Close encounters of the 4th kind... of chocolate

But can it really be considered chocolate?

The world only knew of three kinds of chocolate — dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and white chocolate — and then along came ruby. In 2017 Barry Callebaut, a chocolate producer headquartered in Switzerland, stunned the confectionery world with a fourth kind of chocolate — a chocolate with a vibrant pink hue that they said is a naturally occurring color. It is not dyed with artificial coloring, nor is it tinted with strawberries or raspberries. Ruby chocolate is a natural color that occurs after processing a particular kind of cocoa bean in a particular way.

Admittedly, the specifics behind the process of making ruby chocolate aren’t known because it’s a trade secret. All that is publicly known is that at some point in the process citric acid, which is naturally occurring as well, is introduced. They aren’t claiming that the process is natural — technically no chocolate making process is natural — but they are indicating that the ruby color and flavor profile is already naturally occurring within the cocoa bean and that its properties are achieved with no additives.

So it’s up for debate whether or not ruby chocolate is truly the 4th kind of chocolate. But to understand this debate, and possibly make a decision for yourself what constitutes as chocolate and what does not, you have to understand how chocolate is made and how it has come to be.

[NOTE: The following is very brief overview that is definitely way deeper than I present them, so don’t @ me. It’s just a quick run through so that you can get a basic idea of the chocolate debates.]

A Brief History of Chocolate

All chocolate begins with cocoa pods which grow on cocoa trees. Within those pods are the beloved cocoa beans which, for millennia, were revered as a “Food of the Gods.” Consumption of cocoa began in Mesoamerica with the Mayan, Aztec, Olmec and other civilizations who would grind up roasted cocoa beans to mix into a drink of spices, cornmeal, and sometimes wine and other alcoholic beverages.

When the Spaniards began to colonize Mesoamerica, they took this drinking chocolate back to Europe where the recipe was tweaked to accommodate the European palate — this is where sugar was introduced into the chocolate making process.

For centuries, Europeans were getting JUICED on drinking chocolate. Coffee gets most of the credit for fueling the great thinkers of the Renaissance, but drinking chocolate was right up there as it was believed to boost strength, creativity and stave off disease. Chocolate houses were just as popular as coffee cafes during this period of time.

Chocolate in bar form — the form of eating chocolate we’re mostly familiar with today — wasn’t invented until 1847 thanks to a British chocolate company called J.S. Fry & Sons. When compared to all of chocolate history, that’s relatively recent. They made these edible chocolates by processing cocoa solids ground into cocoa powder with cocoa butter and sugar. A few years later in 1861, Fry’s competitor Cadbury developed smaller, bite sized chocolates that they sold in “fancy boxes” and in 1868 they developed the very first Valentine’s Day boxes of chocolates. (I wrote about that history for USA TODAY 10Best if you’d like to read more.)

In 1936, the first commercially sold white chocolate breaks onto the scene thanks to chocolatiers at the Switzerland based company Nestlé. Supposedly, its development was a means of using left over powdered milk that wasn’t used up during World War I.

The Basics to How Chocolate is Made

In order to become the chocolate we know and love, cocoa beans go through a process of fermentation, drying, roasting, winnowing (where the cocoa nibs are separated from the shells), grinding (which separates the cocoa solids from cocoa butter and sugars), conching (a process that makes the cocoa smooth), and tempering at which point the chocolate is formed.

Now to achieve nuanced varieties, chocolate makers can manipulate the final product by tweaking the steps in this process like choosing a ratio of cocoa solids to cocoa butter, changing the acidity level, and adding other ingredients, like milk and sugar — and in the case of ruby chocolate, adding citric acid.

