3/6/2022

There is no alternative to tasting good

Closeup image of food

People have not changed inherently in the past 10 000 years. They will choose foods that feel familiar and taste great. That’s why we are constantly testing Solein: we have already made several familiar, delicious, and incredibly sustainable dishes.

The future of food will inevitably contain changes since the present way of producing food is driving climate change, soil degradation and the destruction of Earth’s biodiversity. The good news is that even though the food of tomorrow will be different on a chemical level compared to today – it will look, feel, and taste like what you are used to.

More carrot, less stick

Solar Foods has a food production solution that creates a better tomorrow, bite by bite. A food out of thin air, which does not require agriculture and at a global scale can tip the balance toward carbon negativity. However, sustainable choices only matter if people are ready to make them.

Change is stressful when it is imposed on us. The feeling is amplified when something very familiar, such as the food we eat every day, is put into question. If and when governments start to take action against unsustainable agricultural practices and factory farming, is the age of eating meat over? Will we be priced out of our favourite comfort foods? Will the local supermarket still stock the foods you buy every week? Will the future taste the same?

Your grocery list hasn’t changed, the ingredients in your groceries have

It is extremely hard to change people’s eating preferences. For example, in Europe, we have been eating bread, cheese and ham for thousands of years. However, if you look at the ingredients of each, they have all transformed. Bread may contain palm oil and preservatives, processed cheese is made with emulsifiers and pigs are fed soybeans – all of these changes have happened in the last century. The food has remained familiar, but it is not the same.

Food producers have successfully developed their products for years to bring us the variety of foods with different ingredients we have today. Most of the time the results are beneficial, making the food slower to spoil, easier to produce, or safer and tastier to eat. We can only expect more food development in the future. The next round of food development will be one that tackles the ethical and ecological problems of food production.

Solein is a natural ingredient with hundreds of uses

Our first product Solein is a novel food product, there are no existing handbooks which outline the best ways to apply it to different foods. That’s why we must study and test it from the ground up and uncover the potential of this new food ingredient we discovered in the Finnish wilderness: its nutrients, chemical reactions with other ingredients, how it forms structures, and what methods we can use to turn it into food applications.

It’s hands-on work: it is the job of our product development to test Solein with other ingredients and discover what we can create. With trial and error, we find stable combinations that can be replicated to create new forms or applications of the product. Once we discover the right structure and form, we can start developing and testing the taste and even give it to a chef to test in a dish.

We have already made over 20 food applications and there are more to come. For example, we cooked wild mushroom ravioli where eggs in the pasta dough were replaced with a Solein-alternative, the filling had Solein-based cream cheese and the dairy foam that topped the dish was created with a Solein-based dairy alternative. For our food scientists, it was a fascinating experiment; for our foodies, it was a delicious experience. Since then, we have also tested bao buns with teriyaki-glazed alternative meat strips, and a kaffir lime ice cream, all delicious enough to serve at a fine dining restaurant.

All food is chemistry and your tongue is the receptor

When you break it down, foods are multicomponent systems of different chemical components acting with each other. Solein is an extremely versatile protein ingredient chemically. We have methods of turning it into liquids resembling milk. With extrusion, we can give it a meat-like texture, or emulsify it with oil to create an alternative mayonnaise. Solein is also a highly sustainable alternative compared to meat and plant-based proteins, which require gargantuan amounts of chemical inputs: water, nutrients in the soil and fertilisers or animal feed. Solein production is easy to scale up because the key resources (carbon dioxide and renewable energy) are plentiful. Our first Solein factory, Factory 01, is set to be completed in 2023. It will be the first of many to come. However, even with chemical viability, industrial potential and miraculous ecological implications, food needs to be tasty. Even the greatest ingredient will go to waste if it fails to find its place at our dinner tables.

Farmers win too

Having the bulk of humanity’s protein consumption produced ‘out of thin air’ means that we could restore traditional agriculture to a state where it is done sustainably: taking care of the soil, growing less but better, and caring for animals. Consumers would savour the ecologically farmed goods and pay more for quality. Farmers would ditch factory farming, find a newfound love for their profession, and get a premium for their natural produce.

You taste it best when you taste nothing at all

Solein’s biggest hooks are its functionality, versatility, and – surprisingly – its lack of a distinct taste. It easily blends with other ingredients without interfering with familiar flavours. Our product development will keep testing to create new versions of beloved foods, combining Solein with other natural ingredients. We believe the future of food is one where we will still eat the foods we’re used to. The caveat is that they will be made completely differently. But warm bread will still be comforting, cheese will have a creamy buttery taste, and ham will taste smoky and savoury.