A Very Brief History
We can trace the invention of dark chocolate as we know it today - eating chocolate - to England in the late 1840s. The late 1870's saw the introduction of milk chocolate, and white chocolate was brought to market in the late 1930s. These three base varieties form the Trinity of chocolate, just as Criollo, Forastero, and Trinitario form the Trinity of cacao.
What Is RUBY Chocolate?
RUBY Chocolate is made from RUBY cocoa beans. These beans are not the result of GMO experiments, nor are they a distinct variety of cocoa in any classic sense.
What Are RUBY Beans, Then?
Back in 2004, a Barry Callebaut (BC) researcher took note of an interesting phenomenon: some cocoa samples, when processed in a particular way (BC is treating this information as trade secret - much the same way Coca Cola and KFC protect their formula and recipe), turn a characteristic red color and have a pronounced red berry-forward flavor.
Nothing was done with this observation for about a decade, at which point it became the focus of research to discover what was behind the phenomenon. What was going on chemically? Was it an isolated quirk? Was it something that had commercial potential at scale?
Working with Jacobs University, it was discovered that there was a group of precursor compounds in cocoa that, when present in the correct ratio and in sufficient quantities could, when "activated" through special processing, consistently produced a product with this characteristic berry flavor and ruby color. These beans came to be called RUBY beans.
Further research may show that these precursor chemicals are naturally present in all cacaos, just not in the amounts needed to express the ruby flavor and color. Because one of the quality standards for cocoa is '80% well fermented,' the phenomenon was not noticed before because no one was ever looking closely - and few companies have the scale and resources to take advantage of this quirk.
In addition to special processing techniques, BC developed special supply chain tools to help them identify candidate cacaos around the world. From a sourcing perspective, one challenge is to aggregate these cacaos, separating them from beans without the RUBY properties. When sufficient quantities of the RUBY beans are processed (using proprietary techniques) in the absence of beans without the RUBY properties, the resulting chocolate has a distinctive red berry flavor profile and a reddish hue that correlates with the flavor.
So, is it REALLY Chocolate? Really?
In a word: absolutely yes. The RUBY Chocolate debuted on RUBY Tuesday meets all the criteria for milk [Note - I am fact checking this assertion - it is possible I misheard and it is more correctly a white] chocolate set forth in CFR 21.163. I did not personally see the ingredients list, but one of the chefs whose work was showcased at the launch said that she saw the list and confirmed that there were no added flavors or colors or anything not found in a real chocolate.
In the future, we are likely to see versions of RUBY Chocolate that conform to the standards of identity for sweet chocolate, which covers what is commonly referred to as dark chocolate - a term that is not appropriate when applied to RUBY.
Okay, so What Does RUBY Smell and Taste Like?
There is little to none of the characteristic cocoa flavor that is associated with chocolate.
I wonder how much of that is because of the color? At first reveal, RUBY does not look like any other chocolate you've had. How does that visual surprise affect other sensory perception?
The snap is what you'd expect from a well-tempered milk chocolate.
The aroma is faint but distinctly fruity, with none of the sweetness that is characteristic of most white chocolates and many milk chocolates. There is no detectable vanilla on the nose.
Likewise, on the tongue, there is no distinct cocoa/chocolate taste. instead, the taste is bright and fruity, predominantly and distinctly fresh red berries. I wonder how much, if any, of the red berry flavors found in some dark chocolates find their source in the RUBY precursor chemicals?
The texture is very much like a very fine milk chocolate verging on white chocolate when it comes to melt and mouthfeel - rich and buttery.
The finish is quite short, and this may contribute to some of its appeal - it's a very snackable chocolate and I can see how it would be very easy to finish an entire bar without really trying or being aware of it.
These factors may lead some people to belittle RUBY Chocolate as not being "real" chocolate, just as many people think that white chocolate isn't really chocolate.
It is really chocolate - and I believe that the flavor and color will be highly appealing to many - not only consumers but to pastry chefs and confectioners.
From a confectionery application perspective, RUBY works exactly as you'd expect a chocolate to work. You can deposit, shell mold, and enrobe with it. Make ganache and engross (pan) with it, color and spray it with an airbrush and flock with a paint gun. It can also be aerated. I did not see/taste any baked items with RUBY and so I can't comment on its applications in baking.
But it is also true that the flavor and color could be knocked off using flavoring and colorants in white chocolate. However, those would need to be disclosed on an ingredients list and BC is confident that their target markets are going to preferentially seek out the "all-natural" product, and their market research suggests consumers are going to be willing to pay a significant premium for "real RUBY" Chocolate.
Who Can Use RUBY?
RUBY cocoa beans are not going to be made available by BC - RUBY will only be available in couverture form. So, this is not an innovation that is going to be easily embraced by the small maker (craft) market. In fact, I predict that there will be a lot of haters who will bash RUBY and try to claim that it is not real or that is fake or rubbish or worse - GMO. But they are wrong.
Practically speaking, RUBY is not likely to be widely available until early 2019. This is not because of supply issues, but it represents the reality of introducing not just a new product but creating a new product category. (Something I very aware of through my work with Solbeso.) RUBY might eventually even spawn its own category in awards programs.
Interestingly, and very importantly, BC has not trademarked RUBY. Quite the opposite - they are deliberately "genericizing" it. They want the word RUBY to become the next Kleenex, Band-Aid, or Xerox; to take its place as the fourth member of this set: dark, milk, white, RUBY.
Why is This Important?
Real innovation in chocolate is hard to come by and RUBY is an example of real innovation, in my opinion. The project identified a characteristic inherent in cacao and, through extensive research learned how to harness this chemistry to create an entirely new category of chocolate.
There is a lot of hard work ahead to make the product successful in the market. BC is not a B-to-C company, and it has to rely on its B-to-B customers to deliver its messaging to the market.
RUBY is not going to be for everyone. And that's okay. But, for those who can think way outside any boxes, RUBY represents a once-in-a-generation (if not lifetime) opportunity.