Food tech: making food out of thin air

Eating air has never been easier of more nutritious. Food tech is where information technology was 30 years ago. It is all just starting to take off and the food future is bright.

Over the last years, there have been a lot of new initiatives creating food from unusual sources, all aimed at fighting and improving our very toxic food systems, which are a significant contributor to widespread environmental damage and a rapid exhaustion of earth’s resources.

The race is on to find new ways to feed the planet and change is sweeping through the food sector. From micro-gardens and urban farming in cities to plant-based meat and dairy substitutes, new and innovative ways to grow foods we love are being explored globally.

The future food trend is equally responding and providing for the ever-growing army of vegetarians, pescatarians and vegans across the world- and more recently - the cutting out of fish from diets after the revelations from the shocking Seaspiracy Netflix documentary.

But what better initiative could there be than creating food out of- quite literally- thin air? It may seem ridiculous, but a company in Finland called Solar Foods is doing just that. For the first time in history, food is literally made out of air. “This is”, the company says, “the fourth industrial revolution and the beginning of an entirely new way of producing food.”

Where plant-based burgers or fish products are grown and mixed in labs from real ingredients like peas, brown rice, soy, beetroot and/or chickpeas, Solar Foods grows food from cells, i.e from scratch.

Dilek Ercili-Cura, Senior Specialist in Food Applications at Solar Foods, says that “cellular farming, or cellular agriculture, is essentially the cultivation of microbial cells under controlled conditions, for the industrial production of food instead of traditional farming practices.”

To put it in simpler terms, the “cell culturing” technique basically means you can make meat and seafood out of cells without using animals or high protein ingredients like peas. They say it’s like creating food out of thin air because you literally grow tissue cells in bioreactors.

They – Solar Foods - base this whole process around a single protein called Solein, which is naturally sourced and comes in the form of a white powder. This powder goes through a fermentation process using just air, water and (renewable) electricity as the raw materials. The resulting protein can then be used to make a range of different foods, such as bread, pasta and milkshakes, to name a few.

The production process to grow proteins from Solein is incredibly sustainable: the process claims to use 1,550 times less water than is necessary to produce the same amount of beef protein and ten times less than to grow soy (in terms of protein yield per acre). Importantly, it skips out the factors needed in more traditional forms of agriculture: weather, land space, innocent animal’s lives and energy. And our conscience, you might say.

Solar Foods’ very first factory is due to be opening at the end of 2021 and they are set to produce 50 million meals every year, with the aim to increase that to two billion in a couple of years. It’s ambitious, but they’ve got the backing of science and a good bit of funding. It’s the definition of cutting-edge.

Solar Foods could provide sustainable proteins to millions of people, delinked completely from agriculture. What’s more, they’ve also set their sights further afield: Mars, to be exact. Cast your mind back to Matt Damon making food in inhospitable conditions in ‘The Martian’. That’s a bit like what they are doing (but take that with a pinch of artificial salt) - these magical proteins will feed astronauts on the journey to Mars and also on Mars itself.

This kind of biotechnology might, then, be the secret ingredient to finding and living life on Mars, not just sustaining it on Earth.

A taste of thin air, like fresh air, must - therefore - be good for us.

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