Consumers and professionals anxious to find out the next creative chocolate and dessert trends will have an opportunity to do so at the upcoming Chicago Fine Chocolate & Dessert  and National Chocolate & Dessert shows in Chicago next month.

Eighteen finalists for the first-ever Chocolate and Dessert Innovation (CADI) Awards were announced today by organizers of the consumer and trade shows. An expert panel of CADI judges will evaluate the finalists in three categories (best new product, best flavor profile, and best sustainable product) to determine the winners from the country’s top confectionery and pastry artisans, whose creations will be on display at Chicago’s Navy Pier on Sunday, Oct. 20.

“We wanted to give our exhibitors from both the trade and consumer shows a chance to be recognized by industry leaders for their contributions in chocolate and dessert,” explains Show Founder Mario Pi. “The unique flavor profiles and ingenious creations from the fifty plus products that we received blew us away.”

The CADI Award winners will be selected by a panel of expert judges including Franco Pacini (director, The French Pastry School), Matthew Stevens (publisher, Dessert Professional), Liz Grossman (managing editor, Plate Magazine), and John Reed (American Culinary Federation/owner, Customized Culinary Solutions).

Some of the finalists included: a pretzel chocolate pizza; hyper local chocolates utilizing local black walnuts and spicebush berries from Ohio; chocolates with a chili sea salt; roasted chipotle chocolate salsa; a journal made out of bark from the cocoa tree; herb crystals; and more.

The list of finalists include:

Brownie Brittle, West Palm Beach, Fla.

Sheila G. Mains, better known as Sheila G., began her thriving brownie business in 1992 with the introduction of her family’s coveted fudge brownies. Her love of the crispy edges produced by a cooling rack of freshly baked brownies is the inspiration for her Brownie Brittle snacks.

  • Best New Product: Mint Chocolate Chip Brownie Brittle: This sensible snack is the latest flavor in the Brownie Brittle line highlighting the classic chocolate and mint combination at only 120 calories per serving

Burnt Fork Bend, Stevensville, Mont.

Chef/owner Jennifer Wicks practices “bean to bar chocolate” production by only using fair trade and minimally processed ingredients. Using beans from all over the world, the chocolate is not mass produced, thereby allowing a full range of flavors to develop in each small batch of chocolate.

  • Best Flavor Profile: 72% Dark Chocolate Blue Heron Bar. The chocolate utilizes cocoa beans sourced from Belize and Ecuador. To ensure deep flavor development and quality, all of the chocolate is handcrafted in small batches.

CasaLuker Food Ingredients, Bogota, Columbia

The cornerstone of CasaLuker Food Ingredients is a dedication to the creation of a long-standing and sustainable business for all stakeholders in the cocoa chain. In addition, the company maintains social responsibility through the education of farmers and the overall community.

Best Flavor Profile: Dark Chocolate Single Origin – Arauca 70%. The Arauca cocoa bean is sourced from Cacao Fino de Aroma — an international cocoa organization (ICCO) classification. This classification is known for producing beans that have fruity and floral aromas with notes of nuts and malt.

Cary’s of Oregon, Grant Pass, Ore.

Originally just a fun holiday project, Cary Cound found a growing demand for his homemade English Toffee, which inspired him to open his own business and distribute his gourmet toffee nationwide. Today, his all-natural, gluten-free and Kosher-certified toffee is enjoyed across the country.

  • Best New Product/Innovation and Best Flavor Profile: Dark Chocolate with Hawaiian Sea Salt and Toffee. The addition of Hawaiian Sea Salt to gluten-free toffee and chocolate produces a healthy confection that has a great balance of sweet, salty, and crunchy.

Chocolats Latour, Cincinnati, Ohio

Fair trade chocolate and local ingredients are at the heart of chef/owner Shalini Latour’s confections. The first-generation Belgian chocolate maker began her lifelong passion at the age of 14 and has been studying chocolate-making ever since.

  • Best Sustainable Product: Ohio Valley Chocolate Bar combines Fair Trade chocolate with spicebush berries and black walnuts sourced locally from Ohio. Chocolats Latour’s sustainability commitment extends to the packaging of products with 100% recycled paper
  • Best Flavor Profile: Honey Basil Caramel. This take on a traditional caramel treat is made with fair trade dark chocolate as well as honey, basil, and caramel locally sourced from a variety of Ohio farms

Chopin Imports, Stamford, Conn.

