Can a more ethical chocolate bar be grown in the lab?

Steven Stearns, Head of Strategy and Development at California Cultured, is pictured preparing lab-grown chocolate prototype using a technology called 'plant cell culture' for the for the Context video 'Can a more ethical chocolate bar be grown in the lab?'

California Cultured’s lab-grown chocolate looks, feels and tastes almost like the real thing. “We’re still in R&D mode,” says Steven Stearns, head of business and development at the startup based in Davis, California. The company’s goal is to create delicious, mass-produced chocolate while sidestepping some of the problems traditional cocoa bean production has been criticized for, including deforestation and child labour.

California Cultured uses a technology called plant cell culture to produce cocoa in the lab, using cells from select cocoa beans. The company has been working on prototypes since 2020 and hopes to have its first chocolate product available for purchase next year. Companies from Europe, Israel and the United States are working on similar products.

But it will probably be a while before we see lab-created chocolates on store shelves. Getting the taste right and the price low enough to compete with traditional chocolate is a big challenge. There’s also the question of what impact lab-grown chocolate will have on millions of cocoa farmers, in West Africa and other parts of the world, who make a living harvesting cocoa beans.

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