December 8, 2021

Singapore-based startup Sophie’s Bionutrients, which describes itself as “a next-generation sustainable urban food production technology company”, has developed new technology which it believes will shape the future of the food industry, accelerating the commercial viability of microalgae-based foods and replacing Soy as a commercially viable protein source. 

This process – combining high moisture extrusion (HME) technology and microalgae fermentation, is a revolutionary development in the plant-based protein industry, says the startup, offering a commercially viable alternative to cell-based meat production methods, though it is still in the early stages of development.   

Microalgae derived protein: A viable and sustainable future available today

Cell-cultured meat has been heralded around the globe as a potential alternative to conventional meat. However, the technology behind this process is relatively new, and there are still many unknowns that need to be answered before cell-based meats can be produced on an industrial scale, Sophie’s Bionutrients says. Cell-based meat production is also costly for consumers, with prices above the recommended USD 7 per kilogram needed to reach price parity with conventional meats.

Amidst the uncertainty surrounding cell-based options and growing demand for meat alternatives, microalgae fermentation is an exciting new prospect for food manufacturers and businesses seeking to create a more sustainable food supply chain — and it’s available now.

Eugene Wang, CEO and founder of Sophie’s Bionutrients, commented: “The pandemic has shown that our current means of food production and reliance on certain types of food is unsustainable. Many believe the future lies in creating new forms of protein or production methods, but this is not the case.

“There is no need to wait. There is no need to invest in unproven technologies. With microalgae-based foods, a sustainable future is achievable in the next five years using existing technologies and materials. For the first time in human history, we can grow food in a controlled and protected environment and grow enough of it to feed the population.”

Rethinking FoodTech 

Over the past decade, plant-based alternatives have historically been texturised vegetable proteins (TVP), which require high-viscosity protein flour like Soy to work efficiently. Previously, no other material has come close to the flexibility of soy flour. As a result, Soy has become the dominant protein in vegetarian and vegan foods on today’s market.

However, Sophie’s Bionutrients says it has “unlocked the recipe for a better plant-based alternative for consumers, companies and the environment using a breakthrough combination of HME processing and microalgae fermentation”.

HME processing works by altering protein structures into soluble and insoluble aggregates. Unlike TVP, HME technologies are more flexible and enable food manufacturers to use a larger spectrum of ingredients to create plant-based meat and seafood textures, such as microalgae, the company says.

Known as the “mother of all life”, microalgae is one of the most nutrient-rich resources on the planet and can contain up to 70% protein, as well as polyunsaturated fatty acids, beta-carotene and an abundance of vitamins, says Sophie’s Micronutrients.

Moreover, microalgae rank among the world’s fastest-growing organisms, with some species able double their volume in six hours. They can also be grown almost anywhere with a low carbon footprint, the company says.

Finally, Its sustainability and versatility mean that microalgae offer unlimited opportunities for natural zero-meat products that are environmentally friendly, quick to manufacture, and highly cost-effective.

A pioneer in microalgae, Sophie’s Bionutrients has already harnessed this superfood for dairy-free cheese, dairy-free milk, and plant-based burger patties, the company says. It has now become the first company globally to apply HME processing to microalgae protein production on a commercial scale with its new plant-based chicken nuggets (pictured top), as well as the first worldwide to produce an HME meat that has more than 60% microalgae protein content.

On 3 December 2021, Sophie’s Bionutrients was named a Startup Challenge Winner, in the most innovative plant based or alternative ingredient category by Food Ingredients Global during their annual FI Europe event.

For more stories on alternative protein sources, click here.

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