Asia’s FoodTech Culture: Using Technology for Better Food Production

2020-12-16 08:44:42

Imagine a time where technology could not only make food appetizing but also affordable and more nutritious.

In Asia, the use of technology to enhance agricultural and food supply chains and deliver quality food products is only beginning to gain traction. But recent innovations have shown that technology could become an easy tool to use for the advancements in the food and beverage industry. Breakthrough innovations like lab-grown meat, 3-D printed food, and farmed insect protein are opening new doors to better solutions to prevalent problems like malnutrition and food contamination by transforming the way food is prepared and consumed entirely.

3D food printing is hailed as a revolutionary concept that could address the world’s nutritional and hunger challenges by enabling better control over the food components. Although researchers have warned against engineering large portion of diets by using 3D printers. It might increase the burden and risk of malnutrition, the technology has been lauded as a game-changer for people who have special dietary needs such as vegans and diabetics.

Technology in food combined with the study of nutrition and medicine can help bring improvements in the industry. Singapore start-up Alchemy Foodtech has developed a technology names 5ibrePLus that maintains the gluceamic index (GI) on a low level in carbohydrates such as bread, noodles, and white rice. Food with a lower GI index help in maintaining blood sugar levels, which is especially essential for people with diabetes.

Intelligent food innovations happen where it is possible to incorporate health benefits into daily products. Reducose is another food modifier which is suitable for diabetic patients. British Life Science Company Phynova produces it, and it can be added to food and drinks. Without altering the taste and appearance of staple foods, it can prevent the body from turning carbohydrates into glucose.

According to researchers, despite greater barriers to accessing nutritious food in developing countries, hidden malnutrition is also common in developed countries, which leads to a heightened risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Singapore has the second-highest number of diabetics in developed countries after the United States. In Asia, rapid urbanization has also changed the consumption habits of its growing middle-class population, switching traditional foods with cheap, nutrient-poor foods that lead to obesity.

Food production in a nutrient-scarce future

The most adverse impacts of climatic change are on the horizon. With continuous shifts in weather patterns, global crop yields are getting affected. The nutrition levels in food staples such as rice, vegetables, and legumes are depleting rapidly. Due to this problem, malnutrition could become a more widespread issue. Soil erosion and increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide are also to blame.

New agri-food technology companies are working to ensure better functioning of supply chains, and for them to become more climate-resilient, continuing to provide the world with healthy and nutritious food. Innovopro, an Israel-based start-up company that specializes in extracting protein from chickpeas in a concentrated form, claims alternative proteins are needed to be more widely available to tackle the highly unsustainable production of dairy foods and animal protein.

Adding Innovopro’s protein concentrate into food items like yogurt, vegetable patties and puddings could be a real solution to nutrient-poor food items, especially because such foods help curb hunger faster and chickpea farming uses less resources than other plant-based proteins.

Japanese research and development firm Mebiol has developed a technology that allows growing plants on film using liquid fertilizers and small amounts of water. Professor Yuichi Mori of the firm was inspired to create a film farm as the potential of hydrogels could be applied to growing plants in Japan in areas where soil had been contaminated by the radiation from Fukushima nuclear disaster and tsunami back in 2011.

Mebiol is now cultivating tomatoes through this innovative film farming technology in a desert in Dubai, one of the world’s most inhospitable places for farming and agriculture. Analysis indicates that tomatoes grown via film farming have the same nutritional value. Despite being grown without soil, these tomatoes are much sweeter.

The way food is perceived matters

The aim of using technology is to formulate more nutritious products without compromising the taste or having people to change their dietary patterns. The way we understand food is especially crucial in Asia, where people have pre-conceived assumptions about food. Minute issues such as the slow and low public acceptance of brown rice in countries like South Korea and China, where the variety of rice is associated with the diet of low-income class and rural people.

Mebiol says that they wanted to preserve the texture, taste, and other components of food while improving its nutritional profile. These factors prove to be critical in helping people in Asia adopt a healthier dietary pattern and lifestyle.

The regional lead of DSM Nutrition Improvement, Alexia Cron, explained that fortifying simple foods like rice with vitamins and minerals could be done while maintaining their actual appearance and taste. Hence, people do not have to change their eating or cooking habits while improving their diets.

Necessary modifications in staple food are practiced in several countries, including Indonesia and the Philippines. Flour fortification is pretty common, while fortifying rice to tackle nutritional deficiencies is gaining momentum rapidly. The WHO has recommended rice fortification as a “public health strategy” since 2018 to improve the nutrition status of countries where rice is a staple food.

Moving Forward Towards Food Security

Leveraging technology in food fortification and even production is a breakthrough approach for eliminating world hunger. The food and beverage industry is experiencing rapid technological changes for the betterment of the food supply chains and providing nutrition-rich food to underprivileged countries. Intelligent dietary patterns, coupled with technology, will give rise to the successful adoption of a healthier lifestyle across the world. 

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