Chocolate made from faba beans? ‘We’ve developed a brand-new ingredient’

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

As the darker side of chocolate comes to light, a growing number of innovators are rethinking production methods - without the cocoa. GettyImages/Cultura RM Exclusive/Diana Miller
As the darker side of chocolate comes to light, a growing number of innovators are rethinking production methods - without the cocoa. GettyImages/Cultura RM Exclusive/Diana Miller

Related tags Cocoa Chocolate faba beans

Unlike some other cocoa-free chocolate powders entering the market, this invention relies on just one raw material: the humble broad bean.

Cocoa-free chocolate is having a moment. As the darker side of conventional chocolate comes to light – from carbon emissions to deforestation and humanitarian concerns – a growing number of innovators are rethinking production methods, without the cocoa.

A range of ingredients have been experimented with so far to recreate the taste, texture and appearance of chocolate, from grains​ to carob, barley and tiger nuts​. Now a new player is joining the cocoa-free club with a different approach.

How to make chocolate from faba beans

Whether called faba, fava or broad bean, all refer to the widely cultivated plant in the pea bean family.

An estimated 740 tonnes of faba beans are harvested annually in the UK, where cocoa-free newcomer Nukoko is based. The start-up has developed technology that turns this humble bean into chocolate.

Why faba? The bean could be considered something of a ‘relative’ to the cocoa bean, explained plant scientist and Nukoko co-founder Dr David Salt, who set up the company alongside Ross Newton and Kit Tomlinson – both of whom have backgrounds in chocolate.

faba bean Ulrike Leone
An estimated 740 tonnes of faba beans are harvested annually in Nukoko's homeland, the UK. GettyImages/Ulrike Leone

One of the key flavour components in chocolate comes from a seed storage protein found in cocoa called vicilin. “When that vicilin is broken down, and the peptides roasted, you get chocolatey flavours,” he told the audience at Forward Fooding’s recent food tech event in London.

Faba bean also contains vicilin, and so Nukoko is applying a proprietary ‘bean to bar’ process to recreate those same chocolatey flavours. The locally-sourced beans undergo a controlled fermentation process to create that ‘cocoa’ flavour. From there, they undergo a controlled drying process, before being roasted and ground into Nukoko Powder for use in chocolate product formulation - be it chocolate, fondant or hot chocolate. To make chocolate, other ingredients would also be required, such as a fat, sugar lecithin and milk powder.

The proprietary technology allows Nukoko to develop a portfolio of different flavour profiles and from a cost perspective, Dr Salt says the final product has the potential to be cheaper than mass market chocolate – when produced at scale.

Chocolate taste great. Why change the recipe?

Chocolate is amongst the most popular foods in the world, with an estimated 1kg eaten per person per year in the UK alone. Annually in the US, Statista estimates consumers eat a total of 3bn kilograms of chocolate confectionery combined.

But if chocolate is so beloved, why mess with its recipe? Dr Salt admits the idea is ‘pretty insane’, but ultimately believes the current sector is unsustainable.

Not only is the chocolate industry associated with human rights violations and deforestation (incoming EU legislation​ is targeting seven commodities most linked to deforestation-risk, including cocoa), but the effects of climate change are expected to limit supply.

The price of cocoa is soaring, with new record highs being hit almost daily over the last two months. As global temperatures rise, so too will prices.

“The predictions are that as the climate changes, particularly in areas that produce the bulk of cocoa – predominantly west Africa – you’ll get a reduction in productivity,” explained the co-founder. “That’s causing…a deficit between supply and demand.”

Nukoko’s intention is to plug that gap with locally sourced beans. The other obvious benefit in sourcing locally lies in a reduced carbon footprint. Chocolate makers in the northern hemisphere rely on importing cocoa beans, all of which are grown in the tropics.

“We’re trying to reduce this carbon footprint by reducing transportation cost in terms of carbon production.”

The start-up is solely focused on supplying its cocoa-free offering to makers of bulk, product chocolate, rather than the high-end chocolate market.

Next steps in Nukoko’s development journey

Nukoko is still in the research stage, developing a ‘strategic partnership’ with a co-manufacturer. Just last week, the start-up announced the closing of a $1.5m (€1.39m) seed round led by Oyster Bay Venture Capital with participation from SOSV and The Mills Fabrica. An Innovate UK grant was also secured.

Nukoko was founded by Kit Tomlinson, Dr David Salt, and Ross Newton. Image credit: Nukoko

In focusing on locally sourced beans to cut transport emissions, Nukoko wants to investigate applying the same technology to other beans in chocolate-producing regions. “We’ve looked at the gene sequences of a whole bunch of beans and compared the vicilin in them,” the plant scientist revealed.

If other vicilin-containing beans can be sourced locally, Nukoko could modify its system to achieve the same end goal. “I would say that faba is definitely not the beginning or end of this story.”

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