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when given enough pressure and proper temperature, it shows amazing magic!
The surface is crispy, the inside is soft, and the hot French fries are always coveted. However, no matter how well packaged French fries are, they can’t “perfectly reproduce” the ready-made French fries in fast food restaurants. Many people will attribute the essential difference between the two to “freshness”. In fact, the “freshly baked” French fries are not as fresh as people think. In order to reduce costs, save time and improve operation efficiency, semi-finished products represented by frozen French fries are usually the best choice for catering businesses.
Cold chain transportation with aging as the core. Source: pispl’s
In order to maintain the freshness of semi-finished food materials, the expensive temperature control cold chain has always been the core for the survival of catering food enterprises. However, the increasing challenges of cold chain transportation in terms of operating cost, process control and sustainability make the practitioners who have been constrained by the cold chain for a long time have a more urgent demand for technological change.
There is a start-up company in New York, the United States, which breaks the conventional idea of freezing preservation and uses supercritical CO2 technology to create French fries without freezing, reduces the dependence on refrigeration facilities and improves the long-term sustainability of the supply chain. At present, the company has obtained more than ten million US dollars of financing.
Using new technology to create a new concept of “keeping fresh at room temperature”, why did the start-up company only aim at French fries? What changes can the “supercritical fluid”, which sounds very tall, bring to the food industry? Will supercritical technology overturn the situation of relying on the cold chain to maintain the preservation of food and beverage semi-finished products for decades?
The technology dreams of the two boys,
Start by transforming French fries
Vipul Saran, co-founder and chief technology officer of farm farms, grew up in an ordinary Indian agricultural family. Saran sees the cold chain environmental costs faced by the agricultural product supply chain and the monetary costs that sometimes exceed the value of the product itself. “In India, cold chain transportation costs about $3000, while ordinary normal temperature transportation is only $90.”
When studying as a graduate student in food science at Cornell University, Vipul Saran, who has a deep understanding of the disadvantages of the cold chain, began to explore the solution path – another choice outside the cold chain. How can we use innovative food processing technology to enable people to create added value from these perishable foods with high fresh-keeping requirements, so as to avoid the need for refrigeration or freezing as much as possible?
Source: Cornell University
As the only Ivy League university to offer food specialty, Cornell University has strong comprehensive strength in food discipline, ranking among the top three in the world all year round. With the support of the top academic resources in the University, saran accidentally found the application possibility of supercritical fluid in food preservation when studying various fresh preservation methods. Under the guidance and help of Syed Rizvi, Professor of Food Science Department of College of agriculture and Life Sciences, saran team successfully developed food preservation technology related to supercritical CO2 and applied for a patent.
Technological breakthrough is only the first step, and there is still a long way to go before the real commercial application. Saran is looking for students in different fields at Cornell University to help him realize this business potential idea, including Annunziata, co-founder and CEO of farm farms. Annunziata is an MBA student at Cornell University. He met saran in an entrepreneurship course. They found it possible to create a sustainable and efficient company by combining their business and financial background with their research experience in food science. The two hit it off and finally decided to set the “French fries” that Americans eat the most frequently as the first test site of supercritical CO2 technology.
Since the first invention of frozen French fries in 1940, frozen preservation has dominated the product supply chain of French fries. By avoiding refrigeration, the world’s first commercial French fries without refrigeration are regarded as the first bullet of their innovative business plan. The goal is to open up new markets with innovative technologies in areas lacking refrigeration, while reducing costs and carbon emissions.
In the same year, they officially launched the entrepreneurship project – founded farmer farms aimed at developing the next generation of sustainable food processing technology, and registered the student entrepreneurship accelerator elab of Cornell University. At the beginning of its establishment, farmer farms maintained close cooperation with the technology licensing center CTL of Cornell University and obtained the formal authorization of supercritical technology. In 2018, farmer farms joined Rev: Ithaca startup works (a business accelerator in Ithaca, New York) and received strong support from Cornell University, Ithaca College and Tompkins Cortland community college.
Annunziata and saran make a project presentation at the entrepreneurship accelerator elab. Source: Cornell University
Sitting on the famous high-quality entrepreneurial resources inside and outside the school, farmer farms lived up to its expectations and handed over a bright financing report card. In the autumn of 2017, shortly after its establishment, the company completed the seed round financing of Launch New York, a New York venture development agency, of US $25000. The following year, Annunziata and saran received US $225000 from the National Science Foundation for the first phase of research, and built a pilot production plant in Rochester, New York. Saran said: “this investment will enable us to continue to develop and accelerate the pace of R & D Based on the success of the seed financing round in the autumn of 2017.”
