Cocoa-free chocolate alternative mimics reality, with 80% less CO2 emissions

Chocolate is one of the most consumed food products on the planet. Estimated to reach a total market size of $180 billion by 2025, according to ResearchAndMarkets, chocolate is big business.

But the chocolate industry has a “really dark side,” according to London-based start-up WNWN (pronounced “win-win”) Food Labs. “People don’t really know the issues with that delicious treat they have at the end of the day,” WNWN co-founder and CEO Ahrum Pak explained.

“In a nutshell, there’s climate change, there’s deforestation, and the supply chain is plagued by child labor and slave labor – typically around the Ivory Coast and Ghana, hence come from 70 to 80% of the world’s supply.”

Just as plant-based innovators are replacing conventional protein with meat substitutes, WNWN is looking to replace conventional chocolate with a non-cocoa substitute.

The result is an “alternative chocolate” product that is caffeine-free, low in sugar and responsible for 80% less CO2 emissions than comparable products, we were told.

How do you prepare the “alt choc”?

The WNWN process is based on traditional fermentation techniques. Not just because almost “anything fermented tastes good,” Pak said (think wine, beer, and kombucha), but because chocolate is also a fermented product.

To make chocolate, cocoa beans are fermented and then roasted before being processed into the final product. Instead of using cocoa, WNWN makes its chocolate alternative from two “key ingredients”: barley and carob.

Barley is an “incredible grain” that humans have consumed in bread and alcohol for thousands of years, WNWN co-founder and CTO Dr. Johnny Drain told FoodNavigator. “He has a very rich culinary tradition in the British Isles and elsewhere.”

Drawing on traditional fermentation techniques and modern food science, the start-up is “transforming” barley into a “mega chocolatey” product, he continued.

Fermented barley is then paired with carob – an ingredient with a somewhat weaker culinary tradition in the Western world. In the UK, carob was used as a ‘healthy’ alternative to chocolate a few decades ago, but it never really took off. “It was in the health and organic food scenes, but historically [food makers] just didn’t quite succeed.

Carob is one of the key ingredients in the WNWN product. GettyImages/kolesnikovserg

However, carob is ​Chocolate, the CTO pointed out, and the combination of carob and fermented barley gives a “delightfully chocolaty profile.” WNWN carob is grown in Spain and Italy and is certified organic. “Carob production is very sustainable and not bogged down by the kinds of deforestation issues that cocoa is,” said Dr. Drain.

Without cocoa, no cocoa butter. Instead, WNWN sources its shea fat from Ghana.

“All the ingredients we source are sustainable, organic and of high quality”, said Pack. “We have made several efforts to ensure that our supply is. We seek to create lasting relationships with local farmers.

Nutritional and taste profile for humans… and doggos!

The start-up’s first product is a dairy-free premium dark chocolate alternative. Its nutritional profile is “very similar” to that of conventional chocolate, although it contains slightly less sugar.

Although the full flavonoid and antioxidant profiles of the product are not yet fully understood by WNWN, it plans to study its potential health benefits.

A clear advantage of WNWN’s product, over chocolate, will be appreciated by consumers’ four-legged friends, Dr. Drain suggested. Dogs cannot eat conventional chocolate due to its theobromine content, which they are unable to metabolize effectively.

WNWN Alternative Shock does not contain theobromine. “Your pooch can eat our chocolate,” said the CTO. “We’ve tested it on some dogs…and they absolutely love it.”

WNWN’s premium dark chocolate product is made with two “hero ingredients”: barley and carob. Image source: WNWN

So, does WNWN’s alt choc product taste like chocolate? “We try to replicate the chocolate experience,” explained the CTO.

On the flavor side, the start-up has achieved the archetypal bitterness associated with dark chocolate, as well as its “fruity acidity”. “We have red berries, prunes, butterscotch notes on the long finish and a barley malt.

“It’s a very similar flavor profile to premium dark chocolate: lots of acidity and shine, complexity and bitterness.”

WNWN is working on a milk chocolate alternative that has a more “neutral” flavor, providing a “creamier” experience with less acidity.

The chocolate experience, however, is not just about the flavor. The start-up wants the melting, breaking, and baking properties of chocolate, and for the most part, it succeeded. If there was one element he hasn’t quite perfected yet, it’s “snapability”, Dr. Drain revealed, “but we are almost there”.

First chocolate, then coffee and vanilla?

WNWN launches its first product next week direct to consumer. Initially targeting the environmentally conscious consumer between the ages of 18 and 45, the company expects the target market to grow as it develops more products, including a “mainstream range”.

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The start-up’s limited-release shock will launch next week. Image source: WNWN

“Almost everyone who loves the taste of chocolate should love our product”, said Pack.

A limited-release slimline choc box from WNWN will cost around £10, “on par” with the premium chocolate price range. Going forward, its mass-market range will be in the mass-market price range of around £3-4, we’ve been told.

However, the B2C sales model is only the “first step”. Currently, this means WNWN can play a bigger role in educating shoppers and creating “fun products”. Once consumer demand is established, the company plans to expand into B2B ingredient sales.

“We can supply our product as both chocolate mass and cocoa powder, so that’s the ultimate goal. Impact only comes with scale.

And WNWN does not intend to stop there. It is first and foremost an ingredients company, the CEO suggested, and chocolate is just one product with problematic supply chains.

“Chocolate is our first project, then we will move on to other products, such as coffee and vanilla.”

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