Ever since the controversial new ruby chocolate was revealed at a Shanghai trade show in September 2017, the ever-wandering eye of the public has been curious about pink chocolate. China’s not exactly a hub for craft chocolate making, after all. Yet one of the largest chocolate manufacturers in the world chose to debut their newest creation there.
Then they debuted the first publicly available version in Japan, moving on to Europe in mid-2018, and then the US in 2019. Most recently, the company has revealed another new creation: WholeFruit Chocolate. So what’s all the ruby chocolate hype about, and is it even warranted?
*Article first published March 2018, and updated dozens of times since with more sources for where to buy ruby chocolate, as well as frequently-asked questions and further information on its global spread.
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What is Ruby Chocolate?
Touted as the “4th chocolate,” behind white, milk, and dark chocolates, ruby chocolate has also been dubbed “Millennial Chocolate.” Barry Callebaut, the inventing company of ruby chocolate has named so-called “ruby cocoa beans” as the source of the characteristic color. The ruby cocoa bean is not actually a new type of cacao, nor has it been genetically modified, at least according to Callebaut.
Most of the world’s cacao varietals have already been identified and genetic material has been stored for safekeeping, so it’s also not just some new “ruby cocoa bean” recently discovered in the wild. Ruby cacao is merely the name given to the beans used to make ruby chocolate. Could it be the same red-hued cacao beans patented by Callebaut in 2009?
No matter what the answer, pink cacao pods are not the answer. In fact, legally Callebaut has left consumers in the dark, speculating about pink chocolate made from rare pink cacao pods. He cites trade secrets. And since Callebaut adamantly claims that no genetic modification of any kind is involved, that leads us to believe that it has something to do with how he treats these “ruby cacao beans” after harvest.
So when answering the question “what is ruby chocolate made of?” we must look both at the ingredients list, and where those ingredients come from. So where does ruby chocolate come from, as told by its ingredients? Well, the so-called ruby cacao comes from Brazil, Ecuador, and the Ivory Coast. But Callebaut has not been as open regarding the origin of ruby chocolate’s other ingredients: cocoa butter, sugar, citric acid, and milk powder, as well as emulsifiers.
Some people think ruby chocolate is fake, just a flavored cocoa butter or colored fat, just one big conspiracy to bring more publicity to the Belgian company. But I can guarantee that there are indeed cacao beans in this pink chocolate. I’ve tried it myself, several times now. The first time was just two weeks after the January 19th, 2018 Japan release date. And I have a strong belief that it’s the product of years of market research, and a creative approach to chocolate making.
But does it taste any good?
The History of Ruby Chocolate
The nickname of this chocolate, “Millennial Chocolate,” is a careful branding choice, and a not-so-subtle hint at their target market. But so far, this branding choice has still not quite worked out in their favor, as of 2020. The long stretch of time between the announcement of ruby chocolate and the early 2018 release of ruby kit kats left the public relatively disinterested. Longer stretches between releases in different countries has furthered that disinterest, including the launch of US Ruby Chocolate products.
What has people really intrigued seems to be Callebaut’s implication of discovering some kind of new ruby cocoa bean in the wild. Even though Barry Callebaut himself states that the beans come from a variety of regions— Brazil, Ecuador, and the Ivory Coast— by implying that the bean is special in some way, he lends a uniqueness to the product.
Ruby chocolate appeals to the desire of people to be trendy and one-of-a-kind, reinforced by the fact that there were a limited number of ruby kit kats made available in that first batch (just 5000 in the world, supposedly, but they’re still available in Australia as of January 2020). There have clearly been many more runs of ruby kit kats since then.
But the ruby cocoa kitkat was the first pink chocolate bar I tasted, and was the only ruby chocolate available internationally for many months. I suppose we’ll never know how much Nestle paid for the right to be the first distributors of a ruby chocolate product… but my guess is a lot, if the ~$94USD sets of 5 ruby kit kats (+ some freebie kit kats) is any indication. But even though Nestle has the rights to sole distribution of ruby chocolate for 6 months, starting in April 2018 ruby chocolate was made available to culinary professionals in Belgium.
The name of that product is Ruby RB1, and it was quickly made available to chocolate professionals in other parts of Europe in the following months. The ruby cacao couverture is now available across Europe, but still only to culinary professionals. Callebaut’s approach appears to be related to the trickle-down theory, wherein the chocolatiers they provide pink chocolate to will do the promotion, and interest will flourish from there.
From the start, Callebaut was careful to hedge its bets on when ruby chocolate would actually arrive on the international market, stating that it could be anywhere from 6 to 18 months. This range allowed his team to broker deals with chocolatiers, make more chocolate to fulfill demand, and build the hype this pink chocolate so desperately needs.
