Cast your minds back to December 2021 and you might remember QOA (now Nocoa), lab-grown cocoa-free chocolate. I managed to get my paws on this feat of scientific engineering and discovered that, while not perfect, it showed promise, especially in commercial applications.
Fast forward to May 2022 and a British brand cropped up on my radar. WNWN (pronounced win-win) claimed to produce “the world's first cacao-free chocolate.” While I’m not sure Nocoa would agree with that claim, I was intrigued to see how the British offering compared to the German equivalent.
Let's address something right now (that I also covered in my Nocoa review) for the purists and traditionalists. The absence of cocoa means this can't legally be called 'chocolate', The industry hasn't really coined a term for this chocolate-free chocolate yet, but I think it's safe to call it synthetic chocolate (or alt-choc, mock-chocolate, or even mockolate perhaps?).
I ordered a limited-edition pre-launch box, and awaited my delivery.
A small brown cardboard box, branded with the WNWN Food Labs logo, slipped through my letterbox a few days later.
Nested inside some tissue paper inside the box were five 6g foil-wrapped discs of experimental chocolate.
A card was also in the box, listing the plant-based ingredients, the inspiration behind the innovation, and my batch number (114 in case you wondered).
WNWN Food Labs Choc Discs ingredients:
Organic shea butter, carob powder, sugar, roasted barley paste, emulsifier (sunflower lecithin), colours (E133, E171, E172).
I like the fact that there's minimal ingredients used here, and that the recipe incorporates fermentation and roasting in much the same way as traditional cacao-based chocolate.
The card notes that this product contains gluten ingredients, and may also contain traces of tree nuts and peanuts. Fun fact - as there's no theobromine in this product, it's safe for your dog to chow down (one less thing to worry about when you have a four-legged fur baby roaming around that makes a habit of counter surfing).
The nutritional information is also included, so I thought it might be interesting to compare this product against the opposite side of the spectrum using 100% cocoa bars from Montezuma's (this 100% Absolute Black bar°) and Pump Street (this Hacienda Limon 100% Ecuadorian bean-to-bar chocolate bar).
|Typical Values||WNWN||Montezuma's||Pump Street|
|Energy||2,421 Kj / 585 Kcals||2,477 Kj / 601 Kcals||2,082 kj / 498 Kcal|
|- Of which sugars||27.5g||3g||trace|
|- Of Which saturates||20.26g||33g||27.8g|
Calorific values seem to all be within the same ballpark, as do fats, fibre and salt, but the sugar and protein values vary wildly.
WNWN Cacao-Free Chocolate Review
Let's begin with this simple question - why is there a need for synthetic cocoa-free chocolate?
When Dr Johnny Drain, Co-Founder of WNWN Food Labs, spoke to BBC Click's Lara Lewington, he explained his desire to help combat the issues of illegal child labour, slave labour, deforestation and excessive water consumption that continue to plague the chocolate industry even in 2022. Furthermore, it is predicted that climate change will affect cocoa harvests, resulting in a shortage of chocolate's key ingredient, cacao. It's a ticking time bomb, and something needs to be done about it today.
WNWN's solution is to ditch cocoa altogether. While that might sound like a viable solution to reducing carbon emissions and banishing slave labour for good, Kristy Leissle’s Cocoa Book does a fabulous job at explaining why that ultimately risks harming the livelihoods of the very people the business seeks to help.
Parking that ideology to one side, the only way cacao-free chocolate will have any viability in the consumer market is if it tastes as good as chocolate. So, does it?
WNWN Food Labs drew inspiration from Venezuelan Forastero cocoa when creating its Choc Thins. The tasting notes point to hints of sticky toffee pudding, cacao (presumably in a totally ironic way!), dates, cherries and butter.
I unwrapped the blue foil to reveal a disc that looks rather similar to traditional chocolate. It felt a bit different though, with a matt (almost sticky) surface. It was ultra soft too, meaning that, unlike with traditional chocolate, there was no 'snap' when I broke the disc into two.
