Researchers Grow Chocolate in the Lab: Is This the Food of the Future?

Berlin. Perhaps the most expensive chocolate in the world at the moment: a 100-gram bar costs 194 euros. But the future is supposed to be in this particular kind of chocolate – and a new form of farming. Because cocoa beans in one Lab grownrather than growing on a plant outdoors.

One question first: Does it taste good? “Yes,” says inventor Tilo Hon. surprised himself. “It’s fruity, pink, tastes like lemon and raspberry and looks like regular milk chocolate.”

Hühn is originally from Rheingau, and is a professor at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) in Wädenswil. Together with Professor Regina Ebel, he has chocolate produced. Their method is called cell culture. The idea: to imitate natural processes in the laboratory.

Chocolate from the lab: This is how cocoa cells grow

Hühn und Eibl only needed a cocoa bean from a farm in Puerto Rico to get started. From this they took the seed, the raw bean. Scratch them with a scalpel and put them in one jam. After approximately 30 days, a new type of scab has formed cocoa cellsthat can be reproduced over and over again, Hon says. “You can make as much chocolate as you want.” And that’s without sunlight and soil, and without pesticides and fertilizers.



But cells need warmth, food, and water. So the research team puts the cells from the cortex into a bioreactor. It’s basically an airy, moody, slightly bouncy plastic bag where cells swim in a nourishing solution of carbohydrates, vitamins, amino acids and growth hormones – and divide, divide and divide.


A new era of food production

Ultimately, the hive mass, which matured in just a few weeks, is “harvested, freeze-dried, ground and roasted,” explains Hon. The result is cocoa powder from which chocolate can be made. One Allow You don’t have this yet. But from a technological point of view, “there are no longer any major obstacles” to large-scale cocoa production without a tree.

Practically every cell can be chat bioreactor Double that this has long been a common practice in the pharmaceutical industry. Next, Hühn wants to grow avocados in the lab, as well as herbs and spices — and he’s not the only one venturing into a new era of food production.


Hamburger from the lab is famous, introduced by a Dutch research team in 2013. In Finland, scientists at the VTT Research Institute in Espoo are working on coffee from a bioreactor.

About 100 companies large and small, many of which are start-ups, operate on substitutes for fruits and plants from the field, and meat and dairy products from animals. Most of them are located in North America, Israel, Singapore, and increasingly in Japan. Europe is still far behind, but that will change quickly. Because there is potential for billions in business,” says Oliver Stengel, professor of sustainability at the University of Bochum.

Responding to climate-related crop failure and hunger

He recently released From the End of Agriculture. How Will We Feed Humanity and Let the Wilderness Return?

After all, the number of hungry people in the world is increasing rather than decreasing. At the same time, the world population is increasing. The number of climate-related crop failures caused by drought or floods will increase. Meanwhile, environmental problems, greenhouse gas emissions and species extinction, which are caused by agriculture today, remain unresolved.



After the laboratory meat substitutes now transplanting substitutes from the bioreactor

The Production in the laboratory But it needs energy, even if worldwide transportation and the production of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals stop. “Meat cells can only be grown at 37 degrees Celsius which is typical for mammals, and for tropical plants it is 26 to 29 degrees Celsius,” explains Stengel. However, in the end, it is essential that the energy comes from renewable sources.


And furthermore: “Of course, the silver lining is to change your diet and eat less meat, for example, but that’s not the case for people.” He believes that in a few years, he will be an important part of lab food Or then come from large production plants.

This is true for many foods, says Professor Raymond Paul Reuter, who heads the Institute for Tropical Plant Production at the University of Göttingen – but not so much for cocoa. It was way too expensive than the lab. “The environmental consequences of meat production are many times greater than those of cocoa production, so the pressure to find greater alternatives, as well as consumer acceptance. Especially as concern about how animals are raised is growing. Cocoa from the lab It will remain a niche,” says Rotter.


An average of 90 chocolate bars per person and year

Only: Can consumption be covered at all? Every German alone eats an average of 90 bars of chocolate a year. And in Ghana and Ivory Coast – countries that supply 60 percent of the world’s cocoa – crops have repeatedly failed in recent years due to unusual droughts.

“Cocoa cultivation must adapt to climate change. Farmers are already planting shade trees, for example, and developing irrigation systems,” says Rotter fellow Isaka Abdullah, who researches drought resistance in cocoa farming in Ghana. Moreover: “If cocoa farmers can no longer produce, their income will collapse and the economic damage in West African countries will be enormous.”

Farmers share the income from lab chocolate

Hühn promises farmers share income Lab Chocolate Participation, if only because of the requirements of the Nagoya Protocol, and the global convention against biopiracy: Companies that adopt factories from developing countries must share in the profits.

But Abdullah doesn’t really believe in him. “We look at lab products as a supplement, they shouldn’t completely replace conventional farming, but we can’t continue as before,” says Hühn. “That is why we will make the chocolate competitive. An initial 100g bar will cost less than 20 euros.” There have already been many inquiries from investors.


Keyword: Nagoya Protocol

The “Nagoya Protocol” is a binding treaty under international law that regulates access to genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their use. It came into force in October 2014 and provides an international legal framework.

Germany has been a contracting party since 2016, according to the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Consumer Protection. The Federal Agency for Conservation of Nature is responsible for the monitoring. The legal basis for this is laid down in the law implementing obligations under the Nagoya Protocol and the corresponding regulations of the European Union.

This article first appeared on abendblatt.de.



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