With the continuous expansion of business, farmer farms successfully raised US $12 million this year, led by strategic investors such as endico potatoes, a large potato product distributor, including Richard Porter, former president of lamb Weston, a frozen French fries manufacturer.
In June 2021, farmer farms announced that Ghislaine Joly, who has 25 years of experience in food R & D, would be appointed Vice President of product R & D and innovation. Joly was the chief scientist of lamb Weston holdings, the product development director of ConAgra brands and the project leader of national startup and chemical. Joly’s joining is undoubtedly a milestone in the company’s development history. In the words of CEO Annunziata, “she will become the core figure of the company’s future innovation engine”.
Recently, farmerfarms is vigorously selling their flagship products – consumers can taste the company’s French fries in Luna inspired street food in Ithaca, New York and the hideaway and radio social in Rochester. John Hanna, President of endico potatoes, an investor and distributor of farm farms, said: although they are not refrigerated, most customers believe that these French fries still maintain high flavor quality.
Farmer farms is the only food company that uses supercritical CO2 in food preservation. The company is also trying to steadily improve the production capacity of the factory on the premise of ensuring technical operation and product quality. French fries is just the beginning of farmer farms. In the future, they will try to extend the technology to more fresh categories, and also set foot in various food forms from solid, semi-solid to liquid, trying to maximize the applicability of the technology.
Break the temperature control formula,
Will supercritical technology set off a new revolution in the cold chain?
At present, most food distribution in the world depends on cold chain transportation, and the cold chain market is expanding rapidly. According to the report of China’s cold chain market 2020-2024 by technavio, China’s cold chain market is expected to grow by US $44.23 billion from 2020 to 2024, with a CAGR of nearly 19%. As an expensive temperature control supply chain, the cold chain infrastructure in many developing countries is still quite rudimentary. Data show that compared with 490000 cubic meters of cold storage space for urban residents in the United States, China and Brazil are only 130000 cubic meters and 100000 cubic meters respectively.
The lack of cold chain facilities has become the main cause of food waste. According to statistics, the lack of refrigeration equipment in developing countries has led to the loss of more than 200 million tons of perishable food, equivalent to 14% of the total food consumption. In addition, as 40% of food needs to be refrigerated, 15% of the global power consumption is used for refrigeration, which is a real “energy consumption” household. The sustainability of the cold chain is also unsatisfactory. Up to 40% of the gas emissions in refrigerated truck transportation are attributed to the on-board steam compression system required for refrigeration, which exacerbates the carbon emissions in the supply chain.
The main principle of cold chain transportation is to inhibit microbial activity and reduce deterioration through low temperature, but the path to control microbial growth is by no means freezing. Supercritical CO2 also has this potential. Supercritical phenomenon is to transform CO2 gas-liquid two-phase into a state between liquid and gas – supercritical CO2 fluid when it exceeds the critical pressure and temperature. This fluid has gas like diffusivity, low viscosity and high solubility of liquid like.
The extraction is carried out under the cover of supercritical CO2 fluid close to room temperature (35-40 ℃), with mild conditions, which will not destroy the activity of bioactive components and change the microstructure of the material. As a green extraction technology, supercritical fluid has been widely used in Chinese medicine extraction, flavor and fragrance, oil products, food, materials and other fields.
Source: Canadian food business
Instead of extraction, farmer farms used “supercritical CO2 fluid” for pasteurization to create a new category of packaged food and explore new market opportunities. Supercritical fluid sterilization will completely inactivate the enzymes causing food browning and microorganisms causing corruption, and extend the shelf life to 90 days without preservatives. Compared with traditional high-temperature steam or hot water sterilization, supercritical technology with mild conditions has more advantages in protecting food integrity and nutritional value, and has great application potential in the preservation of many types of ready to eat foods, including fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meat and plant meat substitutes.
Supercritical technology not only makes food have better preservation effect, but also greatly reduces the cold chain cost of restaurants. Due to the relatively long and stable shelf life, many restaurants that use farm farms fries say that their serving time has been shortened by half. From an environmental perspective, the less we rely on refrigerators, the less food waste and greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced, and the image of restaurants in the eyes of consumers will become more and more amiable. “
Raise “color”, get rid of “harm” and protect “life”,
Eighteen martial arts of supercritical fluid
In the supercritical state, the fluid often shows extremely complex and changeable characteristics – “like fog, like rain and like wind”, which is very “Schrodinger” physique and endowed with unique talents. As we all know, liquid CO2 is a non-polar solvent, which can only dissolve non-polar substances according to the principle of similar miscibility. However, when CO2 enters the supercritical state, the performance of the solvent will burst instantly, and polar substances can also be dissolved. Because of the gas quality, the surface tension and viscosity of supercritical CO2 are very low, but the diffusion speed and permeability are very strong, so its dissolution speed will be much faster than that of ordinary solvents.
