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It is unexpected that the “northwest wind”, which was taken by young people at the beginning, has become one of the most popular new rich ingredients at present and in the next five to ten years.
Air, an important material that surrounds us at this moment and makes every living life in our breath, has gradually penetrated into all aspects of food production and application. Bellwether, director of food trends, predicts that as we move towards 2030, the global focus on sustainable food systems and more innovative food demand will lead to the emergence of air as “the biggest ingredient of the future.”. It can be predicted that in the near future, “drinking the wind from the west” will be able to fill the stomach, and it may no longer be just a joke.
What will human beings eat in the future?
Making food out of air is not a new concept. As early as the 1960s, NASA studied converting carbon dioxide exhaled by astronauts into a food source for longer space missions with limited resources. They came up with the idea of a “closed-loop carbon recycling system,” which collects carbon dioxide exhaled by astronauts, uses microbes to use it as a source of energy, and hydrogenates it into food that astronauts can eat.
Photo source: Google, the process of food production in a closed-loop carbon cycle system
By 2050, the global population will reach 10 billion. Researchers have not warned us several times that our current way of producing and consuming food is unsustainable, which will cause billions of people to face hunger, lack of nutrition, and irreversible climate damage to the earth. Obviously, with the global attention to population growth, sustainable food system and climate change on the agenda in 2030, the seemingly remote problem of what human beings will eat in the future can no longer be avoided.
In this context, a large number of food technology companies take the lead in shouldering this mission, using cutting-edge technology to develop a new generation of sustainable food. In addition to the plant meat craze set off by beyond meat and impossible foods, this “creation out of thin air” technology, which was developed 50 years ago for space, is also being picked up by scientists and start-ups, returning to the earth and redefining the future food for ordinary people.
In 2019, Finland based solar Foods announced the development of solein, a complete protein ingredient made from carbon dioxide, air and renewable electricity, which contains 50% protein, 5-10% fat, 20-25% carbohydrate and vitamin B. In terms of taste and appearance, it is similar to wheat flour and belongs to neutral taste. Therefore, it can be used in ice cream, meat, bread and other foods to improve protein content.
Photo source: solar foods
At the end of 2019, air protein, a Chicago start-up, announced the launch of its first air-based protein based meat product. The technology comes from the air-based food manufacturing technology launched by its parent company kiverdi. The company can also produce sustainable fish feed, fertilizer and palm oil through air. In January 2021, the company received a $32 million round a financing led by Adm.
Air protein launches the first air based meat. Image source: air protein
How to realize it technically? Whether it’s solar foods or air protein, its technical inspiration comes from space technology. The process is similar to that of fermented food. Hydrogen nutrition bacteria are used as fermentation bacteria, solar energy and electric energy are used as energy, carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen, water and minerals in the air are used to obtain carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and other elements needed to form amino acid skeleton, and finally converted into protein and other nutrients. (details: through fermentation technology to produce protein, will human beings be saved in the future?)
Image source: air protein
In addition to comprehensive nutrition, this protein production system can also solve the problems of arable land, energy and environment. This technology does not need a lot of land resources and water resources, which is 100 times more climate friendly than animal or plant alternative food, and is not restricted by weather or other natural conditions, such as insects or diseases. In the production process, there is no need to use any pesticides, herbicides, hormones or antibiotics.
In addition, it takes only a few hours to produce air meat. In the same land area, using air based protein technology can obtain one million times more protein than beef in one year.
At present, this technology is still in the laboratory stage, but it can be imagined that if this technology is commercialized on a large scale in the future, the burden of human food and environmental system will be greatly reduced. This technology developed for exploring the universe may really become the key to the realization of carbon neutral and sustainable circular economy on the earth.
Food Innovation: air, texture and sense
Looking up at the starry universe, we fall back to the ordinary world.
If air-based food is still a long way away from us, we will find that air has quietly existed in many ordinary foods in the form of bubbles or pores, such as bread, beer, ice cream, milk cap, Melaleuca, waffle, champagne and carbonated drinks, etc., as a physical component of food, it has become a heavy food Food “ingredients” that should and should not be lacked.
Bubbles in champagne, image source: Quinn Dombrowski
Take popcorn as an example, of which at least 95% is air, the air content of puffed rice is 90%, the highest air content of bread and cake is 85%, ice cream is 20-50%, and cotton candy is 75%
Throughout the history of global food, it can be said that air has always been an important factor in creating amazing food and beverage. It is through creativity, experiment and technology that chemists, chefs and technicians intentionally or unintentionally add air and bubbles to food that all kinds of kitchens and industrial gas containing food mentioned above were born.
How to form aerated food?
Air can be mixed into food through a variety of technologies. One is similar to milk cap, which can produce bubbles through continuous stirring / whipping; the other is to introduce gas through frying, puffing and other processes, and can also be produced by adding raw materials that can produce gas, such as yeast, leavening agent, etc.
