PARIS - Want to taste? Come on! It's a bit like the sashimi of chocolate," calls out raw chocolate maker Frederic Marr, beckoning the curious to his stall at Paris's annual chocolate extravaganza, the Salon du Chocolat.
Touted as a "super food" by some, raw chocolate is the latest trend in the world of chocolate. Proponents say it has health benefits because the cocoa beans used to make it are heated to much lower temperatures than for standard chocolate.
As a result, they say, raw chocolate has more nutrients such as iron, zinc, magnesium and copper as well as higher levels of antioxidants.
According to Mr Marr, who is based at Montreuil, near Paris, recent refinements in the raw chocolate-making process mean that in addition to being a good health option, it also tastes good.
"Historically, raw chocolate was not very good. It was consumed for nutritional reasons, so there was less care taken in its manufacture," he said. "But quality raw chocolate is now starting to be successful in countries that also care about taste, including France."
Lauren Bandy, nutrition analyst at consumer market researchers Euromonitor International, says raw chocolate is still a niche product but has seen a steady rise in popularity over the past few years.
Sales of standard dark chocolate have risen by US$1.4 billion globally over the past five years, with an annual growth rate of 7 per cent, she said.
"Many consumers buy raw chocolate for the same reasons they buy dark chocolate (so) if dark chocolate sales are to be used as an indicator for raw chocolate's potential, then raw chocolate has a lot of promise," Ms Bandy, said.
More expensive than other types of chocolate, raw chocolate costs around five euros (S$8) for a 45-gramme bar.
But Kris McGowan, of the UK-based Raw Chocolate Company, says consumers are willing to pay extra for food if they have confidence in how it is made and what has gone into it. For Nefeli Bouzalas, of import company Hacienda del Cacao, the emergence of raw chocolate highlights a trend for chocolate that is less sweet.
Whatever the claims made for raw chocolate, French nutrition consultant Laurent Chevallier warned against relying on it as a source of nutrients.
"Chocolate does not have nutritional value when you consume it in reasonable quantities and if you eat it in unreasonable quantities, you will get fat," he said.
The Salon du Chocolat runs until Sunday in Paris.