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Chocolate Futurologists Say That Cacao May Soon Cost as Much as Gold

In the face of global water shortages and rising cocoa bean prices, two trend forecasters have predicted how we’ll be getting our future chocolate fix. Clue: it involves 3D printers and edible soft furnishings.

With chocolate appearing in everything from popcorn to vodka, it would be easy to raise a glass of chocolate-flavoured fizz to the seemingly endless supply of cocoa-y goodness enjoyed by the Western world. But before you break into that second celebratory layer of praline truffles, it might be wise to consider the changes currently afoot in the global chocolate market.

It's no secret that climate change and overpopulation are causing water shortages across the world. Parts of Brazil are experiencing the worst droughts for 80 years and California is gripped by a quickly depleting water supply. Australia's rainwater reserves are falling and the Red Cross warns of an impending "water catastrophe" in the Middle East.

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When you consider that it takes as much as 1700 litres of water to produce a 100-gram bar of chocolate, your Malteaser addiction seems like a pretty trivial use of the world's most important resource.

READ MORE: Your Chocolate Addiction is Fueling Child Slavery

Cocoa prices are also rising, with the cost of beans increasing by almost two thirds since 2012 to reach £2000 per tonne in 2014. Last year's annual report from Barry Callebaut, the world's largest chocolate manufacturer, fanned the flames of these worrying figures, warning of a "potential chocolate shortage" by 2020.

The press soon pounced on this news of an imminent chocolate crisis, with some publications even advocating the stockpiling of Snickers bars. That was until Michael Segal called bullshit on the whole chocolate doomsday thing and assured us that "currently, the world is safe for chocolate."

Phew.

While we can be pretty certain there will still be tins of Quality Street next Christmas, there's no denying the fact that growing chocolate demand will change the market.

According to Fairtrade, the chocolate confectionery market is worth $80 billion globally. Currently 3.5 million tonnes of cocoa are produced each year, a figure expected to rise by another million tonnes in the next five years. Demand is already outstripping supply, and is expected to increase by 30 percent by 2020. Add the increased affluence—and taste for chocolate—of countries like India (and, before economic growth slowed, China), and you've got some serious demand for the sweet stuff.

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Chocolate "thirst globes" made by food futurologist Morgaine Gaye and top chocolatier Paul A. Young.

In response to the changing face of the chocolate market, "food futurologist" Morgaine Gaye and top chocolatier Paul A. Young have taken it upon themselves to figure out the future of chocolate.

As part of a demonstration and tasting session held earlier this year at London's FutureFest, the pair questioned what chocolate would be like in the next ten years. They presented a world in which cacao costs the same as gold, and sweets are made into art, jewellery, and soft furnishings.

"The challenge was to use researched trends but create something edible, interesting, and affordable," explains Gaye, a trends forecaster and consultant to several international food businesses. "The trends themselves are accurate but the products were a combination of possibilities."

This "combination of possibilities" is a slight understatement. The demonstration included creations such as sherbet floss made from "pulled-sugar edible curtains" flavoured with dehydrated banana and coconut. Given growing fears over levels of sugar consumption, while we may no longer want to eat as much sugar in years to come, Gaye says we'll still be using it to light our homes with candy floss lamps.

The pair also predict a gradual transformation from hand-made to machine-made confectionery, and displayed a number of elaborate, machine-designed, rosemary-flavoured lattices. Known as "nanoring velvetine" and sprayed with red velvet, the sweets doubled up as artwork.

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Further reflecting the trend of chocolate as decorative art were a series of edible fake diamonds, created with 3D printers. However, Young is unsure about the use of this kind of technology on a larger scale.

"[3D printers] will possibly be used for some creative and innovative work but to make single chocolates? Probably not," he says. "A printer cannot compare to the craftsmanship of handmade products, made with the skill and training of chocolatiers. Printers can't come up with flavour combinations and be as creative as chocolatiers are."

Alongside such delicate creations, Gayle and Young also unveiled their "thirst globes," chocolate balls filled with dehydrated powders such as apple, carrot, tomato, dandelion, and burdock. On entering the mouth, the smooth globes turn into a ganache-like substance.

We're going to see a split in the chocolate industry as a response to rising cocoa prices. The large confectionery companies don't want to put their prices up so they'll make their products a little smaller each year, but there's a rise in the number of artisan chocolate start-ups.

OK, so it's all very clever. But do these futuristic chocolates taste good?

"It seemed that everyone loved it! However, as we start to reduce sugar in our diets, and brands stop over-flavouring and sweetening foods, our collective tastes will change," says Gaye. "Some of the less sweet options will be more palatable in years to come, as our perception and tastes [change]."

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It's hard to say how much of a basis Gaye and Young's chocolate vision has in reality. Cadbury's, Thorntons, and Nestle declined to comment on their predictions but Dom Ramsey, founder and editor of Chocablog and co-founder of the World Chocolate Guide, added his perspective.

READ MORE: The Global Chocolate Shortage Is a Myth

"Paul and Morgaine may have taken things to extremes in order to make their point, but some of what they said is already happening," he says. "We're going to see a split in the chocolate industry as a response to rising cocoa prices. The large confectionery companies don't want to put their prices up so they'll make their products a little smaller each year. But at the other end of the scale, we're seeing an exponential rise in the number of artisan start-ups producing simple chocolate with traditional methods."

If the water and cocoa shortages—combined with the sugar-free trend—make us turn to independently-made, exquisitely crafted chocolate, rather than taking our Dairy Milk binges for granted, the future of chocolate may not be so bleak.

Time to put that chocolate-flavoured fizz on ice, after all.