Because of this magical characteristic, in addition to the incarnation of “French fries preservation guard”, supercritical CO2 can simulate the polarity of different molecules by adjusting temperature and pressure, carry out customized extraction for different molecules, and its aromatic components are not easy to be oxidized and destroyed. Thanks to this, supercritical fluid technology has made considerable progress in the research and application of hops effective ingredients extraction, natural fragrance plants, natural flavors extracted from fruits and vegetables, pigment and flavor compounds, extraction of animal and vegetable oils from plants and animals, removal of caffeine from coffee beans or tea leaves, removal of nicotine from tobacco, removal of cholesterol from milk fat and deodorization of foods. Some of them have been industrialized in Germany, Japan and other countries.
The application of supercritical fluid extraction (SFE) technology in China’s food industry is gradually moving from laboratory research to industrialization. As early as 1993, seabuckthorn oil industrial extraction device was built in China, which successfully filled the industrialization gap of SFE technology. In 1996, Tsinghua university built a pilot plant of hops extract SFE, which increased the utilization rate of hops in China from 25% to about 90%.
The unique properties of supercritical fluid also play a significant role in microencapsulation and nano encapsulation, and provide a new technical path for the development of pharmaceuticals. The key links of drug research and development include microencapsulation and nano encapsulation of drug delivery, Using the adjustable characteristics of supercritical CO2 under different operating conditions (flow ratio, temperature, pressure, etc.), the particle size and drug loading can be designed and controlled to achieve more accurate microencapsulation treatment. This technology is mainly used in the preparation of drug capsules, but it also has considerable potential in the preparation of probiotics or other functional components requiring sustained release.
In June this year, the Israeli company solabia algatech nutrition launched a microencapsulated cold water dispersion powder containing 2.5% natural astaxanthin, and its core technology is supercritical fluid. Astaxanthin is a natural powerful carotenoid, which is highly soluble in oil. It is very challenging to obtain an aqueous solution of astaxanthin. Astaxanthin was extracted from Haematococcus pluvialis microalgae by supercritical CO2. The microcapsule powder can be completely and easily dispersed in cold water in a few seconds. The company said the new formula would be an ideal solution for a variety of energy drinks, instant supplements and suspensions.
Although supercritical fluid technology has many advantages, it still faces many challenges to expand its application in the food industry.
Firstly, with the expansion of technology scale and a deeper understanding of the kinetic mechanism involved in the processing process, the process yield of bioactive compounds is bound to need to be improved. Secondly, food safety is the basis of industrial development. It is necessary to deeply evaluate the interaction between supercritical fluid molecules and food components. If they are incorporated into the food matrix, the main mechanism of their beneficial effects on human health needs to be further explored.
Third, the most commonly used solvent in supercritical fluid technology is CO2, and the target material is mainly nonpolar components. How to effectively match entrainers to extract more polar substances is still a topic worthy of discussion. Due to the density limitation of supercritical fluid itself, it is still challenging to extract macromolecular substances from protein and other by-products by using this technology, which is believed to be one of the important breakthroughs of this technology in the future.
How can supercritical technology enable new consumption?
With the emergence of lazy economy and epidemic situation, “convenience” and “health” have become the primary considerations when many people consume food. Nowadays, “prefabricated dishes” and “functional foods” are attracting more and more brands. With the intense market competition, how to build a moat with technology has become a problem that brands must consider. Supercritical technology plays an important role in commercial war.
1. Lock the soul of prefabricated dishes, and supercritical technology helps the standardized production of “flavor substances”
Originated in the United States in the 1960s, prefabricated dishes were first used in standardized fast food chain restaurants such as McDonald’s and KFC. After entering China in 2000, it mainly provides semi-finished products for restaurants to improve the efficiency of food preparation. In 2020, limited by the epidemic situation, the frequency of dining out for the public was greatly reduced, and the demand for home life was strong. Prefabricated vegetable enterprises began to focus on the C-end consumer group, and the b-end scene was also extended beyond the restaurants. Convenience stores, boutique supermarkets and fresh e-commerce began to layout prefabricated dishes one after another.
