Make way for a new vegan protein on the menu

    Fancy dairy-free protein ice cream with a microbial twist? The new alternative protein from Finnish startup Solar Foods, Solein, is now on the menu of a restaurant in Singapore, where it has been mixed into a special (vegan) chocolate gelato.

    It is the first time the startup’s microbial protein is available to the general public. And indeed, it is only one restaurant (fico) who has put it on the menu so far. But this is a small step toward what the startup hopes to grow into a wide range of partnerships in the food industry in the coming years as it works to kick-start commercial-scale production.

    Solar Foods has received approval for the first time to sell Solein last in Singapore September. It has also applied for approval for human consumption of its new protein in other markers, including the US and Europe. But last month it announced a strategic alliance with Japan’s Ajinomoto, a food company that will develop products using Solein. Asia is therefore where developments seem to be moving fastest so far.

    As we previously reported, the Finns behind Solar Foods are tackling the huge but under-reported elephant-in-the-room problem of making humanity’s food system sustainable.

    In short, if we want to avoid a climate catastrophe, it is crucial to reduce emissions generated by agriculture. And it’s industrial livestock farming – for meat and dairy – that is particularly problematic for the environment, given the amount of land and water required to produce these animal-derived proteins.

    This is why a variety of plant-based alternative protein makers have sprung up in recent years, attempting to take on the sustainability challenge by producing high-quality vegan mock meat that can still tantalize the taste buds of carnivores.

    Solar Foods is a little different than your average alt protein maker. Firstly, it is not the intention to sell food directly to the consumer. Rather, it’s meant to add another dart to the bow of vegan food manufacturers, as the alternative protein doesn’t involve farming at all. So there is no photosynthesis associated with these nutritious calories.

    Zooming out, reduced reliance on land for human food production opens up the prospect of reusing large amounts of farmland for various purposes that mitigate climate change and reverse biodiversity loss, such as reforestation programs, soil restoration, tree planting and enabling the return of other carbon – capturing natural habitats.

    Moreover, Solein is not dependent on the country or the weather, making it a very reliable source of edible protein – at least if you have access to (affordable) electricity and clean water. That’s why the startup touts it as “the world’s most sustainable protein.” (Although the source of electricity involved in Solein’s production may still wrinkle some of the sustainability picture, unless or until it’s 100% renewable energy powering every Solar Foods bioreactor.)

    The startup likens the process of producing Solein to brewing or making wine – but with only three “ingredients” needed: air, water and electricity (plus the aforementioned bioreactor where the fermentation process takes place).

    The taste of the harvested, dried and powdered protein is described as mild and neutral. Solar Foods says this makes it suitable for being incorporated into a variety of foods, both sweet and savory. In that case, the first publicly available dish is dessert: the aforementioned vegan gelato with a protein punch.

    The gelato is high in protein as Solein is 65%-70% protein – making it significantly richer in protein than milk, the traditional base ingredient for gelato (although some traditional gelato may also use egg yolk).

    We asked for details on the macronutrient breakdown of the Solein-based gelato and how it compares to traditional gelato. And will add the info when we get it.

    According to Solar Foods, the macronutrient composition of Solein cells is very similar to that of dried soy or algae. It also supplies iron and B vitamins. So the pitch for the new ingredient is that it’s rich in the kinds of nutrients people commonly get from animal-derived foods.

    The sunny advantage of Solein, however, is that this nutritious protein isn’t linked to the huge environmental, ethical and even health problems associated with industrial livestock farming – whether it’s deforestation of the Amazon rainforest to plant soy to raise beef cattle. feed; the horror of the average slaughterhouse; or the risk that habitat destruction could lead to more viruses making the zoonotic leap from wild animals to humans as wildlife is forced ever closer to humans.

    Of course, tackling the climate crisis is also an absolute economic necessity, as the cost of not tackling global warming will be unimaginably higher than if we made the necessary investments to avoid a global warming disaster .

    As the world continues to break temperature records, the good news is that alternative sources of protein already exist and companies like Solar Foods are working to scale up production.

    However, the question is a harder nut to crack. But hey, who can resist chocolate ice cream?

    The Solein-based gelato now on the menu at Fico was developed by its chef, Mirco Febbrile.

    “Inspired by the properties of Solein, with its mild aroma and notes of umami hinting at nuttiness and creaminess, Chef Mirko explored the combination of Solein with a delicious chocolate flavor to take the familiar flavors to the next level,” said Solar. Foods in a press release.

    While Solein, when processed as an ingredient, can impart a distinctive yellow-orange color to foods, thanks to the beta-carotene it naturally contains, February‘s decision to combine it with chocolate for this Solein Chocolate Gelato means there is no visual sign that it is in the dish.

    As for the flavor, we sadly didn’t get a chance to try it, but judging by its rich chocolate color, you’ll likely struggle to discern subtle microbe-enhanced notes that underlie chocolate gelato’s well-known flavor bomb. But we suspect this will make this very new alt protein easier to sell.

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