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The Future of Food: Protein from Thin Air?

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On the Internet we have seen that many people want to drink smoothies as nourishment. Grinding hard kale leaves with a blender is an excellent idea. There have also been visions that the future might be based on concentrated pills and similar manufactured products and not so much on the organic potatoes one needs to wash and peel. And if laboratory grown algae is made into a smoothie, who could tell the difference anyway?

Also every person who is conscious of nutritional facts knows the importance of protein – that is what the Greek name given to the molecules found in the early 19th century also implies: protein means “primary” or “very important”.

The discussion about vegetarian, vegan and non-vegetarian diets very easily revolves around protein and often even too much weight is given to the protein content and amino acids, when virtually every normal plant used for food contains all the necessary amino acids.

But what if we could produce protein almost out of thin air, would we be ready to eat it?

One step towards the future of artificial foods has been taken by a Finnish company Solar Foods. They have chosen a microbe (which is still their business secret) and developed a process (also a secret) to grow that microbe which can then be “harvested” and the result is edible powder, with 70 % of protein.

The microbe is a bacterium, and to use bacteria is not a new thing in food production. But the novelty of the process is that they use electricity to break water into hydrogen and oxygen, make the microbe live in that and only need to add some minerals and carbon dioxide. The process is claimed to give 20 times more growth than photosynthesis and to be hundred times more effective in converting physical energy into nutritional energy than animals.

But are we ready to give up our beans?

A recent study with 642 people in Germany about willingness to eat such a product tells us that “51.6 % of all participants cited the perceived taste of the product as a barrier” or a reason not to like or eat the powder. Also 46.0 % didn’t like ”the unnaturalness” and 38.0 % were worried about the “expected high price”.

So far, the powdered microbe, Solein®, is not approved to be sold in foods in Europe, but in Singapore one can already get ice-cream or a chocolate bar based on Solein, so maybe the day of artificial food is not that far away?

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