The initial news articles written about ruby cacao and ruby chocolate maintained public attention for a few days after the global press release, but really, internet searches have died down dramatically over the last couple of years. Even these days almost every “news article” is still basically a press release, with the same pictures and information three years later.
The first 10 Google results for “ruby chocolate” and even “ruby cocoa” are all 400-word fluff pieces or direct-from-the-horse’s mouth Callebaut blogs. There’s still been very little social media, no ads, no talk shows, or anything of the sort, all of which one would expect during these weird times, when it feel everyone is trying to push their product. It makes us ask ourselves what makes ruby chocolate so special?
Chocolate is, after all, one of the most common treats in the world. The chocolate industry is worth billions of dollars worldwide, and often revered as recession-proof. Even in the worst of times (like now), you can still afford a chocolate-flavored candy bar. So I suppose that a $4 kit kat (or even a $1 one) could also be dressed up and sensationalized enough to begin making up the money spent on developing the ruby chocolate making process. After all, people will never stop wanting chocolates.
For an example of one such press release-style video, see below.
Where Did They Release Pink Chocolate First?
The choice to release ruby chocolate in Japan first could just be because Nestle won the bidding war, but I could also understand if Callebaut hand-picked the chocolate giant to debut ruby chocolate. Despite being made in America, the Kitkat brand has found infamy in Japan, where their many unique flavors are revered by travelers and enjoyed by locals. Kitkat has gone further in Japan than it ever did in the US, where they’re unlike anything you’ve ever had before.
They’re not really American anymore, especially the pink chocolate version. The initial release in China was also no surprise, if you consider the emerging fine chocolate market in Asia. There’s lots of interest in healthy eating across Asia, but also in beautiful and trendy foodstuffs. With chocolate consumption on the rise throughout Asia, involving the Asian market in the launch was a careful choice.
Japan is truly the ideal market for this new food: they’re accepting of new trends, very into the fine chocolate scene, and willing to pay more for unique foods and experiences. It’s been proven time and again that the Japanese love gifting expensive food items, so why not “millennial chocolate,” too? The Ruby Chocolate Price Difference, as I like to think of it, is sort of like paying extra to be the first one to get the new iPhone or Jordans. It’s paying for the hype, because eventually, there will be more products made with it.
Barry Callebaut has spent too many years inventing and investing in order to come up with this chocolate, and I see no reason why he would let such a brand-boosting opportunity pass. I’m not sure how much the release of ruby cocoa products had to do with it, but Nestle Japan has also opened several more Kit Kat Chocolatory stores around the world since the launch of their ruby chocolate kit kats, including in Melbourne, Australia.
Ruby Chocolate Review: Expert Opinions
Lots of chocolate industry professionals were invited to the trade show where ruby chocolate was launched in 2017, but even years later ruby lacks social media exposure. If the target market for this chocolate is millennials, then Callebaut needs to have a social media strategy, because the chocolate experts are not impressed. In fact, we’re skeptical. When they announced that new line was being released initially as kitkats, that was the metaphorical last straw.
Chocolate experts began gossiping about it to each other, loudly. Some of us then decided to go do our own research, biting into ruby chocolate for ourselves. On my end, I invested in a few ruby kit kats (and later on, some bonbons and ruby chocolate bars). In keeping with the purity theme, ruby kit kats are bigger than your typical ones, and come only in individually-packaged boxes. I’ve noticed that half of us experts were anxious to try the new pink chocolate, while the other half still thinks it’s all a big publicity stunt, even years later.
A big name in the fine chocolate world, Dom Ramsey, has been quoted in the New York Times as saying that “‘Ruby chocolate’ is very much a marketing term.” I have to agree, Mr. Ramsey. Even after trying ruby chocolate US product Chocolove Valentine’s Day bars, several different ruby chocolate bonbons, a few pure ruby cacao bars, and ruby cacao wafers, I fail to taste what’s so special. It’s just another sweet treat with an unusual appearance.
Personally, my problem with the hype is in the sourcing aspect of it all. Callebaut even states on its website that only 36% of their cacao is sustainable sourced. So after all the money spent creating the product, who’s to say that it’s not made with any child slave labor?
What Does Ruby Chocolate Taste Like?
In a nutshell, ruby chocolate tastes like very sweet white chocolate with raspberry & lemon notes. Although, as I’ve mentioned in many articles, everyone has different taste buds. Additionally, these tiny papillae taste the five flavors at different intensities. Saltiness, sweetness, bitterness, sourness, and umami can all show themselves to varying degrees, depending on where on your tongue you place the chocolate and what other ingredients are in a bar (like flour-based wafers).
