Lab-grown chocolate stirs up interest

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In Germany, a startup is developing no-cocoa chocolate in an effort to address the climate and child-labor concerns surrounding the cocoa industry. QOA, which recently joined the Y Combinator technology accelerator, is using precision fermentation to produce ingredients that together resemble the flavor or cocoa. 

“Pretty much every food has a fingerprint, like a human has a fingerprint, right? It’s very unique,” cofounder Sara Marquat tells Fast Company. “We analyze the fingerprint of raw cocoa, fermented cocoa, roasted cocoa, to understand what is making cocoa this unique little bean that has so much flavor?” By fermenting products like sunflower seed oil, the company has been able to make a product with a similar flavor to cocoa. 

About a third of the world’s cocoa is grown in West Africa. In many cases, rain forests are cleared for cocoa plantations. The industry has also come under fire for its use of child labor.

QOA hopes that in a little more than 10 years, all cocoa production will be replaced by alternative means. It is currently in talks with major chocolate brands, and despite initial skepticism, taste tests have exceeded expectations. “The best feedback that we got is that from a person who was super skeptical, like, ‘Yeah, you can never ever do that,’ when we first talked to him,” Marquat says. “And then he tastes it and he wrote us an email the next morning saying, ‘Hey, guys, how can we collaborate?”