Why These People Are Playing With Your Food
In the future, your food could be made up of microalgae, or grown in a lab. These food scientists at Singapore Science Park are rethinking food to ensure a more sustainable food supply for the future.
Something strange is going on with our food. There are burger patties made from plants, eggs made from beans, and nuggets made out of lab-grown chicken. To anyone wondering what’s wrong with just good ol’ beef, eggs, and chicken, we hear you. But if you, like us, are still haunted by the scenes during the Circuit Breaker in 2020—snaking queues at the supermarket, with empty shelves—you’ll understand why we can no longer rely on traditional farming and agriculture to get our food. Our planet’s resources are finite, and emergencies like Covid-19 remind us just how vulnerable we are to sudden disruptions in our food supply system.
But did you know that before the pandemic, we’d already started preparing to prevent food insecurity? In 2019, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong mentioned a 50 to 100-year, long-term plan to mitigate the effects of climate change—and it appears that the development of food technology in our resource-sparse nation is a key part of this plan. We are home to companies that are developing cell-based shrimp, lab-grown dairy, and a jackfruit-based meat alternative, among others. Huge support from the government has made us the headquarters for leading Asian startups and given us the recognition of being a central food tech innovation hub in the region. The goal is to ramp up local food production to 30% by 2030 (up from less than 10% currently), so that we’re prepared for more changes that are coming our way.
There are new-age foods brewing in Singapore Science Park which are contributing to this self-sufficiency too—we take a peek at what some of these companies are up to.
Eat Your Algae
In our warm, humid climate, you’d likely think of algae as an annoying nuisance that grows in your shower stall or air-conditioner—but Sophie’s Bionutrients in The Gemini at Singapore Science Park 2, on the other hand, sees algae as food. Sophie’s Bionutrients, named after CEO Eugene Wang’s daughter who suffered an allergic reaction to seafood, is on a quest to get nutrients from the sea, without the seafood.
The company grows microalgae inside bioreactors in a matter of days, using a fraction of the space typically needed for terrestrial plants and cattle. The microalgae is then made into a pure protein flour that can be used in a myriad of food applications. There are other reasons to see the unassuming microalgae as a plant that could change our future—all the more important as our global population is expected to reach 9.8 billion people by the year 2050, which conventional animal farming and agriculture would never be able to support.
Carbs Without The Food Coma
For most Singaporeans, there’s something familiar and comforting about a steaming bowl of rice, accompanied by your favourite dishes. But it's also common knowledge that white rice is not considered a "healthy" carb.
A study published in the British Medical Journal in 2012 mentioned that high glycemic index (GI) foods like white rice can cause spikes in blood sugar, and previous research has linked high GI foods with increased Type 2 diabetes risk.
That’s why, at The Curie, it’s Alchemy Food’s mission to empower healthier meals. Their flagship product, Alchemy Fibre™, is a plant-based fibre blend that can be added into rice-based dishes, noodles, bread, steamed buns and more. When added to white rice during the cooking process, Alchemy Fibre™ For Rice helps to lower the GI of white rice, while increasing the fibre content to 10x that of white rice.
Having lost his grandparents to the disease and watching his relatives struggle with diabetic dietary restrictions, Alchemy Foodtech's co-founder Alan Phua worked together with food scientist Verleen Goh to develop foods that are suitable for diabetics and/or would reduce the risk of developing diabetes.
Alchemy Fibre™ is the start of the duo's journey towards making everyday meals healthier, without compromising taste preferences.
Gains From Grains
Did you know that more than 75,000 tons of Spent Barley Grains (SBG) are generated from beer and malt production every year, in Singapore alone? More than 20% of this SBG is actually fibre and protein, and yet, SBG is either turned into animal feed and plant fertilisers, or dumped into landfills.
Instead of letting those grains go to waste, KosmodeHealth, incubated in NUS Enterprise@ Singapore Science Park, turns them into food instead. What’s extra special: their W0W™ noodles are completely starchless and barely induce a blood sugar spike, meaning that they’re a perfect Asian staple food for the ageing and diabetic population.
Think of it as an alternative to the now-common shirataki noodles, with an al dente texture that makes them easily adaptable to any dish. KosmodeHealth also supports other companies that need high quality, authentic plant extracts for the development of functional food or supplements.
Founded by Florence Leong, an ex-pharmaceutical executive turned DeepTech mentor, instructor, and angel investor, and Dr Huang Dejian, a Chemist, Food Scientist and Deputy Head of NUS Food Science Technology Dept, KosmodeHealth is harnessing waste resources to meet the need for sustainable food production in Singapore.
With many other developments in food technology under way, it’s both an exciting and perplexing time for the most of us who have grown up knowing that our meat comes from farms, and grains from the ground. It might take some years for these newfangled foods to become commercialised and made mainstream, but the earth will not be able to support our current means of living and eating much longer.
These technological advancements provide hopeful solutions to the challenges that we all face when it comes to our food supply. As food scientists around the world put in their best efforts, we can expect more breakthroughs to come in the near future. The best way we can help is by having an open mind, and a determination to save the planet from ourselves.
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