On March 17, 2018, eight groups of UC Berkeley students gathered to redesign the cacao bean as a snack in a seven hour chocolate hackathon. The hackathon was organized by FoodInno, the Bay Area's premier student-run food innovation organization, and sponsored by TCHO, a Berkeley-based chocolate company that prides itself in sustainable sourcing and inventive flavor profiles.

FoodInno focuses on locally sourced innovations in the constantly evolving culinary sphere. Whether it is workshops, student-led classes, annual symposiums, or hackathons, the goal remains the same: to spread and inspire new inventions in food. In the past, FoodInno has organized hackathons that incorporated tofu and kombucha.

Background: Why Chocolate?

Ariel Yue

Chocolate as a bar gained global popularity around 250 years ago after it was transformed from a drink to a solid medium. There are 600 compounds in a single bean that can be manipulated to develop a specific flavor. The complexity of the cacao bean can be paralleled to the nuances of wine.

While it is well-loved, chocolate is often oversimplified. The majority of consumers still view chocolate as "milk chocolate with almonds" or "dark chocolate with mint." Viewing chocolate solely in nondescript "bars" often makes it difficult to expound on its potential as a healthy plant-based snack from specific global regions.

There is an educational gap in the consumer's understanding of chocolate. For instance, origin is extremely important to flavor profile, similar to the regional impetus of wine. While West African chocolate varieties are fudgy, creamy, and nutty, South American varieties are lighter and fruitier. Madagascar's chocolate varieties are even more nuanced; they are light and silky.

Ariel Yue

TCHO aims to take chocolate beyond its current status through both education and ingenuity. The company sources three quarters of its chocolate varieties from West Africa. Other production sites are located in Ecuador, Ghana, and Madagascar. TCHO differentiates itself from other chocolate producers by including the grower in the entire process. Rather than merely grow and ship the cacao beans, the producer is trained in flavor analysis.

TCHO has all of the components to make a dent in the field of chocolate innovation. It just needs more young, inventive brains to outline its snackable future through the eyes of upcoming generations. FoodInno's recent hackathon provided this opportunity.

The Challenge

Ariel Yue

Eight different groups ranging from 3 to 7 people had three and a half hours to create a product that would redefine the future of chocolate. Groups were inspired by various TCHO single-origin and blended chocolates: Ghana dark chocolate, mint chip gelato, hazelnut chunk, and Mokaccino, featuring Blue Bottle Coffee.

Ariel Yue

The judging panel consisted of TCHO's masterminds, as well as FoodInno's leadership board. Groups were rated based on a rubric that included inventiveness, aesthetic appeal, story, plausibility, price point, sustainability, and cohesion with the company's mission.


Ariel Yue

Individuals of all disciplines came together to combine their passions for food innovation and design with the future of the underrated cacao bean. One group highlighted the potential of TCHO's chocolate to appeal to millennials by taking unused cacao shavings and reincorporating them into a less expensive, waste-reducing bar. Another emphasized the product's ability to be consumed in liquid form. Other inventive ideas included chocolate shavings mixed with various global seasonings to influence cross-cultural learning, and a bar made from two separately sourced chocolate varieties to facilitate education about different origins and corresponding flavor profiles.

Ariel Yue

While all groups brought unique ideas to the field of chocolate innovation, the winning group developed a prototype geared towards playful minds. It emphasized an easily achievable "mix and match" design where small chocolate squares could be combined to create a consumer-oriented flavor profile. This group was successful because of its ability to take TCHO's already existing flavors, and make them into an educational snacking experience.

TCHO uses food innovation to sustainably redefine chocolate and educate future generations about its source, quality, and importance as the next big snack. While there is still a knowledge gap between chocolate and its complexity, there is immense potential for such a small bean to change the way we snack.