Technology has completely subverted the definition of “food”

26 Oct, 2018 14:58
source: Singularity Financial Ltd Echo Luo

From margarine to luncheon meat and to instant noodles, scientists have never stopped exploring food. Nowadays, the exploration in food industry goes far beyond chemical synthesis to plant-based meat alternatives like “artificial meat” and “artificial fish”. Technology has changed many aspects of people’s daily lives and totally overturned the definition of “food”.

At the same time, investors regard it as new opportunities and many startups are springing up.

AI-Powered Indoor Farms

When it comes to artificial intelligence (AI), most people will definitely relate it to high-tech fields such as computer science, robots, smart home and so on. Actually, on top of those, AI and its accuracy have provided new developments for agriculture.

Italian confectionery group Ferrero, the maker of Nutella, met a hazelnut problem: the production has declined significantly over the past 10 years. In order to fix this problem, Ferrero joined the MIT Media Lab’s Open Agriculture Initiative, or OpenAg, which studies how to grow food in a perfect circumstance, and it established a unique farm for Ferrero.

With the help of AI, 16 hazelnut trees are maturing. LED lights mimic the sun, and every variable—air temperature, humidity, pH values, carbon dioxide levels, and even water circulation—is controlled and optimized by AI.

Harper, the founder of the OpenAg project, studied urban planning at MIT. It was when Harper travelled to Japan and saw how people were thinking how to rebuild the city after the meltdowns of the nuclear power plants, he was inspired and thought how to equally rebuild food.

Today, his indoor AI farms are worth about $100,000 each and have been funded by a number of companies.

Harper imagined a day when historic crops—and even historic wines—are recreated in his indoor farms. “You can regrow the grapes from the best Bordeaux vintage, 1982,” he said.

The Winery That Fits in a Closet

Only wineries can produce good wine? Now biologists have invented a bioreactor to make wine in an easy way.

It’s the brainchild of biotech scientist Vijay Singh. This bioreacter revolutionized the production of biopharmaceuticals. It uses nothing but grapes and a machine the size of a small trash can. The system replaced the stainless steel tanks used for cell cultivation with disposable, medical-grade plastic bags that required no cleaning or sterilization. His invention is the industry standard.

Singh has visited wineries before, where he discovered the same wasteful, labor-intensive processes that led him to rethink biopharmaceutical production.

He completed the first bioreacter in 2014. In his invention, all the processes happen in the biodegradable plastic bags. Since the entire process does not use any cans or barrels to transfer or clean, it has consumed very little water and it is definitely environmentally friendly.

Surprisingly, the smell has innovation too. The “soft press” of the GOfermentor use an empty bag periodically inflates, pressing against a bag filled with grapes—leaves the seeds intact. Thus the smell is more varietal-aroma centered and less astringent.

Is Lab-Grown Meat Ready for Dinner?

In addition to food preservation, technology also changes the food itself now.  Plant-based meat and fish alternatives become the next market opportunity.

Bowman, a veteran of several Michelin-starred kitchens, is the research-and-development chef at the alternative-protein start-up. And now he is tasting chicken chorizo, a loose hash flavored with onion, spices and ground raisins.

The process of growing meat was in a bioreactor and known as cellular agriculture. People once called the product “clean meat.” Sooner a cell-based product—most likely chicken—will be on the market by the end of the year.

Although this technology is still considered to be in its early stages, many well-known capitalists have already invested in it, including Bill Gates and Richard Branson.

Moreover, another popular dishes—salmon and tuna are also what bionic technology would pay attention to. Companies are using new ingredients, machinery and technologies to make imitated tuna and salmon that taste, smell and appear just like the real deal.

Sophie’s Kitchen, a start-up restaurant which serves this salmon uses konjac, a fibrous Asian root vegetable with a rubbery texture, making its smoked salmon and more popular faux canned tuna, called Toona.

After Toona has launched, it was highly praised by customers. And Sophie’s Kitchen has decided to add omega-3 oils to its product, using everything from flax to chia, to get a more similar nutritional profile to fish.

Conclusion: With the advancement of technology, artificial intelligence and biotechnology are becoming more and more widely used in food industry. AI can collect agricultural data accurately and timely, which can help growers manage plant information and increase overall production. And Biotechnology has been regarded as a new breakthrough for food manufacturing. Whether the college-designed farm reaction box or the small bioreactors or laboratory meat … new technologies are changing our diet.

Also, the development of technology has also brought new business opportunities to the market and many venture capitalists have poured into. However, the technologies are still in their early stages, some of the products are not mature yet. It’s still necessary to keep an eye on the underlying risks.