[USA] Mix pea-plant protein with algae and some serious science and here’s what you get: shrimp — at least that’s what one San Francisco startup is banking on with its new lab-made product it hopes to get on the market by early this year.
The company, New Wave Foods, is creating a line of scientifically constructed seafoods to take a step toward what it said is the future of worldwide food.
And the company isn’t alone.
Handfuls of Bay Area startups, including Impossible Foods with its plant-blood based meatless burger and Solazyme with its range of algae-based food ingredients, are looking to use science to disrupt food production, taking the latest trend from down on the farm, to down in the lab — all in the name of more sustainable, healthy and ethical food products.
More of these companies seem to be popping up every week, said Kristen Rasmussen, a food science professor at UC Berkeley and faculty member of the Berkeley Food Institute. But, she added, it’s important to remember that they could just be filling the latest profitable niche.
“I think we have to remember there is a lot of potential in the market right now with the demand for sustainable foods,” she said. “The companies may have good intentions, but the foods that are truly best for us are very perishable.”
The companies insist their intentions lie within better future food products rather than cash.
New Wave Foods started in San Francisco in September after co-founders Jennifer Kaehms and Dominique Barnes became concerned about the countless numbers of sharks slaughtered each year for their fins — an important ingredient in the Asian delicacy shark fin soup.
Shark fin banned
California — among 10 other states — banned the sale of shark fin to help protect the animals, but shark fin soup is still popular, meaning the demand for shark fins is strong.
Kaehms, Barnes and another co-founder, Michelle Wolf, decided to use their scientific expertise to develop a replacement that would require fewer resources in the long-term, cut down on the mass killings of sharks and offer better nutrition.
Their product, which they call Smart Fin, is early in the development stages. It will be produced from yeast containing genetic material rewritten to produce strands of collagen. The idea, essentially, is to construct the shark fin in the lab, bypassing the shark.
First, though, the company is focusing on its plant-based shrimp product because that seafood item is eaten by more Americans than any other — an average of about 4 pounds per person per year, according to the National Fisheries Institute.
“Shrimp has a large market,” Kaehms said. “It resonates better within the U.S.”
The company hasn’t completely nailed down the process for how it will create its shrimp and was hesitant to share too many details. The co-founders said, however, that they achieved “the perfect taste” through the use of algae, which shrimp usually eat and bioaccumulate.
As far as nutrition is concerned, the co-founders said their products will be similar to the real thing, using “natural ingredients” but without any potential contaminants that live marine counterparts may carry with them.
Impossible Foods, a sustainable food company in Redwood City, got its start after former Stanford biologist Patrick Brown asked himself what he could do with his scientific training to make the world a better place. His conclusion: help people eat foods lower on the food chain, healthier foods and fewer animals.
Brown has spent the past 4½ years scientifically developing plant-based meats and cheeses with the goal that they will “actually satisfy meat-eaters” compared with some of the products on the market.
Impossible Food’s first product in development is a non-meat burger that is expected to hit the market in late 2016. The burger will be made from protein extracted out of a mix of produce found at the local farmer’s market — vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes.
It differs from the typical veggie burger in that it is constructed on a molecular level to emulate a meat burger, only in a more nutritious way. It takes the nutrition the cow would consume and turns it into the burger product, without any involvement from the cow.
“We’ve deconstructed meat in molecular detail to understand how it is made from animals, so we can make the same thing using plants,” said Brown in an e-mail. “A cow creates meat from plants. We are essentially doing the same thing, but without the cow.”
An important element will be the “plant-blood” part of the burger made from molecule heme, which is responsible for meat’s red color and meaty taste in this case, the heme is extracted from a protein found in the root of soybean plants, Brown said.
“The greater the concentration of heme, the redder the meat — and the more ‘meaty’ it tastes,” Brown said.
Rather than trying to emulate traditional food items, another company, Solazyme, is looking to take a more ingredient-based approach, focusing on low-food chain, algae-based foods.
The company in South San Francisco offers algae protein powder and algae lipids to food production companies to use in crackers, ice cream, bread and other products. It also offers algae oil (think olive oil or butter) for general use in the kitchen. These products, company officials said, are more sustainable and offer better nutrition compared with traditional ingredients, such as animal fats and oils.
“My hope is that algae — as nature’s first food — becomes just as obvious and ubiquitous as flour and sugar in your home,” said company vice president Mark Brooks. “It will simplify and clean up ingredients on processed foods and alleviate the strain on agriculture.”
UC Berkeley’s Rasmussen said she remains skeptical. She says the best way to eat for both health and sustainability is to rely on foods like simple fruits and vegetables.
“I think there is a place at the table for these interesting, novel products,” Rasmussen said, “but I think we are jumping over way easier and simpler approaches, such as eating less meat and eating more fresh, whole foods.”
Photo: Katie Ringer (left) and Jill Kauffman (right), both employees of biotech company Solazyme, taste a sample of ice cream that uses non-toxic algae flour to lower the fat content, at Solazyme’s test kitchen in South San Francisco, California on Friday, November 20, 2015.
View original article at: The future of food: from lab to table