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Brief Published: 27 Aug 2021

The New Chocolate-less Chocolate


As we explain in Chocolate 2021: Sector Outlook, the chocolate industry’s future is threatened by the ongoing use of child labour and climate-intensive farming to grow cocoa. But German biotech start-up QOA has a solution: deploying precision fermentation to make chocolate without cocoa beans. The concept, while in its infancy, could revolutionise production.

QOA started by analysing the myriad aromas present in raw cocoa, roasted cocoa beans and sweetened chocolate bars. The team then began fermenting a proprietary mix of ingredients (including sunflower seeds) to try and recreate those same flavours. As we explain in Future Food Tech Summit 2021, precision fermentation involves combining raw ingredients with microbes to manipulate the nutritional, textural and aromatic qualities of the raw ingredients. To mimic chocolate, this process involves testing various factors to ensure the right blend of chocolatey notes comes through. 

While the process is still in development, QOA was recently accepted into prestigious US business accelerator Y Combinator. QOA is also talking with chocolate manufacturers and chefs about how to showcase the diverse uses the fermented chocolate alternative offers. For chefs, this is likely to take the form of high-end tasting menus deploying a processed form of the fermented “cocoa” mass. For brands, this could involve replacing some amount of cocoa mass used in commercial chocolate production with QOA’s fermented product. In the meantime, curious consumers can sign up to be taste testers during the company’s soft launch.

With precision fermentation innovation brewing in the alt-meat and alt-dairy spaces, it’s about time that start-ups diversify their precision fermentation experiments to other sectors with problematic track records on human rights and sustainability.

For similar projects, see Faux Coffee that Skips the Bean and Can Meat Grow Inside Volcanoes?. For more on chocolate, see Chocolate 2021: Sector Outlook.