Hunger for Progress
How foodtech is disrupting the way we consume and manufacture food
By Anagha Subhash Nair
In a world where the possibilities seem to increase every day, the future of food has never looked more favorable. The foodtech industry is now on a rapid rise, rife with innovators’ inspired attempts to dovetail the latest technological developments and people’s palettes and preferences.
With US$9 billion in capital funneled into this space in 2018, the industry has reached a stable, but deep-pocketed point which has nonetheless provoked a surge in entrepreneurial enthusiasm for food-related startups. Eating is no longer perceived as merely consumption of sustenance, but an experience which can be enhanced by thinking differently and creatively.
Among the wide range of breakthroughs in the food industry, there are a few that stand out for how they revolutionized the food industry. Here’s a list of five key trends in the food industry which have made a significant mark at the crossroads of technological innovation and food as we know it.
1. Insect nutrition
The meat industry, though immensely popular, is often frowned upon due to its detrimental effects on the environment. Recently, however, scientists have found a viable alternative in ‘entomophagy’ — simply put, in eating insects. Insect cultivation emits 6 to 13 times less greenhouse gases than raising livestock, and requires less water and land as well.
Many startups, like Jimini’s, a company started in France in 2012, produce insect-based appetizers and snacks, to reduce the consumption of meat and provide consumers with a protein-rich substitute. Scientists are also investigating how extrusion – or creating a powder from the ingredient – can be used to incorporate insects into baked goods, to reduce the discomfort of visual association for people who are new to this culinary area.
2. ‘Impossible’ meat
A number of companies have started to develop plant-based substitutes for meat products, to allow vegetarians and vegans to experiment with meat without causing a break in their dietary habits. One of the most popular companies in this field is Impossible Foods.
Using processes like gas chromatography mass spectrometry to copy the aroma of beef, and isolating different compounds of meat to find plant substitutes, scientists have been able to genetically engineer a plant-based meat substitute which almost exactly mirrors the texture and taste of real meat.
3. Cultured meat
Using the cells of different animals, scientists are now able to produce meat in the lab, and if scaled up to mainstream usage, this technology can eliminate the necessity of slaughtering animals, fundamentally altering the idea of non-vegetarianism. It also entails less violence and is less detrimental to the environment than raising and slaughtering animals for traditional meat consumption.
The most recent indication of this technology’s growing reach was when KFC announced on July 16 that in partnership with the 3D Bioprinting Solutions research laboratory, it would create the world’s first laboratory-produced chicken nuggets and launch them in Moscow, Russia, this fall.
In addition to KFC, a number of other companies are conducting intensive research on the production of cultured meats, including Memphis Meats, which raised US$161 million in its latest round of funding, as of January 22, 2020.
4. Disease management with food
Alchemy Foodtech, a Singapore based startup, works with food scientists, biochemists, endocrinologists and nutritionists to produce novel food that enables people to battle diabetes. The company’s primary products, ‘5ibrePlus’ and ‘5ibreGrain,’ lower the glycaemic index of carbohydrate-based food. This leads to a slower, smaller rise in blood sugar levels, which lowers the risk of developing diabetes.
With its products, the company saves consumers the trouble of having to compromise on tasty food to maintain a safe blood sugar level. Alchemy Foodtech has entered into preliminary agreements with many food manufacturers, including bakery Gardenia, a market leader in bakery products in Singapore, and also food service companies, like Han’s F&B Group, to customize 5ibreplus for their products.
5. Food pairing
Foodpairing’s technology allows users to unearth unconventional flavour combinations for their meals or drinks. Tailored for use by chefs or bartenders, Foodpairing uses data analysis and machine learning to create algorithms which can gauge how well one food may go with another. This is based on the aroma of foods, which, similar to the production process of Impossible meat, is extracted by using gas chromatography mass spectrometry.
So far, the company has analyzed around 1700 food aromas and flavor profiles to ascertain what ingredients they can be best paired with. Foodpairing is now used by chefs in a number of establishments, including The Fat Duck and Blue Hill.
Technological developments allow us to transcend the gastronomic bounds that are implicit in conventional forms of manufacturing and cooking. Though molecular gastronomy has existed for a while, popularized by Heston Blumenthal, the food we eat on a daily basis has changed in subtle ways. It is now a hallmark of our technological prowess and collective innovation.
In essence, ‘You are what you eat’ has never been truer.
Photo by Toa Heftiba Şinca from Pexels.