it all boils down to taste. “Mass-market products are often paraded by companies that are superior in marketing, but premium chocolate thrives on quality. When customers eat the latter, they consume less than they would a mass product with more sugar. For example, a person could finish a store-bought bar in a single sitting, but they are unlikely to do so with a premium chocolate because it tastes so much richer.”

Luxury chocolates taste richer despite having less sugar
Luxury chocolates taste richer despite having less sugar

Health benefits of high-quality chocolate

UAE nutrition coach Fran Ellis agrees with Zulman's analysis. "If you are eating a chocolate bar full of sugar, it could make you crave more sugar," she says. Over the years, a number of studies have pointed to the health benefits of eating dark chocolate, that is, chocolate with a high cocoa content (usually 65 to 80 per cent). For starters, dark chocolate usually has less sugar and more cocoa solids, which is where beneficial flavonol compounds reside. Flavonols are thought to lower blood pressure and better heart health. As Ellis puts it: "Raw cacao actually has many excellent qualities: it is high in magnesium, which can curb your sugar cravings, is high in fibre, and contains iron and protein, as well as antioxidants."

Firetree Chocolate, which ships worldwide, prides itself on its "volcanic chocolate" offering. Firetree's cocoa beans are sourced from the Pacific Islands and Madagascar, regions that only account for 1 per cent of the world's chocolate. These areas also happen to be volcanic terroirs that produce beans with natural flavours (hence reducing the need to inject extra sugar). In line with global trends, the brand also boasts vegan and dairy-free credentials, and pays its ­farmers fair wages.

Firetree Chocolate deals with farmers directly, ensuring they are paid more than the market rate
Firetree Chocolate deals with farmers directly, ensuring they are paid more than the market rate

The latter is critical for a high-end chocolate brand, says Zulman. “When it comes to ­luxury, consumers aren’t buying products [only] because they taste or look nice. After all, they are paying two or three times the price. They need to understand your culture; without that backstory, your concept falls apart.”

From Paris to Dubai

An intriguing backstory also lies at the heart of Forrey & Galland, a 19th-century chocolate company that was born in Paris, but revived in the Middle East in the new millennium. It all started (in this region at least) with husband and wife duo Isabelle Jaouen and Vincent Moret.

The couple worked in a number of different fields all over the Middle East, but when they moved to Dubai in 1995, they decided to turn their passion for high-end chocolate into a business and began conducting chocolate-making workshops in 1998. It wasn’t until 2005, when the duo reviewed Moret’s family tree, that they realised his family used to own the luxury chocolate house Forrey & Galland from 1890 to 1914.

Taking this as a sign, the couple decided to continue the story of the brand and they took on the name for their first chocolate boutique in The Dubai Mall. "We looked into it and discovered that Forrey & Galland had such a beautiful history," says Jaouen. "Back in the day, it was located on a street with high-end brands and was extremely creative with its design and packaging. When we launched the store in 2008, we wanted to pay tribute and transport the brand from Paris to Dubai."

 Forrey & Galland blends French flavours with Middle Eastern ingredients such as Omani halwa and tahini
Forrey & Galland blends French flavours with Middle Eastern ingredients such as Omani halwa and tahini

In its current iteration, Forrey & Galland blends both French and Middle Eastern flavours. For example, alongside ingredients such as chocolate marzipan, vanilla sable and candied orange, it has chocolates that incorporate Omani halwa and tahini. Following its success in the UAE, the company also launched a branch in Saudi Arabia in 2016, with the idea to enrich its offerings with local ingredients. "We want to expand, but not at the cost of the product," says Jaouen. "It's all about creating an experience for the customer."

Doing so is a big part of the brand’s ethos and what propels it in the luxury sector, she adds. Other than handmade products and customisable packaging, it’s also about the chocolate-shop experience. “We worked closely with an architect when designing our boutique,” explains Jaouen. “The aim was to create a different environment for customers – almost like a jewellery shop. It’s a place where people can come, spend time and taste the chocolate. That way, they can leave with a beautiful memory, even if they don’t buy anything.”

The interiors of a Forrey & Galland store has been designed to make tasting chocolate an experience for customers
The interiors of a Forrey & Galland store has been designed to make tasting chocolate an experience for customers

Swiss chocolate in the UAE

Innovative flavour pairings share room in the luxury confectionery hierarchy with classic chocolate, and Switzerland is the name on everyone's lips in this genre. Fortunately, you don't have to ascend the Alps to get a taste of a Swiss bar any more. There are a number of brands coming to customers in the Middle East, with Laderach leading the way.

The company, which is owned by the Laderach family, is headquartered in the canton of Glarus. It launched in 1962 and is one of the largest artisanal chocolatiers today, producing chocolates in Switzerland and Germany, and making these available in the Middle East and Asia through sales partners.

In the region, Mohammed Rasool Khoory & Sons is the brand's main franchiser, bringing the UAE's first Laderach store to The Mall at World Trade Centre in Abu Dhabi in 2016. To date, the brand has six branches across the capital, Al Ain and Dubai. "We seek to expand our business to cover all emirates," is the brand's official position – so expect to find more of the chocolatey goodness in years to come. Think melt-in-the-mouth pralines, creamy dark chocolate truffles and delicately crunchy biscuits.

Being at the top of the confectionery game in the UAE takes more than hand-crafted production, and direct and personal sales. Laderach has also branched out with its own cafe in the capital's Yas Mall and Marina Mall, and Mall of the Emirates in Dubai. Here patrons can order freshly made waffles, crepes or gooey ­brownies, loaded with fresh fruit, ice cream and creamy chocolate sauce. Afterwards, wash it all down with a ­steaming mug of Laderach hot chocolate or a cool nutty chocolate (a chocolate, whipped cream and hazelnut concoction). Sipping on Swiss chocolate? It doesn't get more luxurious than that.