The Secret To Macalat’s Sugar-Free Chocolate Bars Is… Mushrooms?

Lisa Ellis is the CEO of Durham-based food startup Macalat, which makes sugar-free chocolate bars.

People with diabetes, allergies, strict diets, or even those trying to eat healthier can enjoy Macalat chocolate bars. What makes these bars special is they do not use sugar, yet are still sweet to taste.

When the main ingredient in chocolate, cacao, is fermented it creates a bitter taste. Macalat bars use a unique mushroom extract to eliminate the bitter aftertaste of cacao. 

Lisa Ellis, the CEO of the Durham-based food startup, gets the mushroom mycelia from a company called MycoTechnology. This “magic mushroom” is also used in Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, or Coke Zero, to get rid of bitterness in the drink, Ellis said. 

Tasty treats like chocolate bars do not need sugar as one of the ingredients to taste good, she said. Added sugars are just the easiest and cheapest way to make chocolate taste less bitter. 

“Macalat’s mission is to get the sugar out of the diet of the consumer,” Ellis said.

She hopes to sell Macalat bars in major distribution stores that are aligned with Macalat’s values, so more people with sugar-restricted diets and those who care about clean eating can enjoy chocolate. Ellis’s parents founded Macalat in 2015, and she took over the company about a year and a half ago.

On top of being sugar-free, Macalat chocolate is also organic, has zero net carbs, and is free of common allergens like gluten, nuts, and dairy. The brand is perfect for people with food restrictions due to following a keto, paleo or vegan diet. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there were over 37 million Americans living with diabetes in 2022. Macalat is a good option for people with this disease, Ellis said.

Maca root is a “superfood” ingredient in the chocolate, used for centuries in Peru for its various health benefits including increasing energy levels, improving moods and boosting immune systems due to its multiple antioxidants. 

Lucuma, another healthy superfood, is a fruit added to Macalat bars. Lucuma is the No. 1 flavor of ice cream in Peru, even over chocolate and vanilla. The added lucuma makes the chocolate milky, which is why dairy is not needed in the bars.

Besides getting cacao, maca and lucuma from Peru, Macalat gets its vanilla from Madagascar. Monk fruit, a sweet melon from Southern China, is another source of natural sweetness in the chocolate.

The ingredient label of a Macalat bar

Ellis is working to sell individual bars, but for now you can buy a box of 12 on the Macalat website, Amazon and Shopify. Chocolate-lovers can also purchase this product at retails stores like Weaver Street Markets, Earth Fare, and Blue Mountain Distributors. Macalat is located in about 25 stores in the Carolinas and Georgia. 

Each 1.8 oz bar is wrapped in foil so you can easily fold the wrapper to save it for the next day. This is because foil is easy to re-wrap the chocolate in, instead of cheaper packaging that is difficult to close up after opening. 

Manufactured in Michigan, Macalat bars undergo tempering, a process that keeps the chocolate from easily melting in your hands while eating. Ellis—who is currently bootstrapping the startup—aims to first expand the product to more stores in the Southeast before moving West. Obtaining customer feedback and expanding Macalat’s social media presence are other goals.

Macalat is holding a competition to see who can produce the best recipe and video with Macalat chocolate. 

“We’ll send you a box of Macalat and (you can) make a video of you creating something with it,” Ellis said. 

The winner of this contest will take home $1,000. 

Ellis wants people to think differently about traditionally unhealthy foods.

“My hope is that other people making food and food products can start to learn that there are other ways to sweeten products, without having to load them up with sugar,” she said. 

About Lauren Zola 33 Articles
Lauren is a reporter and summer intern at GrepBeat. She is currently enrolled at UNC-Chapel Hill and will start her junior year in the fall. She has written for The Daily Tar Heel and loves to play tennis.