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New GMO Alert: Synbio Chocolate (Or, Can Your Love Be Pure if Your Chocolate Is GMO?)

It is believed that the use of “cocoa” originated in Mesoamerica around 1000 BC, with the Olmec being the first […]

New GMO Alert: Synbio Chocolate (Or, Can Your Love Be Pure if Your Chocolate Is GMO?)

It is believed that the use of “cocoa” originated in Mesoamerica around 1000 BC, with the Olmec being the first […]

It is believed that the use of “cocoa” originated in Mesoamerica around 1000 BC, with the Olmec being the first to domesticate cacao plants and use the tree’s fruit to create chocolate. There is also a long historical connection between chocolate and love. Cacao played a significant role in both Aztec and Mayan cultures, including in marriage rituals, which has likely contributed to the belief that both cultures considered chocolate to be an aphrodisiac. 

Over the years, the close connection between chocolate and love persisted, making chocolate a natural choice for the celebration of Valentine’s Day; and in 1861, the British chocolatier Richard Cadbury sealed the deal by packaging chocolates in heart-shaped boxes for gift giving, citing the boxes’ long-term use as a keepsake repository for love letters and other mementos. Studies have now shown that this connection might have some scientific basis, with evidence that chocolate can cause the brain to release oxytocin and dopamine, which are associated with social bonding and pleasure. 

Each year, Americans spend more than $58 million on chocolate during the week leading up to Valentine’s Day. According to the National Confectioners Association, 92% of people prefer chocolate and candy to celebrate the holiday. 

More recently, we have seen a greater connection between chocolate and genetic engineering, not in cocoa itself but as an ingredient in chocolate. However, it remains to be seen whether these chocolate products will be able to match the permanence of true love or will instead amount to brief flings. We’ve already seen at least one offering come and go. 

In advance of Valentine’s Day 2019, an entity called A Fresh Look launched Ethos candy bars, which were promoted as the first pro-GMO chocolate bars. The bars’ four flavors featured genetically modified (GM) fruit (e.g., papaya) or promoted crops for which GM versions were in development (e.g., orange, cacao). All flavors included sugar refined from GM sugar beets. In reality, A Fresh Look was part of a $4 million campaign launched in 2017 by the sugar beet industry to promote sugar from GM sugar beets, which is a good reminder of the ubiquity of GM sugar.

More recently, we’ve seen chocolate that features ingredients produced through synbio, also known as precision fermentation. Below is an overview of some of these brands and their chocolate products. 

Betterland Foods

In March 2022, accompanied by much fanfare, the startup Betterland Foods (Betterland) launched WOO, a chocolate bar that used Perfect Day’s synbio animal-free dairy proteins as an ingredient. In addition to the dairy proteins, the candy bar featured chocolate, caramel and peanuts. It was promoted as the “first chocolate bar to market in the animal-free candy category” and a “game-changing” product.

Ultimately, Betterland developed six different chocolate bars, all marketed under the WOO brand name, including Salty Peanut, Creamy Nougat, Smooth Peanut Butter, Fluffy Nougat, Toasted Coconut, and Chunky Peanut Butter. Each was designed to compete with well-known classic candy bars such as Snickers, Milky Way, Reese’s, 3 Musketeers, Mounds, and Payday, respectively. The WOO candy bars were marketed as being “guilt free” with twice the protein as their mainstream counterparts. All WOO chocolate bars are co-branded with Perfect Day.

Mars Inc.

In June 2022, again accompanied by significant publicity, Mars introduced its own chocolate bar developed in partnership with Perfect Day. Branded as CO2COA, the chocolate bar also featured the latter’s synbio animal-free dairy proteins as an ingredient. Instead of focusing on a healthier profile, Mars leaned into the better-for-the-planet narrative. The chocolate bar was touted as being “earth-friendly” and sustainable. 

In addition, the cocoa was Rainforest Alliance certified, and the name CO2COA was a nod to a potential reduction in CO2 achieved through ingredient sourcing. Others in the candy industry identified the candy bar as being “vegan-friendly.” The CO2COA candy bar is co-branded with Perfect Day.


Oodaalolly, a San Francisco candy company that uses Philippine-sourced cacao, also partnered with Perfect Day to include its synbio animal-free dairy proteins in a chocolate bar. In 2023, the company announced the launch of the Mushroom Milk Chocolate Bar, the term mushroom in the name being a reference to the GM microorganism that was used to produce the synbio dairy proteins. 

Shortly after the launch, the company renamed the chocolate bar as the Tomorrow Bar, which is also co-branded with Perfect Day. Oodaalolly expanded the benefits conversation even further, with the stated goal of creating a chocolate bar that is “sustainable, equitable and delectable.”


The most recent entry into the GM chocolate arena is Oobli. Formerly known as Joywell Foods, the company rebranded as Oobli to coincide with the launch of its first synbio product, a protein created to mimic the sweetness of the oubli fruit, commonly known as brazzein. Joywell Foods was one of the companies featured in our November 2022 New GMO Alert on new synbio sweeteners.

With the use of their proprietary synbio sweetness proteins, Oobli claims that their chocolate bars, also branded as Oobli, have 70% less sugar than do other brands. The sweetener is listed as Oubli Fruit Sweet Proteins on the ingredient panel.

Non-GMO Project’s Standard defines all crops and products developed using biotechnology, including new gene-editing techniques, as GMOs. We share this information to further one of the Project’s primary goals of creating greater transparency in the supply chain, ensuring you have the information you need to make the best choices for you, your brand, and your family. 

Please note that the information herein is for general informational purposes only and is based on the linked sources above.

The Non-GMO Project is a 510c3 nonprofit dedicated to protecting and promoting non-GMO alternatives. New GMO Alerts is supported by funding from readers like you. Donate today

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