Cocoa-Free Chocolate – a Better Option for the Planet?

The global chocolate market is worth over $100 billion1 and will only grow as demand increases. Eating chocolate is universal across Western cultures, and confectionery companies release new bars, slabs, and spreads every year. However, the chocolate industry is not always so sweet. Chocolate comes from cocoa, which has a complex supply chain with many adverse environmental consequences.
Cocoa Production and the Environment
Chocolate comes from cocoa beans, which grow in the cacao tree pods. This tree only grows in tropical regions near the equator. Most of the world’s cocoa comes from Ivory Coast and Ghana in West Africa, where farmers typically clear large sections of land to make space for the crop.
The cocoa industry has come under fire recently for contributing to deforestation. A recent study by the environmental advocacy group, Mighty Earth, found that less than 4% of Ivory Coast’s dense rainforests remain intact today.
This large-scale deforestation is unsustainable and is causing a decline in biodiversity. Animals like chimpanzees, forest elephants, leopards, and the pygmy hippopotamus may face extinction if we continue to destroy their habitats. What’s more, chocolate often contains vanilla, which comes with its own environmental challenges.
Introducing Nocoa
Nocoa is a cocoa-free chocolate alternative created by the German technology company, Planet-A-Foods. The company developed Nocoa to reduce pressure on the cocoa industry and, in turn, on the environment. Sibling co-founders Sara and Maximilian Marquart say their new ingredient’s carbon footprint is 90% smaller than traditional chocolate’s.
Nocoa is supposed to taste identical to chocolate even though it does not contain cocoa. Sara Marquart had to re-engineer the traditional chocolate-making process to achieve this goal.
Making chocolate involves fermenting the cocoa beans, drying, roasting, and grinding them before adding sugar, vanilla extract, and other ingredients. Marquart carried out this process using oats instead of cocoa beans to recreate chocolate’s characteristic flavor.
Additionally, Nocoa contains 30% less sugar than traditional chocolate and does not contain theobromine – a mild stimulant found in chocolate that can harm dogs.
How Would Cocoa-Free Chocolate Impact the Current Chocolate Industry?
Nocoa is not supposed to overtake the cocoa industry completely. Planet-A-Foods envisions it as a chocolate alternative that will parallel traditional chocolate products. In this way, it will not negatively affect the livelihoods of cacao farmers, who often earn a low income and have multiple dependents.
Conversely, introducing cocoa-free chocolate to the international market could improve the economic situation in many cocoa-producing countries. It could prompt some farmers to switch to more lucrative crops that are less environmentally damaging to grow.
If a significant portion of cocoa farmers move away from the industry, the demand for cocoa beans may increase, allowing African farmers to charge higher prices for their exports. In this way, cocoa would become a specialty product for premium chocolate production, improving the standard of living for producers across its supply chain.
Making Confectionery More Sustainable
Another way to tackle the unsustainable cocoa industry is to use synthesized flavorings that do not require cocoa beans to produce. Artificial extracts are nature-identical and have the same flavor and aroma notes as natural cocoa beans. However, as many consumers prefer pure ingredients, natural chocolate extract from sustainably-sourced cocoa is another viable option.
Advanced Biotech is a trusted supplier of natural and organic flavorings for the food and beverage industry. We are committed to food safety and sustainability and hold multiple third-party certifications for our ingredients and production centers. Please contact us for more information.