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Chocolate made without cacao is coming to the UK

Young woman with glasses smiling
3 min read
AUTHOR: Molly Long
chocolate, cacao pods and cocoa powder on a green background

Sweet-toothed consumers in the UK will soon be able to buy chocolate which contains no cacao, as British start-up WNWN prepares to launch its innovative new product.

In a bid to sidestep the ethically problematic production processes of chocolate, WNWN’s chocolate is made from British-grown barley and organic Italian carob.

The start-up uses fermentation to turn its two ‘hero ingredients’ into chocolate.

Because the brand is using ingredients and processes which are both well-known and widely available, WNWN does not have to wait for novel food regulatory approval and so plans to begin selling its chocolate boxes later this month.

“It tastes like chocolate, it melts, snaps, and even bakes like chocolate,” the company says. “But we use absolutely no cacao.” Additionally, the sweet treat is also palm oil-free, vegan and caffeine-free.

Established last year, WNWN is the brainchild of materials scientist Johnny Drain and former investment banker Ahrum Pak.

The two founders, who now occupy the roles of Chief Technology Officer and CEO respectively, connected over their love of chocolate and dislike for how it is made.

The so-called dark side of chocolate has been the focus of a growing number of companies for some time. Chocolate brands like Tony’s Chocolonely have made it their mission to address these moral failings by transforming supply chains.  

WNWN – an acronym which stands for ‘waste not, want not’ but is pronounced ‘win win’ – takes a different approach, instead removing cacao from the equation entirely.

Drain was initially prompted into action after a chance discovery in the kitchen of his parents’ house. “All they had in were some mangy old potatoes,” he told WIRED UK in an interview.

So, I stuck them in a pot to boil them, and I could’ve sworn that they started to smell like chocolate. There had to be some aroma compounds that the two had in common, so I set about digging into why”.

Following the metaphorical and literal scent, he began researching chocolate production and fermentation, before eventually settling on the cacao-free process that WNWN uses. When he and Pak connected on Instagram, the idea of commercial production grew from there.

As the brand points out, the majority of traditional chocolate comes from ingredients grown from just two countries: the Ivory Coast and Ghana.

Cacao production in these countries is rife with ethical problems, ranging from child and slave labour to deforestation.

Conservative estimates suggest more than one million child labourers are working in the cacao trade, with many working with dangerous tools and alongside harmful pesticides.

Additionally, in the last 60 years alone, Ghana has lost 80% of its overall forest cover and the Ivory Coast 94% – much of this is directly attributable to chocolate production, WNWN says.

A premium dark chocolate box from WNWN will cost £10.00, which it says is roughly the same as what consumers would expect to pay for a traditional chocolate box.

While the company is currently concentrating on dark chocolate, there are plans to eventually expand into other products with contentious manufacturing processes like vanilla, coffee and tea.

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