Achieving flavour and ingredient innovation through emerging technologies
SGInnovate launches our latest Insights Paper on Flavourful Food: A Taste of Things to Come, diving into the commercial opportunities for Deep Tech in the AgriFood industry. In this blog, we dig into three main areas where emerging technologies are transforming our experience of food.
Taste has been and continues to be the most important element when food and beverage (F&B) companies develop new products, with research showing flavour is still the top factor influencing market reception1. For the industry, that means taste is usually a foremost consideration, even when companies are exploring innovations in other areas such as increasing the health benefits of certain foods.
Another key factor players in the AgriFood industry need to take note of today is the impact of their products on health, with growing interest globally in food choices with positive health benefits. This is an opportunity for the food industry to address economic and health burdens stemming from chronic diseases. For example, a poor diet can increase risk factors for diabetes, which is expected to incur costs totalling S$1.8 billion by 2050 in Singapore2, urging interventions from food production and biomedicine to policymaking.
While innovations can reduce detrimental properties in some foods, changing dietary habits is often more complicated than simply recognising health benefits. Natural cravings for high-calorie food, such as those rich in sugars or fats, combined with a lack of access to nutritious alternatives, makes this a complex challenge to tackle.
Guided by the parallel influences of consumer trends and regulations, more F&B companies are keen to explore the use of healthier alternatives that retain their appeal and succeed in recreating a similar consumption experience for their customers.
In SGInnovate’s latest Insights Paper on the AgriFood industry, we explore three areas where emerging technologies are creating nutritious yet enjoyable novel food experiences to stay ahead of trends and satisfy changing preferences.
Accelerating Flavour Development
To make healthy food more appealing to a wider range of consumers, some F&B companies are aiming to replicate the flavours of familiar (but less healthy) products with substitute ingredients. However, pinning down the right formula is often a tedious process of trial-and-error, given the sheer number of flavour compounds available.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is one technology that can speed up the flavour innovation process. For example, flavouring product company McCormick used IBM’s AI for Product Composition tool to simulate how various ingredient combinations affect sensory responses to food3. The platform can suggest optimised recipes using the same ingredients, alternative ingredients with similar properties, or vastly different ingredients to significantly alter product taste.
AI-powered solutions can also change the way new products are rolled out by forecasting market trends identified from millions of data points. In collaboration with analytics company AI Palette, AgriFood corporation Cargill leveraged AI to better understand consumer sentiments in real-time, resulting in the development of plant-based dairy ingredients that are likely to be better received by the target market.
Changing Production to Maintain Texture
While taste is a major influence on food preferences, texture also plays a critical role in tying the whole sensory experience together. For instance, juicy and tender textures are often an indication of freshness, which strongly influences consumers’ perception of quality for meat and vegetables alike. Texture innovation to recreate this mouthfeel is thus crucial to the success of food products, especially those that incorporate new ingredients or production techniques.
Nowhere is this more important than in the production alternative proteins. Novel manufacturing methods are enabling companies to produce alternative proteins with textures typically exclusive to livestock sources. To recreate the unique juiciness and firmness of a well-cooked slice of meat, flavour specialist Givaudan mimics the function of animal fat cells in their plant-based meat products through an innovative encapsulation technology that traps plant oils in a matrix. By retaining the oil, the method improves the meat’s texture while reducing fat and caloric levels by significant margins.
Others are looking to recreate actual meat tissue in a laboratory setting for an even closer meat-eating experience. For cell-based startups like Mosa Meat, producing cell-cultured meat relies on an extensive foundation of facilities. A special growth medium facilitates the multiplication of muscle cells to form larger strands of meat tissue. This process, however, is still very costly4. As the industry grows, innovations in tissue engineering could enable the scalability of cultured meat ventures.
Small Additions Make a Big Difference
Many innovations have focused on removing or replacing undesirable properties to make food healthier, but opportunities abound for introducing additives that look at enhancing the product’s nutritional profile or extending its shelf life.
One category where innovations in modulation may make a large impact is the nutraceutical space, as the right additives can provide potential medicinal benefits like reducing the risk of diseases. For example, Givaudan’s bio-enhanced turmeric extract contains more curcuminoids — active compounds that support joint and cardiovascular health — than standard turmeric products on the market.
Besides discovering additives that can deliver the desired benefits, product developers are also manipulating or enhancing qualities through technologies like gene editing and 3D printing. Companies can provide increased food customisation through new product lines by precisely engineering novel molecules, satisfying a wider range of consumer needs.
Deep Tech transforms food for good
Technology-enabled solutions have given food producers the keys to accelerated product development, reduced production costs and easier market entry. However, these potential benefits go far beyond appetising new meals and economic gain. By exploring the use of emerging technologies in shaping taste, texture and other properties, food manufacturers have more tools to create food products that are both appealing and offer more nutritional benefits than before.
With the application of Deep Tech, the AgriFood industry can fundamentally change the food production system to support healthier and more sustainable living while catering to even more diverse tastes and dietary restrictions.
In our Flavourful Food: A Taste of Things to Come Insights Paper, we take a comprehensive look at how Deep Tech can usher in the development of next-generation food. Download the paper to read about the challenges and opportunities in this space.
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