Ruby chocolate is technically made in the milk chocolate style, using cocoa butter, milk powder, sugar, and just a touch of cocoa mass, among other ingredients (like citric acid). When I was doing chocolate research in the US, ruby chocolate was available in Chocolove Ruby Chocolate bars, made especially for Valentine’s Day. Unlike the snack bars, these were made of “pure ruby chocolate,” though they were carefully advertised without once actually using the word “chocolate” to describe the bars.
Other places to buy ruby chocolate in the US include Trader Joe’s, which released their pink chocolate wafers back in February 2019. Some other chocolate reviewers have noted that ruby chocolate has berry notes, like ice cream, but it fell too sharply on my taste buds to be ice cream-like. Barry Callebaut’s marketing mater itself describes it as having “fresh berry-fruity taste and characteristic color.” But it truly borders on sour.
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Ruby chocolate also lacks the light cocoa aroma of good white chocolates (which makes sense, since it’s technically a milk chocolate). In fact, I don’t even taste or smell any cocoa notes in ruby chocolate. It’s all bright berries, admittedly in line with what Callebaut itself had to say about the flavor. It makes sense, considering that one of the ingredients is citric acid, a very sour organic substance often extracted from citrus fruits.
Going forward, ruby chocolate will be hard to blend into the background of a truffle or bonbon, as the bright flavor is something our palates aren’t used to. Bonbons I’ve had made with it have all tried to complement or enhance the berry fruitiness rather than contrast it, in particular the pink chocolate bonbons I had from Presquile Chocolaterie in Tokyo.
The fruity character is hard to place as one berry or another, and the acidic finish can hit you harder on some bites than on others. But I can already think of several other unique uses for the chocolate, from caramelized ruby chocolate to ruby chocolate-covered cacao beans. This may be a fun product to develop a learning curve for, as controversial as its start has been.
Ruby Chocolate Products
Since the 2017 release of ruby chocolate kitkats, a large number of products have been made using the confection. Following the wafer-based candies were “pure” ruby chocolate bars, first released in Europe. The product has since been released to professional chocolatiers, who are the people making those bonbons and truffles you buy in chocolate shops around the world.
Since bonbons have a shorter shelf life, chocolatiers have found some rather creative uses for ruby chocolate. There are the typical plain pink chocolate bars, but I’ve also tried a version featuring candied violet petals & roasted almonds. Chocolatiers I’ve talked to have said it tempers like a white chocolate, despite the minimal addition of cocoa mass.
One ruby chocolate bonbon I had used raspberry puree as a complement for the confection’s natural sour notes, but I’d love to see more play with salt and cacao nibs. Unfortunately there’s still no vegan ruby chocolate version, otherwise I’d love to taste it with coconut rather than dairy milk.
Also note that this rumor of Callebaut of discovering ruby cocoa beans is a lie contributing to the question of “is ruby chocolate fake?” It’s merely processing which makes the cacao taste at all different, so future ruby chocolate products must take into account not only the flavor of the couverture, but also how ruby chocolate is made.
Is there any way to use the product’s high sugar content as a base for more complexity? Can it be caramelized, as white and milk chocolate can? Does adding in some dark or milk chocolate cut the sweetness or ruin its fruity nature?
Unfortunately, there’s currently no way to make ruby chocolate at home, but there are a multitude of ways to make chocolate from scratch at home! You can easily find recipes to make chocolate from bean to bar at home, white, milk, or dark, but no ruby (for now).
Ruby Chocolate FAQs
While this depends on your definition of chocolate, I’d say that since ruby chocolate includes cocoa mass and cocoa butter, it is indeed real chocolate.
As stated above, unlike white, milk, or dark chocolate, there is currently no ruby chocolate recipe out there online. You can either dye white chocolate pink using red food dye, or experiment with home chocolate making through white, milk, or dark chocolate recipes.
Just like white and milk chocolates, ruby chocolate is made by grinding cacao derivatives (chocolate liquor, cocoa butter) with sugar and milk powder, though with a few additional ingredients, in this case: citric acid, soy lecithin, and “natural flavor.” The pink color is said to come from the under-fermented cacao beans that Callebaut treats with their own process.
No. Simply put, ruby chocolate is produced in the style of a milk chocolate. Cocoa butter, sugar, and milk powder are the first 3 ingredients, meaning that ruby chocolate is vegetarian, but not vegan. Ruby cocoa beans are listed after those three on the ingredients list, and there is still 4% cacao mass in ruby chocolate.
Yes! If you’d like to, you can use ruby chocolate for baking the same sorts of things you’d use white chocolate for. As an example, you could make a cake or even frosting or brownies with ruby as the centerpiece.
