New Innovations in Food Technology
By Kenn Israel,
Founder of Innovative Nutrition Consulting
Never before have “plant based” & “clean label” been more important to the natural products industry. While certainly the industry has deep roots in vegetarian, whole food nutrition and lifestyles, I would say that we are at a societal turning point where our survival as a civilization may hinge on our ability to consciously transform how we feed ourselves.
In the last 100 years the principal causes of death for humans transitioned from those driven by deficiency and inadequacy to those of overabundance and toxicity. Plant based and clean label technologies are essential to arrest the negative impact on planetary ecology and human health that our food choices are creating. For this transition, there are few companies that possess the deep engineering competence, experience, and vision required to enable this next generation of food. KeyLeaf is one such company that is leading the charge in clean, healthy, and sustainable foods.
Protein has risen in the mass consciousness as the essential macro element in our diets. While this understanding is not necessarily true (balance in one’s diet is critical) the role of plant-based protein is emerging as a means of feeding 8 billion-plus hungry humans (and our companion and food animals). What is becoming clear is that using animal-based agriculture to convert plant biomass to protein is not sustainable at the scale required.
Protein extraction from terrestrial and aquatic plants, and creating the growth media for GMO 2.0 yeast, bacterial, and fungal generation of protein, is a core competence of the KeyLeaf team of scientists. The crude protein from plants is now able to be further optimized to actually compete in quality with the traditional highest quality proteins from eggs, milk, and various forms of meat. Optimized extraction and secondary processing allow plant-based proteins to outperform animal derived protein at a small fraction of the carbon footprint and at a lower nitrogen loss factor (nitrogen loss = nitrogen inputs minus net delivered nitrogen from final dietary protein).
Another area where KeyLeaf excels, albeit not a sexy ingredient like proteins, is fats. However, fats do play a critically important role in human nutrition and are one of the three principal macronutrients addressed in this article. The balance of saturated versus unsaturated (roughly solid or liquid at body temperature) and the ratio of different lengths and structures of fats (mostly omega 3 versus omega 6, but also omega 7, 9, & 11) have enormous health implications. Typically, and a long-held belief that is now being challenged, is a diet that favors longer chain, unsaturated omega 3 fats is healthier than one that features saturated fats, like those found in grain-fed animal meat. The supply of healthy and high-quality fats launched the fish oil industry and converted what was a pesky bi-product of protein-rich fish meal (used for chicken & pig feed as well as fertilizer) into the principal reason pelagic fish like anchovy and sardine are harvested.
Similar to the way KeyLeaf has revolutionized the protein space, they have also reinvented the way high-quality oils are produced by bypassing the fish and going straight to the source – microalgae. Extracting DHA and other important omega 3 fatty acids from algae can massively reduce the burden on our overfished oceans, completely eliminate environmental contaminants from the process, sequester atmospheric Carbon, and produce an oil of unrivaled purity and potency. This is presently very important as fisheries are not producing expected output of biomass and oil quality has declined. Having decades of experience in extracting lipids from both terrestrial and aquatic biomass and creating processes from benchtop to factory scale multiple times for many finished product types allows for efficient and speedy innovation and execution. Extensive experience with the plant-based lipids is also allowing for new innovations and the isolation of novel lipids that have significant health implications. New developments in lipid metabolites will be a driver of innovation in this segment for years to come.
The third macronutrient is often looked at with distrust and perhaps fear, but today carbohydrates are experiencing a renaissance with key new learnings about the microbiome and, from an industrial perspective, the need for novel substrates for precision fermentation (GMO 2.0). Both trends and the now expanded market require an innovative approach and competence in biomass processing to create the resistant starches and novel sugars to disrupt and lead this emerging segment.
Science is uncovering the power of complex resistant starches and the intricate interactions between these compounds, our intestinal microbiome, and their nuanced downstream health implications. We are also now learning to utilize rapidly growing microorganisms as bio manufacturers of compounds previously only found minuscule amounts in rare plants. Feeding these microorganisms, the correct inputs require precision processing of feed stocks, usually grain and root-derived, that empower this new wave in precision agriculture.
KeyLeaf, and companies like it, are the pioneers of these advanced processing and food technologies. The food ecosystem is shifting and as the planet becomes ever more populated, old paradigms are being replaced with innovative, sustainable and circular solutions. I’m very proud to say that KeyLeaf is a leader in this charge.