Israeli food-tech innovations to serve a future of responsible cuisine

INNOVATION AFFAIRS: A festive meal ahead of next week’s foodtech conference addresses the future of responsible cuisine.

 CHEF ORIEL KIMCHI from Popina. (photo credit: Liran Maimon)
CHEF ORIEL KIMCHI from Popina.
(photo credit: Liran Maimon)

A festive banquet was held on Sunday at Tel Aviv’s Popina restaurant, where patrons were invited to taste the latest products of The Kitchen, a Strauss-backed foodtech hub.

Among the dishes were eggless tortellini, sugarless crackers, and so-called reductionist kebabs, served with half the beef, the rest replaced by mycelium.

The feast was held in expectation of FoodTech 2022, to be held on Monday, November 7, in the first Hebrew city.

Strauss Group chairwoman Ofra Strauss welcomed the guests and linked her firm with the future challenges Israel is expected to meet and a larger sense of mission.

“How,” she asked, “will we feed the additional two million [Israelis] who will live here? Nobody will say we founded this country,” she added, “but people might say we made the world a better place.”

“How will we feed the additional two million [Israelis] who will live here? Nobody will say we founded this country, but people might say we made the world a better place.”

Ofra Strauss

She jokingly reminded the audience that, during an age in which chefs are cultural heroes with prime-time television shows, and life-size figures of them are on display at the Herzliya wax museum, “what chefs say matters most.”

 ZERO EGG TORTELLINI with Yeap’s alternative protein cream cheese.  (credit: Liran Maimon) ZERO EGG TORTELLINI with Yeap’s alternative protein cream cheese. (credit: Liran Maimon)

What Israeli foodtech innovation was on display?

Leading the kitchen brigade that evening was chef Orel Kimchi, who lauded the advantages of kneading pasta dough with Zero Egg protein, saying it was more enjoyable to work with, and shared with patrons that his daughter Tamara is a reductionist, who attempts to reduce meat consumption.

Kimchi explained that the unique mycelium developed by Mush Foods, one of the start-ups currently working in The Kitchen, is chewy and deeply satisfying to diners. Expert sommelier Doron Mangoli selected the most suitable wines that would play to the strengths of the dishes Kimchi created.

Clad in black, which means he is welcomed at the cooking space where the action is, Mangoli set Bourgogne wine glasses in front of patrons and explained that the large bowl shape of the glass helps the wine “breathe better,” or oxidize faster.

Why does Strauss, a firm deeply connected in the Israeli mind with milk and dairy products, finance research into how milk protein can be created sans cow? The Kitchen CEO Jonathan Berger suggested that, in the past, vegetarians had to limit themselves to soy and corn patties and count themselves lucky. This all changed when Impossible Foods founder Patrick Brown opened a restaurant in San Francisco roughly five years ago that served “bloody” plant-based burgers.

The trick was done with soy leghemoglobin, or “heme,” a food additive that offers the sensation one is devouring grounded muscle tissues from real cows. Unlike the products made by Tivall, you could stick a fork in it and see “blood” coming out.

“Technology,” Berger said, “allows us to put the edge into these foods.”

He also explained that Generation Z consumers are willing to pay for sustainable foods and are deeply concerned about what they put in their bodies. Throw in social media, which forced PepsiCo to stop using brominated vegetable oil [BVO], which studies linked to nerve damage, and you see why food companies are investing in surviving the years ahead.

“They [PepsiCo] knew about BVO for years,” Berger pointed out, “yet an online post by a teenager was able to change things.”

The alchemy of future foods can be broken down into steps. The first is switching. To reduce meat consumption, companies such as Impossible Foods and Mush Foods offer plant-based substitutes.

At times, new technologies can replace a substance. Torr, for example, uses sound waves to disrupt the cell structure of cracker ingredients. This, in turn, allows the producer to dispense with sugar.

FISH IS also on the table, thanks to Plantish. Co-founded by Ofek Ron, the company is on the verge of bringing to the market 1-kg. portions of plant-based salmon produced at the cost of a few dollars. Using an innovative fusion of 3D printing and an assembly line, with each station adding to the product, Plantish is able to offer the market a quick solution to overfishing and sea pollution.

Overfishing is a huge problem, as roughly 35 billion fish and other sea creatures are taken out of the sea and never make it to our plates for various reasons, Ron pointed out. They go bad or are unattractive to buyers.

“The oceans produce more oxygen than the Amazon rain forest,” Ron told The Jerusalem Post, “but people see logging above ground and do not see the fishing nets that destroy the green lungs of the ocean. This is a huge problem.”

Switching a cut of meat or a fish cutlet on your plate with a plant-based product is a positive beginning. That being said, how will humanity replace its dependency on eggs and milk for baked goods and cheese?

“An egg is something we can whisk and use to glue [foods],” The Kitchen chief business officer Amir Zaidman told the Post, “so I consider all the applications eggs have.”

By using precision fermentation, a process in which genetically altered microorganisms (such as yeast) are programmed to produce egg-like protein, a mass of edible hen-free protein is made. This is also how milklike protein can be created without impregnating cows and taking their calves to keep the milk flowing.

“I know how to make egg protein without eggs,” Zaidman explained. “I can use biotechnology to make protein.”

ANOTHER BRANCH of biotech food alchemy is creatio ex nihilo, creating lab-grown steaks without slaughtering any cows.

By taking cow muscle stem cells and offering them growth factors (such as insulin), one is able to increase the number of such cells and get a large mass, Weizmann Institute of Science molecular cell biology department head Prof. Eldad Tzahor explained.

“Billions of cells are needed to produce 1 kg. of steak,” Tzahor said, “so we are discussing massive proliferation of muscle cells.”

To get the sensation of real steak, the cell mass is starved out of growth factors so it differentiates into functions. Some cells become fat, some cells build arteries, all to get the unique feeling of eating real meat.

Like all tricks, this, too, is built on a misdirection. There is no creation out of nothing, ex nihilo nihil fit. The stem muscle cells are taken from the raw meat at the butcher shop, or from living cows that undergo a biopsy. The public mind is attracted to a vision of guilt-free, lab-made meat, a cornucopia overflowing with bavettes, but meat is always meat.

“This industry will save cows,” Tzahor said. “To eat one million cows, you will need only one cow, and it, too, can go on living after a biopsy.”

“We also know for sure the lab-made meat is cleaner because we control what goes into it at each stage,” he added. “Nobody can say the same when the cow simply grazed.”

“We’re doing good by doing food,” head of technology scouting at The Kitchen David Leibler told the Post.

“It begins with feeding the first world; it always does. But eventually it is about feeding the world. These technologies will eventually trickle down.”