NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Buzz has been flying recently about the inevitable increase in the prices for chocolate through 2014. The general population caught wind of this news toward the end of 2013, and it has since stirred up quite the frenzy.

According to this article from the Wall Street Journal:

"Prices are on the rise due to a shortage of cocoa beans, which are roasted and ground to make chocolate. Market experts estimate that supplies will fall short of demand this year for the first time since 2010 and dry weather is expected to hurt the next harvest in West Africa, where 70% of cocoa beans are produced."

The decreased supply of cocoa beans has, in turn, caused a dramatic increase in cost for two of the main ingredients in chocolate: cocoa powder and cocoa butter. The Huffington Post explains that this problem is more widespread than the United States and is being dealt with across the world. Because the cost to produce one milk chocolate bar has increased by 31%, chocolate companies have been forced to increase their own selling prices, causing some negative backlash from customers. Some have questioned whether white chocolate may be easier on the wallet because it does not incorporate cocoa powder; however, white chocolate can contain up to 10 times more cocoa butter than dark chocolate.

The Journal also brings up the point that dark chocolate consumption has increased in recent times because of its health benefits, high antioxidant levels, and all-around "superfood" qualities. WebMD discusses a study, published in the Chemistry Central Journal in 2011, that compares the levels of antioxidants contained within dark chocolate to other commonly-known "superfoods," such as acai berries and pomegranates. Dark chocolate made with non-alkalized cocoa turned out to have significantly higher levels of antioxidants than the juices of the super fruits to which it was compared. After reading that study, who wouldn't want to invest in some good-quality dark chocolate?

So, the question at hand now is, what do we do with this lower supply and higher demand? While some may make it a point to reduce their chocolate consumption for the sake of their wallets, there are some people out there who may need to eliminate this renounced "luxury" food all together. For those of us who don't want to, or can't afford to pay the $12.25 per kilogram of chocolate, it's time to broaden our horizons.

Each of the following recipes has the potential to satisfy any sweet craving, even those persistent cravings for chocolate! Each recipe would also run you about the same amount of money, if not less, than a typical chocolate dessert would cost. I am well aware that there are some die-hard chocolate fans out there who will swear up and down that there are no good substitutions for a chocolate craving, and that opinion may absolutely be right; however,there are still some creative, delectable desserts that have similar properties to chocolate, like texture or sweetness, that may make this shortened supply and increased price a little less depressing.

Option 1: The Blondie

For those of you who have never experienced a blondie, or a "vanilla brownie," you've lived a sheltered life. A perfect example would be this recipe from the Food Network Kitchens. Blondies are a delicious alternative to anything chocolate-related, especially brownies. Though they are not the slightest bit brown, they have a similar consistency to the traditional brownie. They are also just as sweet and taste just as great with a scoop of ice cream. When baking a batch of blondies, you also have the option to add any mix-ins that you like, and while some of us may be able to include that ½ cup to a cup of chocolate or white chocolate chips, you can opt out of chocolate all together and include butterscotch chips, nuts or even shredded coconut.

Option 2: The Carob Brownie.

If you're a visual eater, there's a good chance that you would like for your chocolate-free "brownies" to still retain the natural chocolate-brown coloring. If a blondie just doesn't cut it, you may want to consider delving into the land of carob. Carob powder is the best that a substitute for cocoa powder can get, and it's also slightly sweeter naturally. Also, you will not have to worry about missing out on the health benefits of chocolate when substituting with carob. Its high levels of magnesium, calcium and potassium have been proven to aid digestion and benefit those with osteoporosis; to boot, it can even help lower cholesterol. This carob brownie recipe also calls for gluten-free flour to make up the bulk of the brownie, so, for those of you who have joined the GF crowd, this recipe, though a treat, is a great choice for your digestive system!

Option 3: Fudge.

I'm willing to bet that just hearing the word "fudge" has the power to conjure dancing images of gooey, warm confections topped with ice cream. However, here is the eye-opener: fudge does not always have to be about chocolate. Fudge is a very versatile dessert and can be made using a variety of flavors. While chocolate is contained in a lot of existing recipes, there are still quite a few remaining that do not require any chocolate, or chocolate products, at all. This four-ingredient recipe for peanut butter fudge, courtesy of Taste of Home, is probably one of the simplest desserts to make, and it looks phenomenal.

Option 4: Hot Caramel Apple Cider.

Along with these chilly winter months comes temptation for hot chocolate. Whether you're adding caramel and sea salt, peppermint or cinnamon, variations of hot chocolate can be found everywhere. When searching for a rich, creamy, warm beverage to satisfy the need for hot chocolate, this hot caramel apple cider, courtesy of Spoonful.com, is sure to satisfy. The flavor of the apple procures cozy feelings of fall and winter, and the creaminess of the homemade caramel flavor mixed with the sweet whipped cream topping will comfort any sweet tooth. It's the perfect chocolate-free drink to curl up with on the couch.

--Written by Ciara Larkin for MainStreet