Are fermented fava beans the new cocoa?

The cocoa industry is ripe for disruption and this alt chocolate startup has plans to do just that.

Are fermented fava beans the new cocoa?
Photo by Tamas Pap / Unsplash

This startup is on a mission to save the chocolate industry and the planet with its cocoa-free creation.

The chocolate industry has a problem – several of them in fact. The sector is a major carbon emitter, is responsible for deforestation and is riddled with humanitarian issues.

Meanwhile, our changing climate means the world is on track for a billion-dollar cocoa shortage in years to come. Prices are on the rise having already doubled in the first quarter of this year in the lead up to Easter.

Alt chocolate startup Nukoko was founded two years ago in the UK specifically to help ease these issues for food and beverage makers by bypassing cocoa beans as a key ingredient and replacing them with more sustainable fava beans.

Cocoa’s hefty climate footprint is caused by its impact on forests. It grows well on forested mountainsides which has driven deforestation around the globe. It depletes soils and requires a lot of water.

Fava beans, in contrast, are an abundant and cost-effective raw material grown in temperate regions and because they fix nitrogen, they improve soil health. Nukoko says its chocolate alternative generates 90 per cent fewer CO2 emissions than cocoa-based products.

The startup's fava-based products also provide a healthier option, according to the startup, with 40 per cent less sugar and higher protein, fibre, and antioxidants than standard chocolate.

“This product is ultimately for everyone who loves chocolate and wants to secure its future against climate change.”

Nukoko's founders – chocolate entrepreneurs Ross Newton, Kit Tomlinson and cocoa research scientist Prof. David Salt – have replicated the same fermentation process that transforms cocoa beans into chocolate, but by using fava beans sourced locally in the UK.

“We love chocolate but the industry is unsustainable,” the founders say. “The chocolate industry is responsible for huge carbon emissions, deforestation and humanitarian issues. And, as the climate changes, there is a looming billion dollar deficit in cocoa supply.”

Nukoko says its cocoa-free products are built on a proprietary fermentation platform that develops chocolate flavour compounds from the fava bean (see tech box).

The innovation has resonated with investors – the startup has just closed a US$1.5 million seed funding round led by led by Oyster Bay Venture Capital with participation from existing investor SOSV and The Mills Fabrica.

“We are delighted to announce the closing of our US$1.5m seed round giving us the resources we need to bring our delicious, cocoa-free chocolate to market,” the founders said.

“With cocoa prices soaring, it is vital that the chocolate industry has another plan and we are delighted to be part of the solution using the mighty fava bean as the key ingredient.”

Tight supply

Cocoa is a key ingredient in chocolate, and a popular flavour in drinks, bakery, and snacks, so alternative feedstocks and technologies like fava beans can ease the burden on the pressured supply chain, according to Nukoko.

“As cocoa supply goes down, prices go up and what we offer to the market as a cocoa-free chocolate is a price-stable long-term alternative to the market,” Nukoko co-founder Ross Newton said.

Nukoko graduated from biotech accelerator SOSV IndieBio in New York and says it will enter the market as an ingredients supplier to food and beverage manufacturers with a compelling price tag and a focus on the UK, EU, and USA.

It already has agreements with two subsidiaries of the Coop Group which has more than 2,400 sales outlets in Switzerland, and the startup will leverage the Coop Group’s brands and R&D capabilities to co-develop chocolate, confectionery, and bakery products which are expected to launch in European supermarkets soon.

“We love chocolate. We've worked with it for the last 15 years,” Nukoko co-founder Kit Tomlinson said. “This product is ultimately for everyone who loves chocolate and wants to secure its future against climate change.”

The tech
Nukoko uses a traditional cocoa fermentation process but instead of using cocoa beans as a raw material, it uses fava beans. The technology includes biotransformation, controlled fermentation and drying which unlock key flavour analogues to give it a chocolaty taste.