Did you know that most chocolate hides a dark secret? Mass-produced cocoa faces ethical issues such as land devastation and emissions, and experts even predict chocolate shortages in the coming years. What does our next hero have to do with it?
Ahrum was always connected to food: “As a kid, the fridge was stocked with my mom’s traditional Korean foods. Naturally, I got roped into chopping, marinating, and fermenting for her homemade kimchi and other dishes. There’s something magical about fermentation that transforms ordinary foods and makes them oh-so-addictive.” Her WNWN Food Labs (pronounced ‘win-win’) was the first company to bring cocoa-free chocolate to market – fermenting humble cereals and legumes into chocolatey goodness.
One lockdown, one Instagram DM, and one chocolate adventure later…
During lockdown, Ahrum’s career in investment banking ceased to make sense to her anymore. Her bones called for a more purpose-led type of work. “I must have contacted more than 100 people within my network and friends of friends,” she recalls. A mutual friend brought Dr. Johnny Drain, a leading expert on fermentation and flavor, into her orbit. “I slid right into his DMs to chit-chat about how fermentation tech is the future, and how we should absolutely start a company together.” She laughs – but she was also serious. “I had spent several years in investment banking, learning the mechanics of finance, how companies work, and how innovation can be used to tackle some of the huge problems that the world faces.
Truly, the “big leap” was deciding to put her money where her mouth was, and starting a business as a force for good. It was leaving a stable job to build a start-up during the pandemic, with no job security, no salary, and a pretty shaken world economy. “But we clicked straight away, and within six months of our first chat, we’d registered the company. We’d not even met in person by then, as I’d been in the Canaries and in Paraguay (opening a restaurant!),” she goes on.
The first company to bring cocoa-free chocolate to market, WNWN Food Labs – which stands for “Waste Not, Want Not” and is pronounced “win-win” – uses fermentation technology to transform “boring” upcycled plant-based ingredients such as barley and carob into premium and sustainable treats – just like cocoa-free chocolate that looks, smells, tastes, melts, and snaps like the one in your pantry. In the long term, they intend to explore how other foods and ingredients such as coffee or tea can be future-proofed amid changing climates, biodiversity loss, and production monopolies that pay unfair wages and foster poor working conditions.
More about Ahrum
“Tofu is my go-to – everything from silky soft tofu to firm tofus to tofu skin. So many textures, so much you can do with it, and it soaks up all the flavors!”
“Petting dogs! An instant endorphin hit. I can’t even walk by without saying hello. My older sister recently rescued a German Shepherd/Husky mix, so I’m a dog aunt now and incredibly stoked about it.”
“I’m truly terrible at handling spicy foods. I’ll go for two out of five chilis at a restaurant, to my eternal shame. It’s become quite challenging to eat some of my mom’s cooking nowadays, as her spice levels have only increased. I’m very happy that we did not start an alternative wasabi company!”