You must have heard it by now.
On September 5th at a private event in Shanghai, giant chocolate manufacturer Barry Callebaut presented what got gloriously appointed as “the 4th type of chocolate“.
Chocolate experts from all over the world flew to China to assist to the revolution. It actually sounded like a big deal: after 80 years from the invention of white chocolate, the R&D department of the company managed to develop another kind of chocolate.
Next to dark, milk and white, there is now a pink chocolate called Ruby.
The news traveled the Internet fast. Dozens of article started popping out with the images of a eye-catching pink chocolate never seen before. Some of them were probably sponsored and paid for, some others just followed the trend. Nonetheless, in less than 24 hours every chocoholic online knew about Ruby chocolate.
As time went on, the media seemed more confused than ever. Since Barry Callebaut didn’t reveal any info on the actual process behind the pink chocolate, all there was to rely on were mostly enthusiastic marketing claims, and a lot of guessing. From a “new type of cocoa bean” to an “extracted pink powder”, nobody could really wrap his mind around how this Ruby chocolate was actually made.
But when passionate chocoholics online started digging deeper into the situation, the curtain of mystery fell to reveal some unpleasant truths.
Let’s start with color, texture and flavor.
Ruby chocolate was given this name because of its distinctive pink color. The Switzerland-based company cares to clarify that no flavorings or colors were added to the chocolate to make it look this way. This is an all-natural hue.
Regarding the texture, Ruby chocolate is smooth and creamy. Something in between milk and white, even though no ratio between cacao solids and cacao butter was disclosed by the company.
As for its flavor, Callebaut itself describes it as “not bitter, milky or sweet, but a tension between berry fruitiness and luscious smoothness”. In other words, Ruby should have the taste of chocolate with freshness and fruitiness to it. However, those who have personally tried it at the event in Shanghai, like Clay Gordon from The Chocolate Life, says that “it has little to none of the characteristic cocoa flavor associated with chocolate”.
More than the fourth flavor of chocolate, Ruby sounds like a pink cocoa butter with hint of fruitiness. But where do these peculiar color, texture and flavor come from?
They come from the Ruby cocoa beans, apparently.
These were at first erroneously described by the media as a new type of cocoa bean, almost like a new variety that nobody had ever encountered before, and Callebaut discovered. But now we know that “Ruby cocoa bean” does not refer to a new kind of cacao. It simply refers to cocoa beans who are USED to create Ruby chocolate.
These are cocoa beans that supposedly present the physical characteristics suitable to make Ruby chocolate (like I would call “Sharon oranges” the oranges I use to make my homemade jam, but they are really just simple oranges or a specific kind of oranges I use because they are perfect to make my jam, but I didn’t “discover” or “invent” them, and I am definitely not the only one using them). We can just assume that some cocoa beans are adequate to make Ruby chocolate, and others are not. Or even further, Ruby cocoa beans are just the processed cocoa beans dedicated to the manufacturing of Ruby chocolate. The company hasn’t been clear on the reasons why also the cocoa beans are called Ruby.
What we know is that these beans are sourced in Ivory Coast, Ecuador and Brazil. Sourcing from both West Africa and Latin America, Ruby cacao beans are not single origin and probably not associated in any way to terroir. The company also says that they come from the “same species of cacao plant used to make the chocolate we already know” , and swears that nothing was genetically modified. Therefore, not even genetics explains the peculiarity of these beans.
If Ruby cacao beans are just regular beans, how does the chocolate turn pink instead of its usual brown color? If it’s not in the genetics and in the terroir, the peculiarity must be in the post-harvesting processes.
Here is where passionate chocoholics online started their own research.
Hiding behind the Trade Secret, Barry Callebaut hasn’t revealed any detail on specific processes or ingredients used, leaving space for unlikely speculations regarding secret powders and intriguing compounds. Since the use of added ingredients has been denied, the most plausible explanation must lie in the way the cacao beans are treated after harvesting.
