A growing cadre of gourmet Israeli chocolate makers are bringing high-quality chocolate to both the Israeli and foreign markets. Among these all-natural, handmade delicacies you’ll find pralines and truffles with a Middle Eastern/Asian twist, using flavors and fillings as exotic as passion fruit, pistachio, chai masala, jasmine, cardamom and ginger.
By Avigayil Kadesh
Every day when she opens her chocolate factory in Jerusalem’s artsy Ein Karem district, Sima Amsalem greets her sweets in a voice as velvety as the 47 varieties of truffles and pralines she and her staff make by hand. "We speak with the chocolate; we tell it how much we love it. It helps!" says Amsalem, a slim young mother who experimented in her own Jerusalem kitchen until burgeoning business demanded larger quarters.
Amsalem is one of a growing cadre of Israeli gourmet chocolatiers. The best-known Israeli name in chocolate is probably Max Brenner, which came on the local scene in the 1990s and is now a growing global presence. In fact, for awhile Amsalem sold her Sweet N’ Karem goodies at Brenner shops in Israel after Max Brenner became part of the Strauss food empire and no longer offered handmade sweets.
Cacao trees don’t grow in Israel (70 percent comes from Africa), and the processors that turn the bitter beans into chocolate nibs, liquor, butter, cake and powder are concentrated in Western Europe. But Israelis have been importing the raw materials and churning out treats since pre-state days.
Artisan Israeli chocolate actually predates Max Brenner. Ornat, founded in 1987, was the first manufacturer of handmade, handwrapped kosher Belgian chocolates in the country. Today it runs a visitor center and factory store in Gush Tel Mond and supplies chocolate to many hotels and the airport duty-free shop, and sells items in cities such as London, Paris and New York before major Jewish holidays.
Since the Max Brenner revolution, the premium segment of Israel’s chocolate industry has taken off, reportedly now worth about $5.3 million out of the total $40 million market. Among these all-natural, handmade delicacies you’ll find pralines and truffles with a Middle Eastern/Asian twist, using flavors and fillings as exotic as passion fruit, pistachio, chai masala, jasmine, cardamom and ginger.
Some of the newer players on this field are Trinidad Chocolate of Tel Aviv, Mishi Chocolate Boutique in Kiryat Tivon near Haifa, Petach Tikvah-based Roy Chocolate, Ruti Chocolates in Ramat Hasharon, Gabrielle’s Madame Chocolate of Ramat Gan, Logochoko in Haifa, Chocolate Dreams in Modi’in and Jerusalem-based Sweet N’ Karem and Nona. A growing number of gourmet shops are selling many of these brands throughout Israel.