Insta-ready Easter trend: Is ruby chocolate worth the hype?
'It's the biggest innovation in chocolate in 80 years," says Mary Healy of The Chocolate Garden of Ireland. "We are only getting to understand it and learning how to work with it."
She's talking about ruby chocolate, a naturally pink chocolate derived from ruby cocoa beans grown in the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Brazil and Ecuador. It's 80 years since Nestlé introduced white chocolate and there hasn't been a new type of chocolate since.
Ruby chocolate has been 13 years in research and development, by Swiss cocoa processing giant Barry Callebaut. The company has stated that the ruby cocoa beans are completely natural, and the pink colour of the chocolate made from them is not enhanced by colouring or additives.
Barry Callebaut describes the flavour as "a tension between berry-fruitiness and luscious smoothness" and says that it is less sweet than milk chocolate.
And while chocolate snobs will usually opt for dark, anyone whose choice of Easter Egg is influenced by its Instagram possibilities is bound to leap into action at the prospect of a ruby chocolate egg. The pink chocolate eggs are not just aimed at the children's market: Marks & Spencer and Aldi are just two of the retailers to offer ruby chocolate eggs this year, with M&S's hand-decorated, structured egg a sophisticated-looking choice and Aldi's Ruby Heist a gem-shaped confection accompanied by milk and dark chocolate truffles.
Mary Healy was the first artisan chocolatier to bring ruby chocolate into Ireland and says she is enjoying getting to know it. "The cocoa beans are fermented before being sun-dried, cleaned and roasted to enhance their flavour, and then processed into nibs," she explains.
"We bring it in as high-quality couverture chocolate, and it contains a high percentage of cocoa butter. Ours has 48pc cocoa solids and 27pc milk solids, which is premium and it's fairly traded. We've been able to do some unusual things with it, such as a four-way bar, with dark, milk, white and ruby chocolate.
"It's just super to have a brand new, tasty and so naturally pretty chocolate to bring to the market. We see huge opportunities for ruby chocolate."
Among the ruby chocolate products developed by The Chocolate Garden of Ireland are a 100g chocolate bar and a pouch of chocolate leaves, and there are plans to explore further flavour pairings.
If you'd prefer to drink your ruby chocolate than eat it, Insomnia has partnered with Barry Callebaut to sell Ruby Hot Chocolate. The drink is ruby in colour and has the distinctive ruby chocolate berry flavour, which Insomnia says has not been enhanced by the addition of berries, berry flavour or colouring.
"Ruby Hot Chocolate offers a new taste experience," says Insomnia CEO Harry O'Kelly. "It's not bitter, milky or sweet but the perfect combination of fruitiness from the berry and depth of smoothness."
Not everyone is convinced there is anything special about ruby chocolate, however. After its launch in Shanghai in 2017, chocolate expert Clay Gordon from The Chocolate Life website, said the chocolate "has little to none of the characteristic cocoa flavour associated with chocolate".
Barry Callebaut has been reticent about divulging information of the origins of its ruby chocolate, and the exact processes used to make it. This has led to speculation that, rather than being made with a newly-discovered type of cocoa bean, ruby chocolate is actually made with unfermented cocoa beans. As fermenting is a costly part of the chocolate-making process, this would mean that ruby chocolate is cheaper to produce.
But fermenting is considered key to producing the distinctive chocolate flavour that people know and love, and if ruby chocolate is made with unfermented beans that might explain why it has so little of that characteristic flavour.
Chocolate blogger, Sharon Terenzi, of The Chocolate Journalist, wonders if ruby chocolate is little more than a marketing gimmick, pointing out that Barry Callebaut has openly stated that it is meant to target millennials, at a time when colourful food is what everyone wants for their social media posts. She says that some experts are challenging the company, accusing it of "caring more about the visual side of the chocolate than its actual flavour, making it perfect for pictures and not so much for palates" and doing nothing to promote fine chocolate.
"Without putting any emphasis on flavour or quality," writes Terenzi, "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 stimulate consumers to look over its aesthetics."