It sounds like something out of science fiction, but the Nestlé team in Japan have cracked making chocolate entirely from the cocoa fruit - without any additional sugars.
Typically, in chocolate production, cocoa mass and cocoa butter derive from the fermented cacao beans. The pulp is sometimes juiced, with the remainder of the cocoa pod discarded. Most of the time though, the sweet, slightly acidic pulp is just wasted. Chocolate manufacturers then add in other ingredients - often including large quantities of refined sugars - to produce their chocolate bars.
Nestlé has developed a way to use the by-products of the cocoa pod to derive a natural sweetener. Their patented method creates 70% dark chocolate made entirely from one ingredient - the humble cocoa pod.
It's a big step change, and it raises many questions - the biggest one is how do they do it? While I'd love to jet off to the KitKat Chocolatory in Japan to find out (in the name of research, you understand), I'm not sure they'd tell me their secrets!
Patrice Bula, Head of Strategic Business Units, Marketing and Sales at Nestlé, has said: "We're proud to bring chocolate lovers a new chocolate made entirely from the cocoa fruit without adding refined sugar. This is a real innovation which uses the natural sweetness of the cocoa pulp to provide a pure, novel chocolate experience."
The cocoa fruit pulp seems to be the key. Interestingly, it's already available as a commercial product albeit from another company called Repurposed Pod. Cacao Juice describes itself as a multi-purpose liquid that can be drunk neat, used in cocktails, or crucially, can be reduced to a sweet natural syrup.
My guess is Nestlé are following a very similar process to unlock the natural sweetness of the cocoa pulp in a useful form for chocolate making, which can then be combined with fermented and roasted cocoa beans to taste.
The blurb I have from Nestlé claims that the "white cacao pulp" is used as a sugar substitute. A small amount of cacao pulp is used in the fermentation stage, but Nestle's patent covers "the viscosity adjustment and control of chocolate in the process of drying and pulverising cacao pulp and adding it to chocolate instead of sugar."
Nestlé claims their natural approach has no compromise on taste, texture and quality.
As with all things experimental and chocolatey at Nestlé, the 'Cacao Fruit Chocolate' will initially go on sale only in Japan, just like they did when they launched their Ruby Chocolate KitKats. It's due to go into stores in Autumn 2019, with regional products available in other countries rolling out in 2020.
And yes, you guessed it, Cacao Fruit Chocolate will be available as a Cacao Fruit KitKat first. Each bar of KitKat Chocolatory Cacao Fruit Chocolate will set you back ¥400 (about £3). It'll be available from the 8 KitKat Chocolatory shops (3 in Tokyo, 3 in Osaka, 1 in Kawasaki, and 1 in Hiroshima), as well as KitKat Chocolatory's website, and in the KitKat Gift Shop at Rinku Premium Outlets Mall.
KitKat Chocolatory in Ginza will also sell a Cacao Fruit Juice with Lime Granita this summer for ¥750 (about £5.60). You'll get a class of Cacao Fruit Juice and a dish of Lime Granita so you can try both separately, then combine the ingredients.
Personally, I think creating a chocolate bar entirely from cacao fruit is a great move. In an age when many of us are very concerned about the environmental impact of food waste, and we're becoming increasingly wary of refined sugars in foodstuffs, this has to be a positive step forward.
I suspect it'll be some time before we see Cacao Fruit Chocolate here in the UK. That said, I also suspect some clever chocolatiers will be busy sourcing cacao fruit juice to experiment with in creating their own natural cacao fruit chocolates.
In the meantime, I'm left with a thirst to try Cacao Juice and a desire to jet off to Japan to try Cacao Fruit Chocolate...
All natural chocolate - the stuff of legends or the future of chocolate? Let me know in the comments below.