Food (science) news round up – July 2017

Recently I received an e-mail on crowd ‘researching’ food science. I hadn’t seen such an initiative before and thought it was a great way to involve more people in research and learn from people from different backgrounds and eating cultures. It sounded like something that would be great to write about here on the blog (which I did, skip through the introduction if you just want to dive in). However, most of what we write here on the blog is ‘evergreen content’, in other words, whether you read it today, tomorrow or in three years, it should still be relevant. Pancakes will still be made in the same way and the science of browning of bananas won’t have changed either.

To accomodate this type of interesting finds though, we’ll be doing an experiment: posting non-evergreen content on a regular basis, discussing new products, recent news, etc. Of course, we’ll discuss the news through the food science lense, trying to explain any science that is applicable. If you like (or don’t like or have suggestions to further improve) the new format, let me know!

This round up’s news: Crowd researching new natural sweeteners by Coca Cola, Lab grown meats, Amazon buying Wholefoods and new Ice cream with alcohol for sale?

The Coca-Cola Company Sweetener Challenge

Crowd funding has become a pretty common method for companies to attract money. Kickstarter campaigns can be huge with tons of people wanting to support a new business and their product. Coca Cola must have thought: Why not do the same for ideas? Instead of asking people to pay money, they are asking people to send in ideas on some of Coca Cola’s main challenges: (artificial) sweeteners. Instead of people getting a product or ownership of the company, they have a chance to win a pretty huge sum of money for the winning idea.

They’ve actually set up two competitions: on the one hand they are looking for ways different cultures have naturally sweetened their foods and drinks. The other challenge is closely related, but is specifically looking for a natural component that can be used for sweetening. If you’re interested in learning more or think you might have an idea or example that would apply, have a look at the websites for the two challenges.

Why new artificial sweeteners?

I haven’t spoken to Coca Cola about this challenge but Coca Cola has shown in the past few years that they are highly creative in sweetening their drinks. They’ve managed to set up a portfolio of Cola’s (regular, diet, zero and more recently Life and then I’m not even taking into account all those flavour variations) where really the main difference is just the sweetener. They’re all black and they’re all coke. Of course, real fans will distinguish the difference, but myself, as a non-coke drinker doubt whether I’d tell the difference.

So why all these different varieties if the regular version was doing just fine? It’s clear that Coca-Cola is looking for ways to reduce calorie content of their drinks, while maintaining taste and consumer experience. The regular version contains a little more than 10g sugar/100ml, whereas the Life version contains about half and the other two don’t contain any. However, findings sweeteners without sugar isn’t easy. There are several (such as aspartame which is used in Light & Zero) but it’s clear Coca-Cola is still looking for other (hopefully better) alternatives.

Clearly, they don’t think they’re there yet, or they wouldn’t have started these challenges on HeroX.com. Like to join them in their search?

The sweetener challenge on herox by coca cola

Lab grown meat for sale in 2018?

I still remember watching the live stream of the presentation of the first lab grown hamburger. A professor from Maastricht University (based in the Netherlands) had been working on growing meat in his lab for some time and they were now able to show it to the world. The project for making the hamburger had cost $250.000,- at that point.

Fast forward four years and lab grown meat has appeared in the news quite a bit since that first presentation. And a little less than a month ago Hampton Creek, a vegan foods company, revealed that it plans to sell lab grown meat by 2018.

Growing meat in the lab is a lot more complex than creating those vegetarian chicken imitations which are generally made from plant proteins (read more about the production process here). But times are changing and developments are proceeding at a faster pace. Another company, Memphis Meats, announced they’ve managed to make chicken meat by growing cells.

Amazon buys Wholefoods

One of the biggest pieces of news in (US) food world is probably the announcement that Amazon bought Wholefoods. From a food science perspective this might not immediately be interesting to discuss. However, Amazon is know for its innovation and especially innovation speed. Since the food industry is not one that’s been moving particularly fast the past few years regarding innovation, this has probably been a wake up call for many.

Whereas most discuss the way products will be checked out at the supermarket, whether delivery will improve, how data will be used, etc. But I’m interested to see what will happen on the food manufaturer side of things. How will Amazon interact with those? Will a different way of working be required? Will the quality of product development improve thanks to data Amazon might be able to provide? We’ll see what will happen! I expect change will occur in the next few years, if not months, curious to see how the tech + food world will turn out!

Bavaria ice cream (with alcohol)

In the past few beers the number of types of beer brewers sell has increased quite a lot. There’s not only more brewers, the existing brewers also have more and more variation on the types of beer they brew. A Dutch brewer now came up with something completely new: beer ice popsicles! It’s an ice cream for this summer. The popsicle actually contains alcohol!

Sounds weird, alcohol in ice cream? It actually isn’t that strange at all. Ice cream works thanks to ingredients that depress the freezing point of the ice cream mixture. That makes the ice softer and eatable (imagine pure frozen water, it’s super hard). The addition of sugar is the most common example, but alcohol has a very similar effect. It is also the so called freezing point depression. So might be innovative for a beer brewer, but not that new for a scientist.

 

The images used in this post have been taken from herox.com (with permission).

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