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Advancing Plant-Based Food Innovation Launched in Singapore

Image Credits: SIT, Press Release

The Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and a leading agricultural supply chain company recently jointly launched a research programme to accelerate Singapore’s capabilities in enabling a sustainable and efficient supply of plant-based food alternatives.

This partnership will see a first-of-its-kind research programme that is aimed at leveraging science and technology to improve the extraction of proteins from plants to maximise protein quality, yield and functionality, and to render the extraction process greener. To enable this, the four-year collaboration will see the establishment of Singapore’s first Research & Development (R&D) platform focused on extraction and processing capabilities, with Agrocorp being the university’s anchor partner.

Specifically, the research programme seeks to improve plant protein quality by tweaking the protein recovery process to minimise their denaturation, and validating the proteins’ functionality in food products developed. Traditional methods of extraction are often marked by the challenge of ‘high cost, low functionality’ – where drawbacks include low protein quality, intensive use of water and high cost of scaling. Understanding how ingredient extraction processes can be achieved using greener methods can decrease cost curves, facilitate clean labelling of food products, and enhance quality.

The joint R&D effort will feature advanced food technology and methods to achieve the extraction of plant-based proteins under greener conditions and upcycling of agri-waste. Amongst the technology used is the Pulsed Electric Field, a method of using short electrical impulses of high voltage to permeabilise plant cell membrane under non-thermal conditions; and enzymatic-based release of proteins from plants. The findings from the research programme will be used to optimise Agrocorp’s ongoing product development process and enhance the quality of their plant-based products for consumers.

The Vice President (Applied Research) at SIT stated that the growing consumer demand for plant-based foods as well as the ongoing concerns around health and climate change, the goal of this research programme is to study how we can sustainably produce plant-based food that can be both nutritious and affordable.

Added that the team is excited to chart new frontiers in the food technology space with the company and hopes that the outcomes of this research programme will enable a more resilient and sustainable local food supply, in support of Singapore’s ‘30 by 30’ goal.

The Director of Strategic Investments at the agricultural supply chain company stated that the move represents a milestone partnership for the firm in its pursuit of becoming a market leader in the global plant protein space. By improving yields and reducing water and chemical requirements, the aim is to produce a more cost-effective, sustainable and clean label ingredient that will allow dairy and meat replacements to compete more closely with their contemporaries.

The two parties’ collaboration over the past year saw the development of plant-based products such as cheeses, eggs and meats. In 2021, the firm launched HerbYvore, its brand of plant-based products including the best-seller Pea Paneer, which is currently available at NTUC Finest and selected restaurants.

More product developments are in the pipeline such as a plant-based cheddar and mozzarella, both of which will be prototyped and manufactured at SIT’s upcoming shared facility for small-batch food production that is anticipated to be ready within the second quarter of 2022.

An Associate Professor at SIT added that innovation in the food technology space is critical to game-change the state of food security in Singapore. SIT aims to meet Singapore’s increasing demand for sustainable and high nutritional food products through applied research and by working closely with companies to commercialise our research findings in products and processes.

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