Inspired by a career in food packaging, Antidote founder Red Thalhammer peels back the wrapper to create chocolate that lives up to its eye-catching design.
By Carly DeFilippo
When most entrepreneurs begin to develop a food product, they work from the inside out. Yet for Antidote founder Red Thalhammer, it was her extensive experience in high-end branding and packaging that inspired her to peel back the wrapper and get into the health-conscious chocolate manufacturing business.
Raised in rural Austria, Red notes that the link between nutrition and deliciousness was always apparent: “Seasonal produce was always what tasted best; we grew up cooking what made us feel good.” Yet as her career in design started to take off, Red noticed that her innovative packaging often outstripped the quality of the products inside. “Working for brands like Pepsi or Starbucks gave me significant insight into food marketing, but I quickly started to crave the opportunity to design for food items that were as exceptional as their packaging.”
Yet it wasn’t until years after Red had relocated to New York City that she ever considered launching her own food brand. Two factors brought Antidote into being: first, Red traveled to Sri Lanka where she was exposed to both the finest spice farms and the principles of ayurvedic health. Those memories and experiences took root in her psyche, but it wasn’t until they collided with a particularly intense period of professional dissatisfaction that they would transform into action. “It was a time in my life when I felt a real lack of balance,” Red admits. “I remember saying to a friend, ‘I’m sorry for my poisonous behavior.’ His humorous response is what inspired the mission for the brand: ‘Don’t worry, I’ll make you an antidote for that.’”
With the concept for her brand anchored in the philosophy of creating an “antidote,” Red dove headfirst into the study of chocolate. Whether traveling throughout Ecuador to research sourcing and production opportunities or fleshing out the product’s uplifting design, it was a year of many sleepless nights and insatiable entrepreneurial fervor.
Of course, tasting was an incredibly important step in the development process, and Red found herself torn when deciding between raw and roasted beans. “Everyone, including myself, seemed to like both styles of bars for separate reasons. Eventually, I just had to ask the unthinkable: ‘What if I used the best qualities of both?”
The resulting bars are truly an exception among other artisanal chocolates on the market. Blending the bright, fruitiness—and health benefits—of raw cacao with the enduring, complex notes of roasted dark chocolate, each Antidote product packs an incredible depth of flavor. What’s more, Red has developed a full line of goddess-inspired bars that pair her raw/roasted chocolate with such health-giving ingredients as “mango and juniper.”
“Balancing flavors with dark chocolate is more difficult than some might think,” Red explains, “and when you’re sourcing very high quality dried fruits, nuts and spices, you want to make sure every ingredient counts.” At present, the brand offers eight fruit, nut or spice-driven “goddess” bars combining raw and roasted cacao, in addition to two 100% raw dark chocolate variations (with nibs and dates, respectively).
“The biggest surprise has been the success of the 100% chocolate bars—especially in countries like Japan,” says Red. Today, the Antidote shop regularly sells out of flavors, given their popularity at international gourmet outposts and websites including Food52 Provisions. “It’s time that we need to up our production levels,” says Red, “which we’re actively working on, as well as the development of new products.”
Just in time for the holidays, those products are beginning to arrive. One of the most exciting new offerings—which I was able to test in development—is an “adult” milk chocolate bar studded with strawberries. Creamy, complex and just-sweet-enough, it’s a luxury bar that’s sure to persuade even the most dedicated dark chocolate lovers.
So if you’re seeking to treat yourself or friends for the holidays—and yes, eating fine quality chocolate does count as a “new year’s resolution”—Antidote is sure to satisfy. Just don’t be surprised if it looks as good as it tastes.
Visit www.antidotechoco.com for more information or to find a list of local Antidote retailers.
Carly is a Contributing Writer at Honest Cooking. Though the first line of her college application essay was "I love tunafish," it wasn't until she pursued graduate studies in Paris that she ever considered a future in food. Based in Manhattan, Carly is a freelance writer and the co-founder of Cognoscenti Creative, a boutique branding agency dedicated to establishing artisans as influencers.