California Cultured, a California startup company, is beginning to make lab-grown chocolate. The company aims to make cocoa that is sustainable and doesn’t hurt the environment.
Cocoa production is linked to deforestation, child-labor issues, and disease. To make the lab-grown cocoa, the scientists in Davis, California, take individual cells from cocoa plants, add plant hormones, and feed them nutrients until they have at least a couple hundred grams. The cells are then fermented, roasted, and ground into chocolate.
This is similar to how lab-made meat is made. Scientists take cells from living animals and grow them in labs to be transformed into products like steak, chop, cutlet, and many other products that meat-eaters won’t be able to argue the taste of.
Lab-grown food, like meat, can eliminate the harm done to animals as the animals get to live even after the cell is taken from them. The same goes for chocolate. Cocoa grown in a lab eliminates the harm done to the environment and potential humanitarian issues surrounding the crop.
Many companies are aiming to replace “bulk” chocolate that’s used in candies like M&Ms, Kit Kats, and Reeses. According to the FDA, a product needs only 10% of cocoa to be called “chocolate.” Using lab-made alternatives could be healthier and better for the environment.
Alan Perlstein, California Cultured’s CEO, is obsessed with chocolate and, before his current company, had a startup aimed at discovering sweeteners to be used in chocolate.
He told The Atlantic, “I’m always looking for chocolate that can change the way you physically feel,” from work trips to Ghana, Perlstein learned the challenges. “Farmers always brought up droughts, floods, and [other] issues growing chocolate.”
The demand for chocolate continues to rise and more forests are being cleared to grow cocoa. Most cocoa is grown in rainy countries near the equator like Africa and South and Central America. Most farmers don’t make a living wage on the product, and there are issues with child labor.
The company still thinks it will take a few more years to perfect this sustainable lab-grown chocolate. They are working on milk chocolate prototypes and hope to get this product to market soon to combat climate change.
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