Chopin, the premium Polish vodka distillery, is breaking into the chocolate spirits market with the introduction of Dorda, a non-alcoholic product of melted chocolate added to their premium vodka.

  • Best New Product/Innovation: Dorda Chocolate Liquer: The combination of melted dark chocolate and Chopin’s premium rye vodka make for a wonderful blend of creamy texture and explosive flavor. It is great served over ice, mixed into a cocktail, or over ice cream.

Dove Chocolate Discoveries, Northbrook, Ill.

Chocolatier Gwen Wolken partnered with Dove Chocolate Discoveries to share her love of chocolate with the world. Through the unique partnership, Wolken has direct access to Dove Chocolate’s premium line of chocolate and chocolate products.

  • Best New Product: Roasted Chipotle Chocolate Salsa: A traditional salsa made with fresh fire roasted tomatoes, cilantro, sweet onions, and lime juice is topped with Dove cocoa and chocolate.
  • Best Sustainable Product: My Cocoa Journal: The pages in this journal are made from the bark of a cocoa tree through the use of environmentally friendly methods. Every sheet made benefits the Indonesian farmers and contributes to overall cocoa sustainability.
  • Best Flavor Profile: Milk Chocolate Dusted Almond: Dove milk chocolate coats the delicately roasted almonds which are finished with a light dusting of cinnamon.

Fabbri North America, Maspeth, N.Y.

Gennaro Fabbri opened his business more than a century ago and has been dedicated to exporting the “made in Italy” taste all over the world ever since. The company specializes in products designed for ice cream, pastry confectionery, and semifreddo. It operates in more than 80 countries.

  • Best New Product: Top Fabbri Amarena Cherry and Mango Gourmet Sauces: These two new sauces feature Amarena Cherry, the perfect topping for ice cream, yogurt, gelato, and plated desserts, and Mango, made from the pulp of mangos for a fresh and natural flavor to desserts as well as cocktails and beverages.
  • Best Flavor Profile: Top Fabbri Pistachio Gourmet Sauce: This sauce is made with a high percentage of pistachios and is free of artificial flavors. It’s freshly roasted pistachio flavor makes a great addition to all kinds of desserts.

Flying Noir, Mendocino, Calif.

Chocolatier Karen Urbanek is first and foremost an artist. She’s combined her love of art and chocolate many years ago by making truffles to serve attendees at her art receptions. Today, she creates art with chocolate by using only single-origin, organic chocolate from the Americas featuring original paintings in natural colored cocoa butter and mica.

  • Best New Product: Teeny, Tiny Cubes of Heaven: These mini bites of chocolate are made from naked ganache in unsweetened cocoa with pearly natural mica color.
  • Best Sustainable Product: Caramel Bana-na-na: Simply a classic caramel treat spiked with a hint of banana powder to compliment the sweet caramel. No preservatives are used and almost all of the ingredients are organic.

Fresh Origins, San Marcos, Calif.

This family-owned and operated farm is the largest producer of micro greens, edible flowers, petite greens and crystallized flowers in North America. Chefs across the country are using their products to layer flavors as well as add texture and color to a variety of dishes.

  • Best New Product: Herb Crystal Basil and Flower Crystal Fennel: These two products, known as crystallized flowers/herbs, are made by extracting the essence from the plant which is then added to pure sugar cane to produce a fresh tasting, crystallized product perfect for elevating desserts and chocolates.

Madison Chocolatiers West, Madison, N.J.

This small, East Coast confectionery uses non-traditional, exotic, and fresh ingredients. Partner Renee Rohrbach and chef/partner Ricky Sanders teamed up years ago to create simple chocolates with many layers of taste and texture.

  • Best New Product: Sea Salt and Cayenne Caramels: A touch of heat is added to the brown sugar caramels with the addition of cayenne pepper. The caramels are dipped in dark chocolate and sprinkled with chili sea salt.
  • Best Flavor Profile: Sweet Burn Butter Toffee: The use of ghost peppers, bacon, and butter toffee adds spice, salt, and sweetness to this new take on a classic confection.

Seattle Chocolate Company, Seattle, Wash.

Jean Thompson opened the boutique confectionery in order to bring something new to the chocolate world. She wanted to create American couture chocolates that bring the same style and global influence to chocolate that haute couture does to fashion.

