This chocolate is made without cocoa
An the beginning was the potato steam. A pot of potatoes on the stove, with Johnny Drain leaning over – “For whatever reason, I’m glad I did it at the moment” – and the scent of which got the scientist’s brain spinning. “The smell of the cooking potatoes reminded me of chocolate,” says Drain, who has a PhD in materials science, an interdisciplinary major at the University of Oxford. He immediately realized that potato skins must contain a chemical compound that is also found in chocolate. “So after this experience, I thought about why chocolate tastes like chocolate and whether it can’t be made from something other than cocoa, which is a raw material that is problematic in many respects.”
You can, as the chocolate from Drain’s WNWN Food Labs shows: it’s based on barley and carob (the ground fruits of the carob tree), doesn’t contain a gram of cocoa, and yet it tastes like chocolate, melts in your mouth like chocolate. The Brit is currently concentrating on further developing and marketing his cocoa-free chocolate. However, Drain is still a sought-after consultant for restaurateurs, cooks and bartenders worldwide. He works primarily with fermentation techniques.
Drain already made use of microorganisms during his guest performance in the “Nordic Food Lab” in Copenhagen. He introduced the kitchen team of the three-star restaurant “Mirazur” on the French Riviera to the production of goat’s butter. For a restaurant in Paraguay’s capital, Asunción, he created recipes using forgotten local ingredients, such as a coca leaf kombucha (whereupon he was promptly arrested at London’s Heathrow Airport on his return home after narcotics officers thought he found traces of cocaine on his luggage). In the London zero-waste bar “Silo”, which sets international standards in the avoidance of food waste, the materials scientist worked on ideas such as a deep black seasoning sauce made from fermented squid sections.
Cocoa is grown under exploitative conditions
The awakening experience with the steam of boiling potatoes and the first attempts, together with the certainty that cocoa-free chocolate is possible, was followed in 2020 by the founding of WNWN (pronounced win-win). To do this, Drain teamed up with the American Ahrum Pak, who, as a former banker, brings the financial know-how to the table. After the “Alt Choc”, as the alternative chocolate is called in English, WNWN Food Labs would also like to launch mimicry versions of other problematic foods such as coffee and vanilla. “Everyone loves cocoa, coffee, vanilla,” says Drain. “A lot of people are addicted to it. But only a few are aware of how bad the basic conditions in cultivation and production are, while everyone knows how questionable tuna or palm oil are.”
More than 70 percent of the chocolate consumed worldwide originates in the West African countries of Ghana and Ivory Coast, where around one and a half million children work in cocoa cultivation. “And we’re talking about heavy physical work that keeps the children from attending school, not about helping out in the parents’ restaurant on a holiday Sunday.” The deforestation and forced resettlement necessary for the cultivation of the cocoa trees are another problematic factor, says Drain.