UK tech firm WNWN Food Labs delivers key industry breakthrough with cacao-free ‘alt choc’
UK tech startup business WNWN Food Labs has delivered a major innovation breakthrough in creating one of the world’s first cacao-free chocolate ranges, writes Neill Barston.
As the company explained, its limited edition debut series of vegan choc thins is being produced by applying traditional fermentation techniques to plant-based ingredients.
Notably, according to the firm, founded by former investment banker Ahrum Pak and Oxford science graduate Dr. Johnny Drain (pictured main image), its scientifically devised ‘alt chocolate’ recipe means it is free from supply chain issues including child labour, deforestation, palm oil, as well as claiming 80% less Co2 emissions than conventional chocolate ranges.
The product has also been developed to be caffeine-free, gluten-free, lower in sugar than comparable products, which comes amid a major focus on a drive to develop confectionery and snacks that are perceived as offering healthier options.
“Chocolate has a truly dark side with more than a million child labourers estimated to work in Ivory Coast and Ghana, where three-quarters of the world’s cacao is grown, and more CO2 emissions pound for pound than cheese, lamb or chicken,” said WNWN CTO Dr. Johnny Drain.
“Using fermentation we are able to create a suite of the same flavour compounds found in cacao. We can dial up certain aromas and even adjust the acidity to bring out notes found in premium single-origin chocolates.”
As the business added, its first range has been developed with an in-house chocolatier, and is said to have has notes of sticky toffee pudding, dates, cherries, and a rich, buttery finish. In blind taste tests alongside cacao-based dark chocolate, consumers described the products as “very similar.”
Significantly, British barley—used for centuries in whisky and beer—and carob form the base of WNWN’s cacao-free chocolate. These and other plant-based ingredients are fermented and roasted using a proprietary process to build a flavour profile that mirrors the complexity and makeup of chocolate and the melt-in-the-mouth properties of cacao butter, without using cacao.
The company’s co-founder Ahrum Pak had formerly been working in finance in New York and London, and wanted to make greater use of her passion for food – stemming from growing up with the family fridge stocked with home-fermented Korean products..
It was her concern over food waste and sustainability that would lead her to her future business partner, a food consultant with a PhD in Materials Science from the University of Oxford who has brought his scientific insights to some of the world’s best restaurants and bars. Drain’s R&D on behalf of top brands included setting up in-house fermentation labs, creating novel ingredients, and working with the world’s first zero-waste restaurant.
“We’ve been able to scale rapidly, due in part to the use of widely available ingredients and production methods that don’t require regulatory approval or expensive platforms,” said Pak. “As the first in the world to have a cacao-free chocolate product for sale, we can now begin building partnerships to supply brands with sustainable, ethically sourced ingredients.”
Along with pursuing supply relationships, WNWN plans to explore how other foods can be future-proofed from changing climates, biodiversity loss, and from production monopolies that pay unfair wages and foster poor working conditions. These include coffee, tea and vanilla, which each have supply chains mired in unethical and unsustainable practices.
The company’s alt-choc will be available from tomorrow (May 18) exclusively at www.wnwnfoodlabs.com. Each box sells for £10 GB (about $12.50 U.S.), on a par with premium chocolate.