The aroma was especially savoury, with malty notes and Bovril-like beefy notes that reminded me of gravy granules. Not dissuaded, I did as instructed, and allowed a disk to melt on my tongue as I would do with a piece of craft chocolate.
Here's where things got interesting. Thankfully, those savoury notes largely disappeared and instead, I was treated to waves of flavours. Toffee came through first, then a clear carob flavour, that dominated from here on in. A burst of coffee notes followed, before transforming into flavours of sticky toffee pudding. Strands of vanilla crept in with hints of citrus and lemon to finish. Carob lead into the aftertaste, with fruity mango notes alongside.
While the aroma worried me, the tasting journey was thankfully more akin to a very characterful traditional chocolate experience. But, crucially, it doesn't taste like traditional chocolate to me, nor is it something I'd crave.
Texturally, it's not quite there yet either. Unlike traditional chocolate, it melts into a sticky goo. It's just not quite as satisfying.
So, it's a mixed bag. The aroma isn't especially inviting, and the texture and snap reveal that this is not traditional chocolate. However, it does deliver a variety of flavour strands, even if carob ultimately dominates here.
But there's one more aspect to consider. Let's address the elephant in the room - the price. I paid £10 for a tiny 30g of experimental cocoa-free chocolate to be delivered. That’s right, innovation comes with a hefty price tag, and that equates to an eye-watering £33.34 per 100g. As a reference, Montezuma’s 100% Absolute Black cocoa-based chocolate bar equates to £3.33 per 100g and even Pump Street’s lovingly handcrafted Hacienda Limon 100% Ecuadorian bean-to-bar chocolate is just £9.65 per 100g.
If I had £33.34 to willingly spend on 100g of chocolate, I could easily find high quality, organic bean-to-bar chocolate made by an artisan who has carefully sourced their cacao beans for purity of flavour and exemplary ethical standards.
For cocoa-free chocolate to realistically capture market share from the "Big Chocolate" firms, the price needs to at least be in the same ballpark as chocolate. I’ll chalk the high cost down to experimentation and development, though, as it’s new to the market, but it needs to come down in price substantially to stand a chance of converting chocolate lovers, let alone chocolate manufacturers. In his BBC Click interview, Dr Johnny Drain reckoned WNWN would have price parity with mass-produced chocolate within two years, so there's hope yet.
WNWN Cacoa-Free Choc Thins Review
RRP: £10.00 | WNWN | Shop now
WNWN is a chocolate alternative. It trades out cocoa mass for Italian carob powder, cocoa butter for shea butter, and uses roasted British barley paste for flavour. I feel the carob flavour dominates too much in this recipe to make it taste and smell like real chocolate. Still, it's another leap forward in creating a cocoa-free chocolate alternative, and should be applauded. I suspect we're only a few years off a research team developing a wonder product that can fool even the most devoted chocoholic into believing it's chocolate, but we're not quite there yet.
Where to Buy Online
I can't see WNWN cocoa-free chocolate available on their website right now, but looking at their social media, they've been testing recipes incorporating the product.
For example, they sold boxes of cocoa-free gianduja (using Italian hazelnuts), as well as triple-packs of Waim bars (a chunky cocoa-free Daim bar alternative). They also crafted a cocoa-free chocolate biscuit bar inspired by McVities Club Orange. As with Nocoa, using WNWN's creation within larger recipes may well be the key to the product's success, rather than selling discs or bars of the alternative chocolate. Think filled bonbons, alternative takes on classic chocolate bars, etc. It may also be interesting to see this product used alongside stronger tasting ingredients, so in after dinner mints, etc.
If you want to get your hands on future foods today, your best bet is to follow WNWN on socials and to keep checking their website. Or drop them an email to see what's cooking.
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Would you give up regular chocolate for a cocoa-free alternative? Let me know in the comments below.