Brownies made from food processing by-products, duckweed instant noodles, mung bean jelly and crunchy caterpillars — these protein-rich snacks were presented at the inaugural NUS FoodTech Challenge as the possible future of food.
Organised by NUS Enterprise and the NUS Food Science and Technology (NUS FST), the week-long competition held from 10 to 17 July aimed to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship among students in the food technology industry. Tasked with developing a proposal or prototype of alternative proteins under the theme “Sustainable Protein, Beyond Soy”, 22 teams comprising students from universities and polytechnics vied for the top prize of $1,500 in cash, as well as a $10,000 grant and incubation at NUS Enterprise.
By day, the teams developed and finessed their ideas. By night, they attended presentations by the competition judges, senior representatives of leading food science and technology companies such as Nestlé, Ingredion and JR Group; held consultations with Big Ideas Ventures, which invests in alternative proteins; and learnt about the business of start-ups from NUS Enterprise mentors.
Combining the environmentally-friendly concepts of sustainable protein and zero waste, the winning team, Seedling, produced a unique blend of spent flour made entirely from food processing by-products such as okara, spent coffee grounds and jackfruit seeds. The flour provides up to 24 per cent protein. The novel processing method used by the team of five NUS FST students allows for a complete substitution of plain flour in baked goods and pastries. Brownies made with Seedling’s spent flour produced a rich, chocolatey flavour that required less cocoa.
Traditional Malay kuih made from chickpeas and bamboo caterpillars that resemble prawn crackers and have a cheesy, corn flavour clinched the second and third prizes respectively. Other ideas included vegan “pulled pork” made from jackfruit, instant noodles made from pea protein and duckweed, and snacks made from the symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast that’s used to brew kombucha tea.
For Year 3 NUS Materials Science and Engineering student Lim Yun Han, from the third prize-winning team, the competition was not only fun, but educational. “It has been an amazing experience to join something that is completely out of my field of study. I felt that a lot of opportunities for creativity were given to the teams to tackle the problem statement from different directions. This allowed even non-food science students like myself to come up with a viable solution to the problem statement,” he said.