How can we feed the world in a way that uses fewer resources and is responsible yet still enjoyable? The series “Food for Thought” follows the people taking different approaches to answer this question. GEA is exploring new food frontiers and, together with Solar Foods, is showing how little it takes to produce food sustainably – out of thin air.
In his predictive essay “Fifty Years Hence”1 as long ago as 1931, Winston Churchill described how – with a greater knowledge of hormones – we would be able to control cell growth. This would enable us to escape the “absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing.” His vision of the future, which must have sounded like science fiction back when it was published in The Strand Magazine, is now a reality: Cultivated meat developed from individual cells in a bioreactor has now moved from the lab to industry and onto a handful of restaurant menus.
"With a greater knowledge of what are called hormones, i.e. the chemical messengers in our blood, it will be possible to control growth. We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium." Winston Churchill, December 1931 in his future essay “Fifty Years Hence”, America’s National Churchill Museum
“Ideas that could feed the world”
Part of the “Food for Thought” series, the GEA film “Ideas that could feed the world” shows how such foods are created. In Helsinki, we met up with GEA’s new food experts Tatjana Krampitz and Morten Holm Christensen on their visit to food tech company Solar Foods. Churchill’s vision is becoming a reality in the Solar Foods laboratories. These labs – and soon the large Solar Foods Factory 01 – are where the Finnish company produces the protein Solein.
Solein is protein in its purest and most nutritious form, which can take on any shape or flavor the cook wants to give it. Solar Foods makes the mustard-yellow protein through a bioprocess that feeds a single microbe with air split into carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen using renewable electricity. Essentially, this process is no different from the fermentation of yogurt, cheese, beer or wine. Along with nutrients such as calcium and phosphorus, the microbes are grown using the same substances that plants absorb from soil through their roots.
Champion microorganisms, super-efficient fermentation
Like others in the new-food market, Solar Foods wants to separate protein production from agriculture, making production independent of land use and weather conditions. Notably conventional protein production is still resource-intensive – in a way that Solar Foods considers disproportionate. Consequently, new food is increasingly being viewed as a solution to climate change and food security.
Alternative proteins derived from plants, cells or microorganisms are just the start. The journey continues with enzymes such as casein and rennet, or flavorings. In precision fermentation, microbes are deployed as mini-factories that can produce a long list of beneficial microingredients, from vitamins to fats, as well as – and this is special for new food – large quantities of macroingredients such as casein and beta-lactoglobulin. Precision fermentation is a mature technology used, for example, in insulin and antibiotic production. It has rapidly become key to improving the functionality and taste of plant-based proteins. In one of its wealth of applications, fats derived from yeast can be added to plant-based dairy products to improve their texture and nutritional value.
“New food is basically like a shortcut for all traditional food chains.” Morten Holm Christensen, Application Manager Biotechnology New Food, GEA
On tomorrow’s menu
GEA biotechnologist Morten Holm Christensen sums it up: “New Food is when you take all of the traditional food chains and you make a lot of shortcuts in those. So you are now producing the same end product as before, but you are taking ingredients from a much earlier stage.” An earlier stage, meaning far fewer resources are used than in agriculture.
The prediction is becoming a reality. Tomorrow’s menu might include veggie burgers that are barely distinguishable from their ground meat counterparts, dairy products made from fermented milk cells, creamy plant-based desserts enriched with milk fat or a chicken breast filet made in the bioreactor. Chicken breast? Maybe not. Could be we need new terminology to avoid comparing the new with the old. Maybe we need to be more open-minded. Because it will be different, more varied – but delicious!
About “Food for Thought”
The signs in Europe are pointing to a major shift. The way products are cultivated, manufactured and distributed is changing in line with what consumers want and what technical innovation can do. Produced by BBC StoryWorks for FoodDrinkEurope, the online series “Food for Thought” is dedicated to the key food and beverage industry players driving this change. Their creative ideas are paving the way for a sustainable food system providing healthy, environmentally friendly, nutritious and affordable food.
You can explore the series here: Ideas that could feed the world - BBC
Do you live in the UK or China? Please use this link instead: Ideas that could feed the world - YouTube
1 America’s National Churchill Museum | Fifty Years Hence, Winston Churchill December 1931