Ruby Chocolate: The Pink Cacao Sensation That Took Over Japan

20 June 2021 by Alana

You've heard about dark, milk and white chocolate. But what about ruby chocolate? When it first came out, this pink chocolate became an instant hit. Especially in Japan, where suddenly everything in the sweets aisle seemed to take on a rose hue. How did this chocolate sensation start? And where is it going? Let’s find out!

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What is Ruby Chocolate?

The chocolate was invented by a Swiss-Belgian chocolate company called Barry Callebaut. However, like Willy Wonka and his chocolate bars, the company has kept its exact creation method of ruby chocolate a secret. What they have said is that ruby chocolate is made from ruby cocoa beans, that is to say, cocoa beans which have the right qualities to be processed into ruby chocolate. What those properties are though, is a secret Barry Callebaut has kept well hidden. However, in 2009, the company registered a patent for "cocoa-derived material" which came from unfermented cocoa beans. This material turned red when treated with an acid, such as citric acid, and being defatted by petroleum ether. So perhaps this special process is the secret behind ruby chocolate production… but we’ll never be sure unless the company reveals its secrets. 

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The chocolate’s ingredient list is similar to that of milk chocolate, with milk powder, cocoa butter, sugar, and a bit of cocoa mass, although it does list citric acid. However, if you’re expecting a typical cacao flavor, like that of milk chocolate, you’ll be surprised. Ruby chocolate tastes more like white chocolate, but with a bit more acidity and a hint of fruit. The combination of sweet and sour is similar to a raspberry or dried cranberry. Ruby chocolate’s berry fruitiness and luscious smoothness have made it an instant hit with chocolate aficionados everywhere.

But is it truly the fourth type of chocolate? There has been some debate amongst chocolate experts about whether or not “ruby” counts as a new type of chocolate. Some experts believe that the invention of “ruby chocolate” is just a publicity stunt, while others are adamant that it truly counts as a separate type of chocolate, on the same standing as dark, milk, and white.

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The (Very) Short History of Ruby Chocolate

The pink chocolate was invented just 4 years ago, by a Swiss-Belgian chocolate company called Barry Callebaut. They started development in 2004, but it took them over a decade to perfect their recipe and patent it. It wasn’t until September 2017 that they were finally ready to announce their invention to the world, at a chocolate manufacturing trade show in Shanghai. Instantly, ruby chocolate made headlines as the “4th type of chocolate”.

The first mass production of ruby chocolate was the ruby chocolate KitKat, which was released in Japan and South Korea at the beginning of 2018. This event was no coincidence: Nestle, the company that manufactures Kitkats, and Barry Callebaut had made a deal. Nestle was allowed exclusive use of the pink chocolate for six months. 

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Seasonal Japanese Kit Kats are already famous globally for their crazy flavors, so a unique ruby chocolate Kit Kat release makes sense for the brand.  In 2018 a single ruby chocolate Kit Kat bar was sold for the (rather reasonable) price of 400 yen (USD$3.60).  With the launch of the new Kit Kats, ruby chocolate was finally easily accessible to everyone… at least everyone in Japan and South Korea. Thus, the pink chocolate became exceptionally popular in these countries. Part of the chocolate’s initial desirability was doubtless due to its scarcity when it was first released, as not everyone could try these Asia-exclusive Kit Kats.

Once the exclusive contract between Nestle and Barry Callebaut was up, there was an explosion of ruby chocolate products. Ruby chocolate became available in Europe in mid-2018, then in the US in 2019. Harry & David, a chocolatier from Medford, Oregon, started selling cacao truffles and a ruby cacao bar in 2020. That same year Starbucks offered a “Ruby Flamingo '' ruby chocolate-based frappuccino and Magnum released ruby-chocolate dipped chocolate bars.

In 2021, you can still find ruby chocolate products, although fewer than when the new flavor was first released. Kitkat is still selling its second-generation ruby chocolate bar called: Kit Kat Everyday Nuts & Cranberry (Ruby)  The chocolate's rich sweetness and slight astringency go well with the crunch of the nuts and sour cranberries. The addition of nuts and fruit makes this Kit Kat feel less like a sweet and more like a healthy snack. You can purchase this KitKat flavor in both the original bar size and the new mini size.

Now that the initial hype has died down, we have to ask: was this new chocolate just a marketing stunt? Or has ruby chocolate cemented itself forever on our shelves and in our minds as the “fourth type of chocolate”?

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