The experienced John Nanci from Chocolate Alchemy believes that “the color comes from processing” and “the processing might preserve a color that otherwise would darken”. At this point, it didn’t take long for curious chocolate makers and consumers to figure out the solution to the dilemma. This new pink chocolate must have something to do with the process to make red cacao patented by the same Barry Callebaut in 2009 (with some new modifications to reach the color pink).
A quick research on Google will lead to the specific patent (HERE). There we find the (most likely) solution served on a golden plate: unfermented cacao beans, acidified.
The explanation of unfermented cacao beans makes sense, on many levels.
First, unfermented cacao beans (raw) have the same pinkish color that we can associate to Ruby chocolate. Once fermented, cacao beans lose this cute color for a more brownish/chocolatey one. Therefore, skipping the fermentation process avoids the pink color to darken.
Secondly, a missed fermentation explains the lack of any chocolatey flavor in Ruby chocolate. Fermentation is the essential step for cacao beans to develop the precursors of the typical flavor of chocolate. By skipping that process, the cocoa beans don’t have time to develop the characteristic cocoa flavor. This would explain why Ruby chocolate doesn’t really taste like chocolate.
For the chemicals/non-chemicals used to acidify the unfermented cacao beans, it’s better to leave a deeper analysis to competent experts. However, we can assume that the unfermented cacao beans are treated to preserve their pink color after harvesting and during the bean-to-bar process. More info inside the patent on Google.
At this point, the Ruby cocoa beans are simply beans that are suited to look pink and taste fruity after the processes intended by Callebaut.
No wonder that this discovery further outraged chocolate professionals online, especially the ones dedicated to craft bean-to-bar practices and devoted to fine flavor. Here are the accusations.
Chocolate professionals in the fine chocolate industry accuse Ruby chocolate of these 3 main things:
- being a marketing gimmick.
Barry Calleabaut has openly talked about the fact that Ruby chocolate is meant to target Millennials. In the Instagram age where online users go crazy about colorful food, the company is optimistic that Ruby chocolate will create a big buzz among foodies who like to share pictures of their meals. The color of Ruby chocolate perfectly meets the need of Millennials for fancy food to share online. This might be a clever marketing strategy, but definitely leaves the door open for critiques. The company can be accused of caring more about the visual side of the chocolate than its actual flavor, making it perfect for pictures and not so much for palates.
- being a cost-cutting strategy.
It’s known that unfermented cocoa beans are way cheaper than fermented cocoa beans. The fermenting process takes up anywhere from 5 to 7 days to complete. This means more labour, more infrastructures and more time than just collecting wet cacao on the field and deliver it (or directly drying it). By using unfermented cacao, Barry Callebaut dramatically reduces the cost of its raw material. Moreover, since the flavor of Ruby chocolate is so subtle (and at this point not particularly relevant), the company can afford to be careless about the quality of the cacao beans used, reflecting in lower prices paid at origin.
- doing nothing to promote fine chocolate.
Without putting any emphasis on flavor or quality, Ruby chocolate is considered a questionable product born to catch the eye, create buzz and nothing more. It doesn’t contribute to the elevation of chocolate as a fine food, nor stimulates consumers to look over its aesthetics. Rumors have it that the cacao used is the controversial CCN-51, known to be the worst enemy of fine flavor chocolate. Also, the fact that the company doesn’t reveal any detail about how Ruby chocolate is processed leaves many speculations about possible GMO and questionable practices.
Barry Callebaut doesn’t sell to end consumers, but only to other businesses. Ruby chocolate will therefore be available only in the shape of coverture for chocolatiers, pastry chefs and other professionals. Because it’s a brand new product, the company says it will be 6 to 18 months before it becomes available on the market. The Ruby cacao beans will not be available for purchasing. The date of release of Ruby chocolate will depend on the country and the vendor, and China will be the most targeted market.
(A special THANK YOU to all the people online who directly or indirectly contributed to this article, with links to the Callebaut patent, articles on Ruby chocolate and other useful information!)
What do YOU think of Ruby chocolate?
I did NOT get paid and did NOT receive any kind of favor for writing this article. These are my honest opinions at your service.