There are arguments in the chocolate world as to whether or not white chocolate can be considered chocolate. Some believe that in order to be considered chocolate, it must contain cocoa solids, which white chocolate doesn’t have. Even as recently as 2007, Bon Appétit was dunking on white chocolate for not being chocolate. And this is true, white chocolate is made from the cocoa butter that’s separated from the cocoa bean and not from cocoa solids. According to Simran Sethi in this 2017 Washington Post article, “besides the absence of cocoa solids, the reputation stems from the fact that white chocolate products often contain such additives as palm oil and other fillers, plus an excess of sweeteners.” It wasn’t until 2004 when the FDA set the standards for what can be classified as chocolate and white chocolate (with white chocolate having its own set of standards). Sethi writes:

“For a chocolate to be labeled as chocolate, as opposed to candy, the Food and Drug Administration requires that the bar be made up of at least 10 percent cocoa mass (nibs plus the cocoa fat inherent to the bean) , with no specifications about cocoa butter. White chocolate, on the other hand, has to have a cocoa butter content of at least 20 percent and does not require the inclusion of nibs. The FDA established these standards in 2004 in response to petitions filed by the Hershey Company and the Chocolate Manufacturers Association (now part of the National Confectioners Association).”

The article continues with chocolate manufacturers and chocolatiers who are working hard to develop high quality white chocolates.

But anyway — all that to lead into…

Can ruby chocolate be considered the 4th kind of chocolate?

I am in team 4th kind, but if you’re not, that’s fine too — and I can totally see where you’re coming from. To me chocolate comes from processing the cocoa bean, and whether its cocoa solids and some portion of cocoa butter or just cocoa butter, it’s a form of chocolate to me.

With ruby chocolate, we don’t know what percentage of cocoa solids to cocoa butter is used — or if any cocoa solids are used at all. We don’t know how long its fermented or at what point citric acid is introduced, or how much milk or sugar is added.

But what we do know is that cocoa beans have over 20,000 components in them and the chocolates we eat all go through a process that brings out different variations of these components. The cocoa beans used to make ruby chocolate are varieties that are already known and are already used to make other forms of chocolate.

It’s all about the process!

And honestly, at the end of the day what matters most is that you’re enjoying yourself, and if ruby chocolate inspires you, have fun!

I’m very curious to hear your thoughts! Let me know whether you’re Team 4th Kind or Team Not Chocolate below!

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Ruby Chocolate in the Kitchen

The best part about exploring ruby chocolate has been playing with ruby chocolate. I purchased a 1lb bag of Barry Callebaut - Ruby Chocolate RB1 33% from The Pastry Depot online (if you grab some, definitely don’t forget to use the coupon code they have on their website). I am okay with the double boiler method of melting chocolate, but I really like using this simple chocolate melter that my mom got me many years ago (still works like a charm). The one I use is currently on sale at Hobby Lobby (these aren’t affiliate links - these are straight from Google).

I haven’t made molded chocolates or flavor infused ganaches in quite a while, and since I was just getting acquainted with ruby chocolate, I decided to keep it simple with chocolate mendiants, chocolate medallions with delicious goodies sprinkled on top.

I like chocolate mendiants. They’re easy to make, you don’t have to worry about molds, and you can make them look so elegant without much effort.

While interviewing a chef with Barry Callebaut for a story I was working on with KitchenAid, he recommended pairing ruby chocolate with nuts, berries, fruits, and spices. So for these mendiants I went with pistachios (whose bright green color popped against the pink chocolate), hibiscus tea mixed with dried orange peel (even more vibrancy added to the mix), and sea salt. I made a quick video tutorial which you can see here.

Ruby Chocolate in the Wild

These are some chocolatiers and pastry chefs who have been experimenting with ruby chocolate as well. At the Famous 4th Street Cookies stand in Reading Terminal Market, they brought out a Ruby Chocolate Cherry cookie. I scurried down to the market a couple days after they were released to get a taste, and I must say, the tart cherries with the chunks of ruby chocolate chips are a great match. Bassett’s Ice Cream, which has a stand right down the aisle, does some fun collaborations with Famous 4th Street Cookies, and paired their ruby chocolate cherry with their Raspberry Truffle Ice Cream. Loved this ice cream sandwich @JoshEatsPhilly made for Instagram!

A post shared by Philadelphia Food & Lifestyle (@josheatsphilly)

What would you make with ruby chocolate? I’d love to see your comments below!

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Kae Lani Palmisano is the Emmy® Award-Winning TV host of WHYY's Check, Please! Philly, a show that spotlights restaurants throughout the Philadelphia region. She also hosts and helps write Delishtory on WHYY, a digital series that dives into the history of foods we love. Kae Lani is also a food and travel writer who enjoys exploring the history and culture of cuisine. Be sure to follow her here on Twitter and Instagram!