Editor’s Blog

Ruby chocolate: New gem in confectionery crown or pink misfit?

By Oliver Nieburg contact

- Last updated on GMT

Can ruby chocolate live up to the media hype and become a commerical success? Photo: BC
Can ruby chocolate live up to the media hype and become a commerical success? Photo: BC

Related tags: Chocolate

Ruby chocolate may become as popular as white chocolate within three decades, but observers say the craft movement is skeptical and secrecy of the process may mean it is unjustly associated with GM.

Barry Callebaut this month launched the fourth variant of chocolate after milk, dark and white, a pinkish red creation with berry flavors that it says is naturally colored from the ‘ruby cocoa bean’.

The couverture supplier called ruby chocolate the biggest innovation in the sector since the launch of white chocolate 80 years ago.

It anticipates major brands will launch ruby SKUs to hit shelves in 2019.

To become as diverse as white chocolate

Clay Gordon, creator and moderator of industry forum TheChocolateLife,​ said there was today only one version of ruby chocolate and only a small handful of chefs have their hands on it. 

“It's possible that in 20-30 years ruby chocolate will be just as diverse as white chocolate is today.”

Is it chocolate?

ruby chocolate lead
Photo: ON

Ruby is “couverture chocolate’” under EU legislation, according to Barry Callebaut. Its standard of identity in the US under FDA regulation CFR 21.163​ is unclear and we have asked the ruby chocolate supplier to clarify if it is milk, white or precluded in the rules. Barry Callebaut’s CEO previously said​ the company may push for a new standard of identity in the US.

He said white chocolate created a new category at launch, but has since evolved to add countless variants to become a category worth $17.5bn globally in 2016, according to Research and Markets data.

A Barry Callebaut spokesperson told us: “Ruby chocolate will be available in many different varieties, including a version without dairy ingredients.”

Gordon, who was at the ruby chocolate launch event in Shanghai, China, said: “If the messaging, branding, tie-ins, etc., are on target then ruby could easily become as large as Milka - which generated $1.5bn globally in revenue for Mondelēz in 2016.”

He said Barry Callebaut or its customers might consider a tie-in with champagne since ruby fills an unmet need to pair chocolate with the sparkling wine, where milk, dark and white have failed.

Millennial audience

Marcia Mogelonsky, director of insight at Mintel, expects ruby chocolate will have a guaranteed audience among Millennials.

“The unexpected pink color of the new chocolate is likely to find its way onto the social media platforms of myriad Millennials, for whom the ‘fun’ aspect of food is a purchase driver,”​ she said.

But she cautioned ruby may fit into a slightly less popular category of ‘fruit flavored’ chocolate.

According to Mintel's Global New Product Database, plain/unflavored has been the top flavor for chocolate confectionery since 2016.

Other flavors lag far behind with strawberry (2%) and raspberry (1%) the only fruit flavors among the top 20.

“Ruby may have an advantage, with little competition from other fruit-forward chocolates. But, consumers who consider chocolate flavor to be part of the equation are likely to be disappointed by its absence as most consumers expect chocolate to taste like chocolate,”​ said Mogelonsky.

However, she said ruby could challenge white chocolate, which has only limited traction globally, but is quite popular in China.

Craft chocolate up in arms

Gordon said ruby has received a mixed reception among consumers, professionals and the craft chocolate movement.

“From what I can tell from Facebook, Twitter and other similar sources, many consumers are going to be open and receptive to the idea of ruby chocolate.

“The divide seems to be between those who are not receptive to white chocolate.

“…I can tell you that the craft chocolate segment of the market hates the very idea of ruby chocolate as it goes against everything they hold true and dear,” ​he said.

Not GM

Barry Callebaut’s CEO told us ruby chocolate was derived naturally by isolating specific compounds in cocoa beans and thus clean label. The company has kept the exact process under wraps.

The craft segment rejects this clean label assertion, according to Gordon, due mainly to the secrecy. The ruby mystery has also led some people to make an association with genetic modification (GM).

This is in part because of the way Callebaut wrote about it - Ruby chocolate comes from Ruby beans. What are Ruby beans? Most writers are not talking about these being just regular beans with a specific chemical makeup; they think they are a special or new type of bean. Which leads some people to assume GMO. So - part of the messaging Callebaut has to work on,” ​said Gordon.

A Barry Callebaut spokesperson told us ruby – like milk, dark and white chocolate – is created using existing botanical cocoa bean varieties.

“The beans are like mother nature gave them to us and are not GMO. Barry Callebaut is able to identify the Ruby beans containing the right set of attributes. Secondly, we developed a unique processing that makes those special precursors come alive, creating ruby chocolate,” they said.

How is it colored?

Barry Callebaut’s CEO told us the process for ruby chocolate had not been patented and was instead being guarded as a trade secret.

The company did however file a patent​ for “a process for producing red or purple cocoa-derived material”​ in 2009.

This patent details a process to treat unfermented or under-fermented (less than 3 days) cocoa with a higher polyphenol content than fermented beans with an acid such as phosphoric, lactic, citric, ascorbic or acetic acid.

It says the beans could be Forastero, Criollo or Trinitario from any origin, but should be ‘lavados/washed beans, unfermented and sun-dried.

The patent says the cocoa liquor for the red or purple chocolate is defatted with petroleum-ether.

“If you are not careful reading the patent, you can assume that petroleum-derived solvents (e.g., hexane) are used to defat the cocoa powder that is used to make the product,”​ said Gordon.

Herza’s purple white chocolate

HERZA_Purple range (002)
Photo: Herza

German supplier Herza Schokolade today launched white chocolate pieces with fruit and vegetable powders. Its ‘purple’ chocolate range can be used in cereal mixtures, muesli bars or ice cream. The color and flavor comes from fruit powder of elderberries, aronia berries and wild blueberries, as well as vegetable powder extracted from beetroot and black carrots and hibiscus extract. Herza said purple was “one of the strong food trends this year”.

“Defatting is mentioned especially with respect to measuring color, as well as using defatted cocoa, but CO2 is mentioned as the preferred solvent as is it food safe.”

Barry Callebaut says ruby is non-GM. We have asked the supplier about the current status of its patent and are awaiting a reponse.

Why not just flavor and color chocolate?

Many high-end confectioners and pastry chefs may simply feel ruby is no big deal as they can simply flavor and color white chocolate for the same results.

“This is exactly the same argument that is made against Valrhona's double-fermented chocolates​,” ​said Gordon.

“Why would a chef buy an expensive orange-flavored chocolate made using the double-fermented method when they can flavor any chocolate (dark or milk) with precisely the orange flavor they want to,”​ he said.

But Gordon said many professionals are less skeptical and are waiting to taste ruby chocolate before making up their minds.

“I don't think it will be hard to convince them, but the branding and messaging need to be spot-on,”​ he said.

He also envisages chocolate awards will eventually add judging categories for ruby, helping to raise its profile.

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1 comment

Just the Beginning

Posted by Doug Furtek,

Barry Callebaut scientists were pretty tight-lipped when I spoke with them several years ago here in Malaysia. Curiously, they did NOT want to hear about the innovative ideas the Malaysian Cocoa Board was employing to create novel cocoa beans. I believe they are sharp enough to have discovered the way by themselves. So my prediction is that Ruby Chocolate is only the beginning of an *endless* line of extraordinary cocoa products. All NON-GM.

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