We Tested ‘WholeFruit,’ the Next Big Thing in Chocolate

Great chocolate, I’d suggest, is the most pleasurable thing a person can experience in polite company.

And for the past 100 years, the process for making the stuff has started in much the same way: The brightly colored, football-shaped pods of the cacao tree are harvested and split open. Inside each 7- to 10-inch-long pod are on average 20 to 40 beans surrounded by a sweet, white, nutrient-dense pulp.

The seeds are separated from the pulp, fermented, dried, and shipped off for processing before being transformed into everything from truffles and puddings to precious bean-to-bar chocolate. The pulp, which constitutes roughly 70% of the pod’s weight, is typically thrown away.

But that’s about to change. This spring, chocolate manufacturer Barry Callebaut AG will begin rolling out what it calls WholeFruit chocolate that uses the pulp to sweeten the confection. The world’s largest maker of bulk chocolate—last year the global behemoth produced more than 2 million tons of it for the likes of Nestlé SA and Hershey Co.—says this version contains 90% more fiber, 25% more protein, and 40% less sugar than popular dark and milk chocolates.

The first release under the WholeFruit label, a dark chocolate called Bold, will go to chefs and chocolatiers in the U.S., Latin America, Europe, and Asia. WholeFruit won’t be sold as a standalone bar, though clients may create what they please with it. The company will also roll out Velvety, a milk chocolate.

As a bona fide cacao nut (and a journalist on assignment for Bloomberg Businessweek), I was able to get my hands on some of the Bold. It came in a small, round box decorated with a picture of cacao beans; inside were half-dollar-size coins of the chocolate. Based on the jungle imagery on Barry Callebaut’s dedicated website—brace yourselves for a major marketing push—I was expecting a rainforest fruit bomb in my mouth.

What I got was merely excellent dark chocolate: It melted quickly on the tongue and gave off notes of yuzu and kumquat, flavors usually associated with high-end products such as Valrhona Inc.’s tangy Manjari chocolate from Madagascar. That bright citrus then quickly resolved into something darker and roastier, comfortable territory for eaters of Lindt or Guittard.

“It’s pretty conventional,” agrees Clay Gordon, author of Discover Chocolate: The Ultimate Guide to Buying, Tasting, and Enjoying Fine Chocolate, who had his own tasting. “This is not a chocolate [where] the fruitiness is going to knock you on your bottom. They’ve gone with something that will be fairly accessible.”

Indeed, Barry Callebaut sees WholeFruit as fundamentally changing how the entire chocolate supply chain works. If successful, it would be even more disruptive to the $24.5 billion industry than the company’s mild, naturally pink-colored ruby chocolate, which was released in 2017 as the first new chocolate variety in more than 80 years. (Think of it as the rosé of chocolate—not white, not dark, not milk.)

The company is already providing Mondelēz International Inc.—owner of Cadbury and Toblerone—with processed cacao fruit for on-the-go “wonder snacks” called CaPao. The bright packages contain “fruit jerky strips” and “smoothie balls” that are made using the juice from cacao fruit pulp.

There have been some high-profile precedents toward using whole cacao fruit. After a split from his wildly successful Max Brenner chain, Oded Brenner had an epiphany while eating fresh cacao in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica during his five-year noncompete period.

He returned as an evangelist for the fruit and opened the Blue Stripes Cacao Shop in Manhattan. Alongside decadent chocolate treats, he offers inventive cacao fruit products such as energy bars, packets of cacao fruit pulp powder, flour made from the pods, bottles of juice, and kid-size, squeezable packets of pulp. They all have a lightly tropical taste, with hints of tart passion fruit and marshmallow and a faint scent of cocoa.

Another of Brenner’s creations, a gluten-free bread made using the pulp and cacao pod flour, was pleasantly dense and slightly sweet. He also uses the pulp in smoothies and fruit bowls, which come with granola and add-ins like hazelnut butter and yogurt.

Cacao, as Brenner sees it, is poised to knock açaí from the top of the superfruit mountain. “It’s not an acquired taste,” he says. “People like it immediately.” I know I did.

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