Chilli chocolate: why spice lovers are sure to fall in love with this flavoursome combination

13 Jun 2023

Chocolate Knowledge

Try your favourite cacao treat with some heat and it’ll be hard to turn back

You’ve likely heard of chilli chocolate — perhaps it’s caught your eye in the confectionary section or a fellow spice lover recommended it. There’s certainly an air of mystique around the combination, with every instinct telling you it shouldn’t work. All the while, its adventurous appeal allures you to give it a try.

Far from a dare-devil prank dreamt up by today’s chocolatiers, chilli chocolate has a fascinating history and science to it. And that’s before we get on to its tantalising taste. Let’s just say you’re right to be intrigued; and with our insider knowledge, you’ll be one step closer to satisfying your curiosities. 

Chocolate dessert with chilli

What is chilli chocolate?

Spicy chocolate. It feels strange even to say it out loud. Usually, it’s a love of cacao that has you reaching for your favourite chocolate. And it’s fair to assume the addition of chilli would counteract your enjoyment of those nuanced cacao notes.

An unusual combination it may be, but in the world of food, opposites can definitely attract — such as in the better-established pairing of sweet and salty. The reality is that sweet and spicy complement each other nicely.

When used moderately, chilli brings a gentle heat to chocolate that brings out the varied notes of cacao. It also builds richness — but we’ll touch on exactly how this works later.

The most popular form of chilli chocolate is in a bar, just as you’d expect from many other flavours of chocolate. You’ll also find it in bite sized chunks, like our Chilli Chocolate Selectors. And there are plenty more varieties out there, such as hot chocolates and desserts with a kick. Chilli chocolate brownies, cupcakes, ice cream… There are endless possibilities.

While the exhilarating impact of chilli and chocolate can be enjoyed without any additional ingredients, certain nuts, fruits and spices can add an extra twist. That could be cinnamon, nutmeg, orange or hazelnut, to name just a few.

Put simply, a love for chilli chocolate opens a whole new realm of chocolate treats you may not realise exist.

Cacao beside a pestle and mortar

The history of chilli chocolate

The number of chocolate varieties seems to multiply by the day, and as chilli chocolate grows in popularity, it’s easy to assume this is a recent innovation in flavours. In fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Chilli and chocolate have been paired together for as long as the invention of chocolate full stop, dating back to the Mayan and Aztec civilisations.

Traditionally chilli chocolate was consumed as a drink called xocolatl — a concoction said to bestow virility and wisdom to those who drank it. The Aztec and Mayan recipe for this bitter chocolate brew paired ground roasted cacao beans with chilli, herbs, annatto and cornmeal. Similar regional versions incorporated vanilla, honey and pepper.

Chilli and chocolate were solely consumed in Central and South America for hundreds of years until European colonisers discovered chocolate themselves and brought it back across the Atlantic. Adapting cacao to European palettes, they lost the chilli from the original recipes. But today, many chocolate lovers rejoice in experimenting with the more traditional variations.

The science behind the heat

How is it that these two opposing flavours can complement one another? We’ll walk you through it.

As you bite into the chocolate and enjoy the instant sweetness, your palate opens. The spice then slowly builds as capsaicin, the chemical found in chillies, binds to your TPV1 receptors. This causes a gentle tingling sensation.

This means it’s more a case of feeling than heat rather than tasting the chilli itself. In doing this, it ramps up the flavour intensity so the chocolate tastes even richer. Meanwhile, the unique flavour profile of cacao also brings out the richness in any additional spices and the original sweetness lingers on.

It’s an exciting flavour sensation, and one quite unlike any other.

Closeup of red and green chillies

Warming chilli chocolate gifts from Hotel Chocolat

Hotel Chocolat’s Chilli Chocolate Selector is the perfect introduction to this daring combination. Combining our signature dark chocolate with a hint of chilli and mellow hazelnut praline, these sense-tingling Selectors certainly pack a punch.

Each bite takes you on a journey. We call it the five-second effect. Place the selector on your tongue, the countdown to five, and the praline will slowly release the aromatic chilli — giving you the warming sensation as the chocolate soothingly melts in your mouth.

They come in packs of six, so you’re able to share the experience with friends. Or, if you can handle the heat, keep going back for more. And a little tip for the budding bakers out there, they make a great cupcake topper for a bake with a kick.

Honouring the true roots of chilli chocolate, we’ve also concocted a chilli chocolate drink of our own. A nod to the Mayan classic with a Hotel Chocolat twist is our Chilli Drinking Chocolate. Made with mouth-warming habanero chilli and cacao-rich 70% dark chocolate, it’s comforting and indulgent while taking the intensity up a notch —  just as it was supposed to be enjoyed. For the creamiest results, whip one up using your Velvetiser. Explore our full chilli chocolate collection