And is ruby chocolate naturally pink? Well, a processed cacao product that Callebaut has deemed “ruby cocoa beans” is the key ingredient in ruby chocolate’s color. One theory behind attaining that pink hue is that Callebaut bred the cacao trees themselves to grow fruits which naturally have more of a pink tint (99% of cacao is a reddish-purple color when raw). Ruby chocolate ingredients include cacao mass, cocoa butter, milk powder, and sugar (not in this order), so the cacao itself must be very pink to maintain its color. In addition, it’s believed that they used fruitier, unfermented cacao beans treated with acids, in order to maintain that bright color. This would make sense, since ruby chocolate ingredients’ lists always contain citric acid.
What is Ruby Couverture?
Ruby couverture is the name for the version of ruby chocolate in the US. Because of the US’s specifications of what can be called chocolate— specifications which ruby chocolate doesn’t meet— up until recently the US ruby chocolate legally had to be sold under a different name. So they chose couverture, a French term often used in chocolate to refer to a chocolate made for the purpose of crafting bonbons and other confections.
Couverture is made with more cocoa butter than other chocolates, but this doesn’t actually mean that American ruby chocolate will contain more cocoa butter than other versions. The newest ruby chocolate USA releases will legally be able to call themselves chocolate for a limited amount of time, thanks to Callebaut’s team of lawyers arguing for the confection to be classified as the 4th type of chocolate.
But I’m curious what this “fourth type of chocolate” would taste like made following a more traditional dark, milk, or white chocolate recipe.
Is ruby chocolate natural?
Yes, ruby chocolate is theoretically made as naturally as any other chocolate, using cacao beans and sugar, as well as extra cocoa butter and some milk powder. But it’s unclear how many preservatives are in the ruby chocolate itself, as it seems that Callebaut actually has different formulations of ruby chocolate for different uses, just as there are different percentages of white, milk, and dark chocolates.
The pink chocolate used to make those Japanese kitkats may well taste different from that used by professional chocolatiers, and again different from future formulations. Ruby chocolates out on the market now certainly have different flavors thanks to varying ratios of each ingredient.
In addition, any preservatives used during the post-harvest processing of the cacao aren’t going to be listed on a label (just like your strawberries and apples don’t list the weed killers sprayed on them just before they were picked). Ruby chocolate is also not organic or fair trade, if that’s something you value, and it’s certainly not made with transparently-traded cacao.
How much does ruby chocolate cost?
When I visited the kitkat chocolatory in Seoul, South Korea just two weeks after the release, individual bars were no longer available. You had to buy them in sets of 5 bars (2 ruby + 1 of each white, milk, and dark) for ₩26500 (~$24USD). This sounds outrageous for kit kats, but Japan and Korea go big on Valentine’s Day. There’s an 8% sales tax in Japan, but that’s nothing compared to what the price was in the US and other territories.
As of 2019, in Japan the going rate is still ¥400 + ¥32 tax, so ¥432 per kit kat (~$4USD). So the kit kats cost about $4USD in both Japan and Korea. From September 2018, however, you can now buy ruby chocolate kitkats in general stores throughout Europe, and pink chocolate creations from chocolatiers across the continent. Prices vary greatly, with existing ruby chocolate wafers from Trader Joe’s still being the cheapest option in the US as of 2020.
Where can you buy ruby chocolate in the US?
There are now lots of ruby chocolate products for sale in the US, from Trader Joe’s Ruby Cacao Wafers and Chocolove’s Valentine’s Day bar to ruby chocolates ordered internationally from other sellers. As Callebaut has announced, even more forms of the chocolate will be available soon. He’s named the US ruby chocolate “ruby couverture,” but has not yet specified all of the brands which will sell it. You can also buy a decent variety of bars online, though they’re of varying quality.
NEW: To see prices & buy ruby chocolate now, click here.
How can you buy ruby chocolate internationally?
2020 UPDATE: Ruby chocolate bars are now available internationally from Fortnum & Mason, which charges hefty fees, but will ship to almost anywhere in the world (though you can buy ruby chocolate in the US for cheaper on Amazon). Starting in April 2018, Ruby RB1 Chocolate was made available to selected chocolatiers and pastry chefs in Belgium. It’s now also available in pink chocolate kit kat form in Albert Heijn stores in Belgium & The Netherlands; Żabka and Freshmarket stores in Poland; and in Rewe stores in Germany. Starting in May 2018 there was ruby chocolate in Australia, and in September of the same year you could find ruby chocolate in South Africa.
Note that large amounts of ruby chocolate is sold only to confectioners, not to individuals, so you can currently only find it at local chocolate shops. Additionally, even though some bars use the pink chocolate, the chocolate coating the products may have had other ingredients added to it, diluting the flavor of the product. Callebaut has made no note of whether or not they will license the processing techniques or sell the “ruby chocolate beans” themselves, in the future.
If you have any lingering questions about pink chocolate, please leave them in a comment and I’ll do my best to answer them in updated versions of this article.
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