By Zhiqi Wang
Food tech is exciting because it can potentially impact everyone. With rising populations from developing countries, our resources crunch is hammering our planet harder than ever and lower productivity has been predicted due to climate change and resource depletion.
Because of this, we might have to collectively change the eating habits we have developed over decades (especially living in Singapore, chomping on our delicious hawker delights). Here are some of the most exciting advancements in this area.
Plant-based meats have taken the world by storm, with ever more fast food outlets working with the top players in the plant-based meat industry to produce new creations, enabling consumers to have a healthier diet. Leading the pack are Impossible Meats and Beyond Meat which are known for their “bleeding” beef. Their latest release is plant-based “pork”, which is currently already available via local company Omnipork. Perfect for a vegan version of bak chor mee!
These “meats” range from $10-20+ and are available as burgers, gyoza, skewers, pie, spaghetti and more. Technology has advanced so quickly, allowing companies to use plant-based ingredients from beetroot (to produce heme which gives the ‘bleeding’ colour) to various plant proteins to emulate the chewy meat texture. Plant-based also goes beyond beef or pork, with companies introducing fish and egg alternatives.
Powdered food was first seen as a dystopian possibility: the bland, powdered cereal-like food was seen as the only option in resource-depleted Earth. Despite its scary imagery, companies like Huel and Soylent are popular among the market of busy professionals who couldnʼt care less about taste. Both companies are working hard to improve their taste (which isnʼt their current strong suit), but it’s convenient and appeals to time-starved segments of the population (isnʼt that everyone in Singapore?).
As if that’s not futuristic enough, edible protein can also be made out of thin air! That’s what Air Protein does – the company managed to convert molecules from the atmosphere into protein compounds using bacteria. The process is similar to making soy flour, but it can be done in a matter of days. This is still in the experimental stage but has huge potential for further space expeditions.
This brings plant-based meat to a whole new level. The ability to create meat, not from animals or plants, is borderline science fiction that has recently become available. In fact, local startup Shiok Meats is having their go at making and recreating shellfish in labs. Started by NTU and ASTAR alumni, this company is quite ambitious in making seafood more sustainable and making consumers feel less guilty. Who knows? The next har gao in our dim sum meals might just be made from the lab.
Asia is becoming quite the hub for cellular agriculture, the science behind cultured meat. Other than Shiok Meats, Avant Meats from Hong Kong is in the process of developing cultured fish products, while Japan’s Shojinmeat will enable people to grow their own lab meat at home.
Automated food preparation
The robotic chef at Din Tai Fung has garnered quite a bit of attention, promising high quality food regardless of who or what the chef is. Another restaurant that has food prepared by AI is Hawkee, located in Tanjong Pagar. Local delights like Hokkien mee and char kway teow are prepared by a fully automated system with the aim of increasing productivity. Furthermore, Sophie, the robot chef, can make a bowl of laksa in only 45 seconds.
There are even vending machines that prepare hot meals – Yo-Kai Express provides city folk an option to slurp delicious hot ramen at any time of the day, and consumers can choose a hot meal from a variety of dishes from Bicom vending machines.
3-D Printed Food
3D-printed food is another big innovation that you often see on space movies; there are already 3D-food printers like Foodini and Chef 3D that can actually print your favourite meal with a single touch on the screen.
Locally, SIT Food Technology students came up with the idea to 3D-print a chicken rice meal – made out of purees – to improve the dining experience of the elderly, who have chewing difficulties. Meanwhile, the soon-to-open restaurant Sushi Singularity in Tokyo collects biological samples from customers prior to their reservations and 3D-prints custom meals to cater to their customers’ specific health needs.
One thing is for sure – technology is definitely going to change how and what we eat and it’s exciting to see what’s in store for the future.