For years, chocolatiers and confectionery manufacturers have had to 'settle' for a choice of just dark, milk, and white chocolate (although white chocolate isn't technically “chocolate” as it lacks cocoa solids).
Many of them have done a grand job, with some chocolatiers really pushing the boundaries on how chocolate is used.
But at a swanky event in Shanghai, China, in September 2017, the Belgian-Swiss chocolate company, Barry Callebaut, announced a brand-new classification of cocoa – the first in 80 years according to Callebaut. In fact, they'd been hard at work developing the recipe for 13 years prior. Ruby Cocoa was officially born.
Throughout 2018, ruby cocoa became more mainstream, in part thanks to Nestle creating Ruby KitKats that were initially distributed across Japan and then throughout Western Europe. They had planned to launch the first ruby chocolate product in Western Europe but were pipped to the post by Fortnum & Mason° who released their own bar just two days prior.
What is ruby chocolate?
Good question. Despite being available for a while now, chocolatiers haven't really embraced the ingredient as much as I expected. So, getting a taste of this all-new wonder-ingredient was tricky. In fact, even though I knew Ruby KitKats existed, my first sighting of any ruby cocoa product was a tube of ruby chocolate drops in one of my favourite chocolate shops in Bruges. Needless to say, I found myself purchasing a pot of these ruby gems to see what the fuss was about.
Codenamed RB1, ruby chocolate derives from the ruby cocoa bean grown in Brazil, Ecuador, and the Ivory Coast. It's naturally pink without artificial colours and flavours. But the product itself - and the manufacturing process - is a closely guarded trade secret, and Callebaut is understandably coy about sharing any details on how this seemingly impossible product is created.
Callebaut denied the use of Genetically Modified Cocoa in making ruby cocoa, with industry consensus therefore pointing towards to the use of unfermented cocoa beans which exhibit a natural pink hue. All I can determine from the RB1 ingredients list is that the main ingredient (over a third) is pure sugar.
Barry Callebaut RB1 ingredients:
Sugar 35.5%, cocoa butter 29.5%, skimmed milk powder, whole milk powder, cocoa mass 4.5%, emulsifier; soya lecithin, citric acid, natural vanilla flavouring.
The RB1 packaging also reveals 47.3% minimum cocoa solids, 26.4% minimum total milk solids, and 35.9% total fat content.
So, to answer the question, ruby cocoa is a new classification of chocolate. It's a new type of chocolate that now sits alongside dark and milk chocolate (remembering white chocolate is not technically chocolate by definition).
Ruby chocolate has a dizzying array of potential uses, from confectionery to pastries, from chocolate moulds to ganaches and mousses.
The fragrance is remarkably similar to that of white chocolate, with creamy aromas dominating. In terms of flavour, it's a distinctive one with intense fruity, almost zesty tones. The sweetness in there doesn't last long, as the sourness in there quickly dominates proceedings. On its own, it is hardly moreish. It has an interesting, unusual flavour but I haven't found myself devouring my pot of ruby chocolate drops in the same way I would do with nuggets of milk or dark chocolate.
But I am a firm believer that in the right context, this ingredient would work brilliantly. For chocolate truffles, bold, earthy and bitter flavours may contrast nicely with the ruby chocolate shell. In pastry work, the tart lemony notes of the ruby chocolate could work elegantly when contrasted against sharp and tart berry fruits, such as raspberry or perhaps something like blackcurrant.
Perhaps therein lies the reason why the uptake of ruby cocoa feels relatively low, despite Nestle's mass market efforts. Ruby cocoa's citrussy and sour flavour profile can be difficult to balance in an inspired manner. Simply replacing white or milk chocolate with ruby chocolate does not necessarily guarantee immediate success. Well, apart from on Instagram where influencers flock to share brightly-coloured pink-themed foodie photos. And therein lies one of the biggest criticisms that festers away inside the chocolate industry - is ruby cocoa simply a marketing tool designed for the social media generation? It's a point that Sharon Terenzi (The Chocolate Journalist) digs into on her blog, as well as a deeper look into the costs and the manufacturing process.
Is ruby cocoa vegan friendly?
No. It is suitable for vegetarians, but as it contains milk powder, it is unsuitable for vegans.
The recipe also contains soya lecithin so is unsuitable for those with soy allergies.
The recipe is free from alcohol though.
Where Can I Buy Ruby Chocolate?
Another great question. Despite being a mainstream product for a while, sightings of ruby cocoa products in the wild are still few and far between.
The more widely available products I know of include:
- Quality whole foods and luxury chocolate shops may sell the chocolate drops like the batch I tested, so if you are after ruby cocoa in its purest form then head to your favourite haunt. Chocolate Trading Co° stock these. £3.95 for 200g, £8.95 for 500g, £17.45 for 1kg
- Nestle Ruby KitKat – This is where it all began in Japan in the amazing KitKat Chocolatory. Take a standard KitKat and replace the milk chocolate with ruby chocolate and voila! Available in selected supermarkets including Tesco. £0.80 for 41.5g
- Nestle Les Recettes de l'Atelier Ruby Chocolate & Raspberry bar - It sounds like a great combination and one I suggested above should work beautifully. Available at selected Sainsbury's stores in time for Valentine's Day 2019. £3
- Fortnum & Mason Ruby Chocolate Bar° - From the ingredients list, this looks like pure RB1 in bar form, pressed into 20 small segments and one long rectangular segment. £6.50 for 70g
- Fortnum & Mason Ruby Hot Chocolate° - Take a couple of Fortnum's chocolate bars and shred them into ready-to-melt curls for hot milk and you've got yourself a bag of ruby hot chocolate. £12.95 for 150g
- Fortnum & Mason Ruby Himalayan Salted Caramel Truffles - This pairs a ruby chocolate shell with a gooey salted caramel centre. Expect a very sweet truffle. £13.50 for 155g
- Nestle Ruby Baci Perugina - This was available for just three weeks in Sainsburys at the end of 2018. £1.50
- Rococo Ruby Chocolate Bar - From the ingredients list, this also appears to be pure RB1 pressed into bar form with seven rectangular segments. £5.50 for 70g
- Prestat Ruby Cocoa Nibs and Roasted Almonds Bar - This blends ruby chocolate with cocoa nibs and roasted almonds to add crunch. £3.25 for 70g
- Prestat Ruby Chocolate Thins - I believe this to be RB1 ruby chocolate in disc form. £16 for 200g
- Prestat Ruby Chocolate Marc de Champagne Cocoa Pod Truffles - Now this is an interesting application, blending the tart citrus ruby chocolate with the punch of Marc de Champagne. I also like the cute cocoa pod shells used to house the filling. £16 for 115g
- Prestat Ruby Chocolate Fruit and Nut Discs - Another interesting application here, combining ruby chocolate with the textures of sweet preserved clementine, and cocoa nibs and roasted almonds. £12 for 90g
- Prestat Ruby Hot Chocolate Flakes - Pure RB1 in finely flaked coverture form, ready for you to make your own ruby hot chocolate. £12 for 175g
- Prestat Ruby Chocolate Bar - I believe this to be RB1 ruby chocolate in bar form. £3.25 for 70g or £1.50 for 25g
If you've spotted ruby cocoa in the wild, please leave a comment below with all the details.
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Disclosure: I purchased a pot of Ruby Cocoa buttons from Pralinette in Bruges. I was not asked for a review. My opinions are my own.