The introduction of gas into food not only requires the ingenious combination and balance of gas and food raw materials in the processing process to achieve a satisfactory texture, but also requires multiple tests such as time and transportation to maintain stability in the final form displayed before eating. Therefore, how to maintain the stability of bubbles has become a new science.
For example, tiny bubbles in the champagne will appear soon after pouring out, just making the bubbles rise from the bottom of the glass to the surface, causing a tingling sensation when we drink it.
The foam structure of creamy or fluffy protein should be kept for a few minutes to a few hours.
The bubbles in inflatable chocolate bars should be kept at a certain distance as needed, because they provide a pleasant melting effect in the mouth that traditional non inflatable chocolate bars do not have.
Therefore, maintaining and stabilizing these bubbles is also critical to the development of idealized food texture outside the formation of foam structures. This stabilizing effect is usually assisted by components called stabilizers (mainly emulsifiers), such as monoglycerides, two glycerides and other emulsifiers, which often appear in bread and ice cream ingredients tables, and help to ensure bubbles in food matrix. Uniform and fine distribution, and maintain stability during the shelf life.
Why is sense of air so important?
Lighter. Objectively speaking, filling food with gas is to increase the volume of the product without adding nutrients and heat, which helps to transform hard food into lighter, more delicious and easier to digest forms. For example, compared with normal biscuits, wafer biscuits are much lighter and crispy, and melt in the mouth.
More attractive texture. Different foods can produce unique texture and attraction by adjusting the gas content and bubble distribution, which makes many original ordinary food materials can be transformed into foods with novel organizational structure. For example, bubbles bring a sense of smoothness and enjoyment to ice cream, lightness to puffs, crispness to biscuits and bubbles to carbonated drinks Foam feeling
The microstructure of ice cream. Source: ResearchGATE
Another typical example is inflatable chocolate. When hot chocolate is injected with inert gases such as nitrogen and nitrous oxide, uniform and continuous pores will be formed when chocolate solidifies. Compared with ordinary chocolate, inflatable chocolate has a light, crisp and soft taste, which is easier to chew and melt in the mouth. The British aero brand, which is famous for its bubble texture, has been producing this new texture chocolate since 1935, which is very popular among consumers. In 1988, the brand was acquired by Nestle. Today, the brand produces more than 8 million people to eat inflatable chocolate every year.
In addition, the bubbles in food also help to enhance the perception of flavor. For example, the bubbles in drinks can send odor molecules into the deep of the mouth and nose, making drinks have stronger flavor stimulation. It is based on this principle that many researchers are studying the effect of reducing sugar, salt and fat without reducing flavor through the stomatal structure of food.
On the other hand, from the perspective of visual effect, some researchers found that high inflation in food can bring consumers a higher sense of satiety and reduce food intake. These results provide a new and interesting idea for the development of health food / weight management and other foods.
Fascinated by the taste, the infinite possibility of air +
Innova takes “taste obsessed” as one of the top ten food and beverage trends in 2020. In addition to satiety and basic nutritional needs, consumers have a higher level of demand for food, such as the pleasure and enjoyment brought by food. The key to stimulate these unique sensory experience is the texture and taste of food.
Innova’s research shows that 70% of consumers around the world think that taste brings more interesting experience to food and beverage, and 60% say that taste claims of food and beverage will affect purchase decisions. This means that through new processing technology, continuous innovation of product texture and taste has become an important tool to attract consumers.
This is where the “biggest ingredient of the future” air can be used. It can change the texture of food, bring new experiences, reduce snack intake, promote health and, in some cases, even reduce costs.
“It’s like a little box in chocolate: when you put it in your mouth, all the edges of the chocolate touch your mouth, and you feel like you’re eating a big piece of chocolate. But actually, most of the lattices are air. So you’re going to have an interesting eating experience without actually consuming too much cocoa itself
Chocolate lattice in Cadbury’s curly chocolate bar; photo by gettyimages
Dairy products are becoming popular in the field of inflatable technology. For example, through continuous stirring, thick and creamy milk caps can be produced. Cargill’s colloid business is focusing on the innovation of new texture products such as inflatable quark yogurt. They believe that “it is fully possible to create high-quality inflatable products through the ingenious combination of protein, expander and starch.” These bubbles can help dairy products to create a more enjoyable taste, as well as in desserts.
All kinds of inflatable dairy products, source: Buhler
Looking forward to the future of food, when consumers’ demand for food has changed into the pursuit of more sustainable, more wonderful and novel experience, researchers are more and more meticulous in the study of food microstructure, and the importance of air in food is self-evident.
In the future, with the in-depth study of this subject, such as how to produce bubbles in specific foods? What kind of new species can air produce and give birth to new food categories? How to commercialize? I believe that by then, there will be a future food world full of novelty, charm and delicacy. At that time, you can rest assured of bold ridicule, I am “drinking from the west”.
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