ProSweets 2023: Cocoa-free chocolate brand Nocoa processes oats using fermentation
24 Apr 2023 --- Focusing on bolstering cocoa supply chains which are under continuous pressure to keep up with demand, Planet A Foods, a Germany-based start-up, has created what it claims is the world’s first chocolate ingredient brand without using a single cocoa bean.
Nocoa is a new ingredient concept that replaces the sensory experience of cocoa in a non-cocoa format. It is being positioned as more sustainable and ethical and is being unveiled at the ProSweets international trade fair this week in Cologne.
The company’s first partner in Germany will soon unveil products in Austria, Switzerland and Germany. Nocoa will also be available in national retail in Germany later this year and then migrate to the US in 2024.
FoodIngredientsFirst spoke with brother-sister co-founding duo Maximilian Marquart, CEO, and Sara Marquart, CTO, at Planet A Foods, who highlight that Nocoa has a carbon footprint that they claim is over 90% lower than conventional chocolate.
“If you look at the cocoa supply chain, you can see that 66% of global cocoa was coming out of two countries, Ghana and Ivory Coast in West Africa. And in those countries, they produce up to three million metric tons of cocoa annually,” explains Maximilian.
Ecosystems are under immense stress because they must produce so much cocoa, the co-founders highlight. More so, with increasing climate change, the harvestable areas for cocoa will diminish in the future, which will lead to a shortage of cocoa.
“That’s why Nocoa has the right product to balance that shortage of cocoa and create a second pillar next to the cocoa supply chain,” Maximilian underscores.
New ways of processing
The duo have reimagined the cocoa processing chain, beginning with examining how raw cocoa beans are traditionally fermented and roasted. Through their research, they have pinpointed alternative plant-based ingredients to switch out conventional cacao.
“Sara then re-engineered the process to mimic the flavors being created in the commerce supply chain,” Maximilian tells us.
Sara adds that the company initially investigated many different ingredients and explored what could be produced locally and sustainably while having cost attributes competitive to cocoa.
“We came up with several different ingredients, but the most promising ones were oats and sunflower seeds. We carefully ferment them similar to what’s known from cocoa and then roast them, and both fermentation and roasting lead to flavor formation. They end up tasting just like cocoa,” she outlines.
In her research into the processes behind chocolate manufacturing, Sara found that the taste of chocolate is not from the cocoa bean itself. Still, it’s the taste that comes with the process.
“With this theory in mind, I wanted to explore what other ingredients could be used instead of cocoa beans and found that sunflower seeds, when they are roasted, have a taste that is close to the cocoa bean,” she underscores.
Multiple methods of fermentation used
Maximilian outlines that the company uses lactic acid fermentation, acetic acid fermentation and anaerobic fermentation, which uses yeast fermentation. These fermentation steps play into the correct flavor formation.
Discussing how the product can be labeled on the market, the co-founders highlight their product can be marketed as a chocolate alternative or oat-based chocolate alternative, because oat is the most characteristic ingredient and holds the highest percentage in the product.
Also speaking with FoodIngredientsFirst from the show floor, Ute Schellenberg, head of marketing at Planet A Foods, explains how the company uses a process coined “near fermentation.”
“It is traditional fermentation using oats and sunflower seeds, and then they get into this process which is near fermentation” she details. “Then the ingredients are roasted, ground and then you have Nocoa powder.”
The powder can be mixed with fats and sugar, then you get the liquid we can provide to the industry and it can be used across a range of chocolate and confectionery products. “We are focused on expanding our offerings in the B2B space,” says Schellenberg.
“We want to bring Nocoa into those different products. Another interesting thing is that we can offer this technology production method as a ‘plug and play,’ so it can be used across different chocolate production sites and machines.”
By Elizabeth Green, with additional reporting from Missy Green at ProSweets, Cologne.
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