  • Best Flavor Profile: Jcoco Agave Quinoa Sesame: Quinoa is puffed under low heat before being coated in blue agave, a natural sweetener, to seal in the crunch of the seed. It is then mixed with toasted sesame seeds and blended with single-origin Vanuatu milk chocolate for a sweet and salty flavor profile with a South American influence.

Sweet Christine’s Bakery, Kennet Square, Pa.

When chef/owner Christine Ruggio was diagnosed with Celiac disease in 2005, she had to find an alternative to the foods she loved. Ruggio found that most gluten-free foods on the market were tasteless so she decided to experiment with gluten-free recipes herself. Three years later, she found that the demand for her gluten-free treats was enough to start her own gluten-free bakery.

  • Best New Product: Gluten-Free Lava Cake: The savory flavor of this classic dessert is kept intact by using 100% gluten-free ingredients. They are best served warm, dusted with sugar powder, fresh strawberries, whipped cream, and a scoop of ice cream.

Sweetastic, Midlothian, Va.

Chocolatier/owner Melodi Walenius is a musician at heart that strives to infuse her musical flair into every bite. The goal of this confectionery is to produce visually stunning treats with exquisite flavor profiles.

  • Best Flavor Profile: Cinnamon Roll Soft Serve Fudge: One of many different flavors offered, this treat is fresh whipped and made-to-order. It has the velvety texture of ice cream with the flavor of a fresh baked cinnamon roll.

Sweet Secrets Chocolate, Wheaton, Ill.

Armed with experience from The French Pastry School and a background in marketing, the company owners started making chocolate truffles in 2008. Due to popular demand, they have since expanded their product line to include pretzel bark, chocolate-covered pretzels, and their popular chocolate pretzel pizzas.

  • Best New Product: Chocolate Pretzel Pizza: Salted pretzel pieces create a crunchy “crust” which is bound by dark and white chocolate. The creation is then topped with chocolate cookie crumbles, miniature chocolate chips, chocolate candies, crushed sugar cones, rainbow sprinkles and chocolate drizzle.Enclosed in a special pizza-style box, it’s so loaded with toppings that a special mallet is included to break it up and eat it.

T’s Toffee, Spring Grove, Ill.

Her love of making English Toffee drove chef/owner Theresa Milz to open up her own confectionery shop. She is currently in the process of installing an additional work kitchen to expand production of her homemade English Toffee.

  • Best Flavor Profile: T’s Toffee Teaser Package: The balanced combination of chocolate, pecans, butter and sugar evokes a taste of old fashioned English Toffee.

True Bakery, Highland Park, Ill.

The company philosophy is that sweet treats should be enjoyed by all regardless of dietary constrictions. Therefore, all of their confections are gluten-free, dairy-free, refined sugar-free and vegan.

  • Best New Product:Gluten-free Vegan Double Chocolate Brownie: This healthy treat is made entirely out of organic, gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan ingredients which include: cocoa powder, baking soda, coconut oil, cane juice, brown rice flower, garbanzo bean flour, applesauce, vanilla extract and chocolate chips.

YZ Enterprises/Almondina, Maumee, Ohio

Dina Zaliouk kept her prized almond cookie recipe secret for years until her death when she passed it onto her daughter Ahuda. Several years later her grandson, Yuval, decided to introduce the nutritional and tasty treat to health-conscious consumers, and today his Almandina cookies are available in all 50 states and seven foreign countries.

  • Best New Product: Yogurt Dipped Almondina Bran Treats: Laced with cinnamon and studded with golden raisins, this confection is a twist on their traditional Almondina cookie. The addition of bran and yogurt make this a great morning snack.
  • Best Flavor Profile: Dark Chocolate Dipped Almondina: As Grandma Dina’s classic recipe that has been in the family for decades, this gluten-free treat is made from almonds, golden raisins, pure cane sugar, egg whites, malted barley flour and finally dipped in dark chocolate liquor

This year’s consumer show, the Chicago Fine Chocolate & Dessert Show, will take place on Friday, October 18 through Sunday, Oct. 20, at Navy Pier in Chicago. The trade show of the National Chocolate & Dessert Show will intersect with the consumer show on Sun., Oct. 20 and run through Tues., Oct. 22. The two shows are the only dual concept, trade and consumer shows dedicated to the chocolate and dessert industry.