The C-end prefabricated vegetable track is now in full swing, thanks to the high maturity of the b-end industry. With the rapid development of the central kitchen and the large-scale coverage of prefabricated dishes, the catering kitchen has long become an industry consensus. The idea that prefabricated dishes replace restaurant chefs has once become a hot topic. The standardized production of flavor substances is the key factor in the industrialization of prefabricated vegetables. Recently, it was announced that “Lihe flavor”, which successively completed the round C and round C + financing of US $51 million, is a unique “flavor home” in production technology.
The core technology of Lihe flavor extraction is supercritical CO2 fluid extraction of natural products and marine bioactive substances. Its four factories of spices, flavor extracts, seasonings and prepared food have provided diversified fast food solutions for domestic chain restaurants, supermarkets, convenience stores and e-commerce customers for many years.
Lihe flavor has built the largest supercritical CO2 extraction plant in Asia in Longnan, Gansu, the core production area of red pepper. The fourth generation supercritical CO2 extraction equipment developed by Lihe is installed in the plant, with an upgraded capacity of more than 10000 and automation. Compared with the traditional fried spice oil, the spice extracted oil made by supercritical extraction technology has the advantages of removing heavy metals, compounding, quantifiable, fast flavor release and so on. Zanthoxylum bungeanum extract oil can quantify the hemp degree, and can be compounded according to the needs of customers, so as to form richer flavor substances, taking into account the standardization and personalized needs of customers.
2. Extraction of functional vegetable oils by supercritical technology
Seabuckthorn oil contains more than 100 kinds of bioactive substances such as unsaturated fatty acids and vitamins. It has the effects of nourishing cardiovascular and cerebrovascular vessels, reducing blood lipid, nourishing face and anti-aging. It is regarded as a precious functional edible oil. However, the low yield of seabuckthorn oil greatly limits its deep utilization and industrial development, resulting in short supply of related products and high market price.
In 1999, Inner Mongolia Aerospace people company successfully applied supercritical CO2 extraction of seabuckthorn oil, a key scientific and technological research project of the eighth five year plan, to the field of seabuckthorn production, thus opening the curtain of domestic high-tech production of seabuckthorn products. Supercritical technology has the advantages of short production cycle, high extraction efficiency, safety and reliability, and has advantages in the retention of bioactive components of seabuckthorn oil. At present, astronautic has mastered a number of world-class technologies such as supercritical CO2 extraction. It has four Seabuckthorn health foods, as well as patented technologies for the comprehensive development, utilization and production of seabuckthorn. It has 10 patents and is in a leading position in the same industry.
Camellia oleifera seed oil is one of the oldest woody edible vegetable oils in China, and it is also a characteristic plant resource in Hunan Province. Hunan Heguang Biotechnology Co., Ltd. successfully realized the rapid and efficient large-scale production of Camellia oleifera seed oil through the first large-scale supercritical CO2 extraction production line independently designed and built in China, shortened the extraction time to 2.5 hours, increased the production efficiency to more than 3 times than the original technology, and greatly reduced the production cost.
The extracted Camellia oleifera seed oil not only has high quality, high safety, efficacy and rich active components, but also its yield is more than 25% higher than that of the traditional pressing method. The by-product can also directly replace the detergent commonly used in families as a pure natural detergent, which is not only safe and environmentally friendly, but also time-saving and labor-saving. This new technical system directly makes the net profit of the production link 1 to 2 times higher than that of the traditional pressing method, helps to completely change the old appearance of meager processing profit of traditional Camellia oleifera enterprises, and provides solid technical support for industrial take-off.
Inspired by the pain of cold chain transportation in their hometown, the two founders of farmerfarms found efficient and feasible scientific and technological solutions. In many technical frontier reports of foodaily in the past, we can see such technological entrepreneurship cases inspired by the problems of people’s livelihood. It is also concerned about the pain points of consumption. Why are some technologies ignored and always lying in the “warehouse” of the founders? And some can shine in a short time and realize commercialization quickly? Foodaily believes that in addition to the gold content and high threshold of technology itself, whether people’s livelihood, society and environment can be taken into account is the key to determine the prospect of technology commercialization.
From its early use in the preparation of active pharmaceutical ingredients to its flowering everywhere in various food fields, and even in the current hot tide of carbon neutralization research, “supercritical CO2” has also become one of the technical means to achieve efficient carbon capture. Its unique charm makes foodaily pay more attention to the commercialization process of domestic supercritical fluid, and hope that it can energize and accelerate more tracks and tuyeres!
As one of the most abundant gases on earth, CO2 can contribute to the cold chain revolution. What kind of technology story is more exciting than “reducing carbon by carbon”?
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