Science is now driving superfood’s latest trend with an innovation that would probably be unthinkable just a few years ago. Imagine taking your taste buds on a new kind of culinary adventure, savouring lab-grown plant-based food. Yes, this is different from the usual superfood derived from fresh vegetables and fruits. It is not your usual kind of superfood and neither are they cultivated in a farm!

Plant Cell Culture Technology

Perhaps the future of superfoods has landed. Enter the new generation of tasty plant-based food that is created from plant cell culture (PCC) technology.

Combining the best of nature and science, VTT Technical Research Centre is leading a new revolution in Finland to produce nutritionally dense plant-based foods through plant cell culture (PCC) technology. Touting high nutrition and food sustainability as keywords, it has developed higher nutritional variants of superfood such as lingonberry, cloudberry and stoneberry.

According to VTT’s Food Solutions Team Leader, Emilia Nordlund, plant cell cultures are the new solutions to meet the food needs of the growing global population, with the potential to provide more nutrients faster, easier and with lower costs.

For example, the plant cells indicated 14-19% higher protein content that were easy to digest, which are important for bone, muscle and tissue health, even higher than soy which is already an excellent source of amino acids.

The dietary fibre of the PCC samples had 21-37% more fibre than breakfast cereals, and more energy, unsaturated fatty acid and polyphenol content. It is envisaged that plant cell culture technology would enhance the nutritional properties of superfoods.

For example, the dried versions of these plant cells can be harnessed to produce new ingredients for superfood products i.e. smoothies, healthy snacks and caviar-inspired compotes. Compared to fresh fruits, these have a longer shelf life and are more convenient.

Science-driven Superfood

These lab-produced plant cells offer an alternative for manufacturers to add “natural, healthy fruit and vegetable compotes” to their superfood formulations. VTT envisions “Food My Way” and Food 4.0, where scientists are dabbling with the idea of creating fruit and vegetable superfood vending machines to make it easy for consumers to purchase healthy food that can be customised to their tastes. There is even research to create appliances i.e. bioreactors that can be placed in cafes to grow flavourful fresh fruit cell compote that can be added into food recipes.

This could be a new way forward where science has “improved” the quality of nutrients derived from traditional fruits and vegetables, enhancing the superfood offerings.

Although not fully commercial yet, PCC technology’s potential are already evident. Perhaps in a year or two, the results of PCC will be widespread in supermarket shelves. This bodes well for the vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian market, where demand in US consumers alone has grown by 44% in 2017 for plant-based food.

Synthetic Biology

Another term that more or less refers to the same meaning is synthetic biology, where science and biotechnology are used to modify a plant’s DNA organism.

Called bio-fortification, this technology has been used to bio-hack algae’s rich nutrition beyond its superfood potential and into other possibilities including DNA barcoding, incorporating into other food and protein extraction.

Already in the Philippines, researchers at the University of Technology Mississauga have combined ramen with spirulina, a superfood, to create a highly nutritious dish that is affordable and contains high levels of vitamins including A, B12, K and iron that can be easily absorbed into the body.

Precision Nutrition

The new frontier in nutrition research has also brought in “precision nutrition” which combines medicine and nutrition whereby genome sequencing of DNA profiles of consumers will soon be introduced commercially. This uses big data and plant cell technology to determine personal nutrition algorithms.

The result is that you will be seeing personalised superfood that may incorporate probiotics and other plant cell formulations in pre-packaged superfood offerings in future.

Making Nutrition More Affordable

Entering the industry is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation which is also looking at how innovation and investment can reduce global malnutrition. Using artificial intelligence to design nutritious food with local ingredients and culturally-relevant tastes as well as using cellular agriculture to enable more efficient plant production that is high in quality and nutrients.

Perhaps one day in future, our food ingredients which look like they were harvested in fertile fields, could originate from high-tech labs? These could be the future of the food system, taking superfoods to new heights of innovation which will meet the health and nutrition needs of consumers across all inclusive sectors.

Look out for amazing opportunities and contacts at SuperFood Asia 2019. The world’s top F&B suppliers and buyers will descend onto Singapore for this showcase event. It is the perfect occasion to network and connect with the F&B industry game changers. Fast forward your business here!