Already a nation with a famously sweet tooth, Japan is in the grip of a chocolate fondue frenzy.

Far better known around the world as the Swiss savory dish that involves dipping morsels of food into a shared bowl of bubbling cheese, chocolate fondues are being promoted in Japan as a sweet way of staying warm this winter.

And with people watching their purse strings and opting to eat at home as the recession drags on, they are also becoming the trendy centerpieces of parties.

"I had not heard of if before, but I liked chocolate fondue as much as I like the one with cheese," said student Chise Izawa. "It's not something I could eat every day, but it makes a nice treat to share it with friends at home of an evening sometimes."

The Tokyu supermarket in the Negishi district of Yokohama has a large in-store display beside the checkout counter displaying a pyramid of Ghana chocolate, the best-selling brand of Lotte Co., the second-largest chocolate company in Japan.

Free leaflets give tips on how to best prepare the fondue mix with milk and food that works well with melted chocolate. Top of the list are strawberries, followed closely by bananas, kiwi fruit, orange segments, marshmallows and bread.

Lotte suggests heating the chocolate mix in a pot to get it to the correct constituency and keeping it bubbling over a candle, but shops selling household goods are catching on to the trend.

Tokyu Hands stores across Japan have installed fondue sections, selling purpose-built ceramic pots, heaters and stands for fondue pots. The fondue sets are selling well this winter, according to a spokesman for the store, particularly among families with children and young women who purchase the sets as presents.

Other companies are offering online tips on creating cotton candy fondue or using white chocolate for variety.

The craze for hot chocolate is expected to continue until at least St. Valentine's Day.