NUS FoodTech Challenge: Konnyaku boba tea to aid better sleep, noodles in self-heating packaging among unique food concepts by students

Students from universities around the world converged at the NUS FoodTech Challenge 2023 from 22 June to 5 July, to collaborate and develop innovative food tech ideas to tackle pressing issues facing the food industry today. Participants had the opportunity to address one of two problem statements posed at the local and international tracks of the annual Challenge, aptly themed “Inspiring sustainability in Asian consumers of this digital age with healthy and affordable food options”.

Jointly organised by the NUS Food Science and Technology Society, NUS Enterprise, and the NUS Department of Food Science and Technology in partnership with Nestlé and Tate & Lyle, this year’s competition saw a total of 89 teams participating in the competition, with 21 local and 68 international teams, respectively. Compared to last year, this year’s event drew more participants from across the globe, with participation from international teams increasing by over 70 per cent. The international teams hailed from countries such as Indonesia, China, Thailand, Malaysia, India, South Africa, Turkey, Canada, and South Korea, demonstrating NUS’ strong reputation for such student-led initiatives.

For the problem statement posed by Nestlé, students were tasked to develop a snack with health benefits relevant to the lifestyle of Southeast Asian Gen Z-ers, leveraging the goodness of sustainably sourced and minimally processed ingredients. The snack must be in ready-to-drink form and can be paired with digitally enabled services (such as a website or an app). The other problem statement, presented by Tate & Lyle, challenged participants to utilise innovative food formulation solutions and/or digitally enabled services to enhance the sustainability of food systems in this digital age.

The event kicked off with a four-day pre-competition workshop, where various industry experts from companies such as Nestlé R&D Centre Singapore, Tate & Lyle and Soynergy, shared valuable insights on business models, pitching, nutrition, food safety and quality assurance, and food formulation.

Out of 89 teams in the preliminary rounds, six local teams and 10 international teams advanced to the preparation phase as finalists and received mentorship and guidance to refine their ideas further for the finals.

"Sustainability poses a challenge throughout the entire product cycle, from ideation to bringing the product to market. It requires meticulous planning and leveraging the diversity and expertise of individuals from different backgrounds to arrive at solutions," said Dr Wong Shen Siung, Global Applications Director from Tate & Lyle.

The finals took place on 4 July and 5 July with a judging panel comprising experts from Nestlé, Tate & Lyle, Big Idea Ventures, Universal Robina Corporation, Circular Economy Alliance, Food Innovation & Resource Centre, and Soynergy. The judges were highly impressed by the unique food concepts presented, such as an adaptogenic mushroom coffee blend; a TCM-based spinach konnyaku boba tea; healthy noodles in self-heating packaging made from okara and mocaf (a type of flour made from cassava or cassava modified with microbial fermentation techniques);  a ready-to-drink kefir-based beverage incorporating grains, nuts, and fruits; and meat-alternative pepperonis made from king oyster mushrooms. In the local track finals, the judges had the opportunity to sample the food products.

Team MUSHI from NUS emerged as the local track winner, nailing Nestlé's problem statement by emphasising the importance of adaptogens which are active ingredients found in certain plants and mushrooms, in helping Southeast Asian Gen Z-ers cope with physical and mental stresses and to improve overall well-being.

The interdisciplinary team presented an adaptogenic mushroom coffee blend that not only prioritises sustainability through food waste valorisation and eco-friendly farming practices but also offers personalised recommendations based on users' lifestyles and purchase history in the digital realm.

The international track winner, team Firless from IPB University Indonesia, took on Nestlé’s problem statement. Their winning idea was QuickFir, a ready-to-drink kefir-based beverage containing grains, nuts, and fruits. Kefir is a fermented milk drink high in nutritional value and rich in probiotics. QuickFir serves as a quick, nutritious, and filling breakfast option, addressing the issue of breakfast skipping among Gen Z-ers.

The runner-up teams from both tracks and their ideas include:

Local Track

  1. Runner-up (Nestlé's problem statement): Team VitaliTEA proposed a low-calorie, vegan-friendly TCM-based spinach konnyaku boba tea that aims to promote better sleep by alleviating the stress faced by Gen Z-ers. Their product harnesses the effects of TCM theory, which aims to restore balance in the body of Gen Z-ers while remaining environmentally friendly.

International Track

  1. Runner-up (Tate & Lyle's problem statement): Team Moca developed healthy noodles made from okara and mocaf packaged in a self-heating package. These fiber-rich and low-calorie noodles are accompanied by an integrated application packaging that provides customers with information on waste reduction, helpful tips, and the option to purchase related products.
  2. Runner-up (Tate & Lyle's problem statement): Team The Fungtastic 3 created meat-alternative pepperonis using king oyster mushrooms. These alternative pepperonis have a lower carbon footprint, require fewer resources, and have a shorter cultivation cycle compared to traditional meat products and other meat alternatives, paving the way for a more sustainable and resilient food future.

Wong Zi Hua, Project Director of NUS FoodTech Challenge 2023 and a Year 1 student from the Faculty of Science, extended her heartfelt appreciation to the sponsors, mentors, judges, and staff advisors. “We hope that the event would inspire imagination and innovation, reminding everyone that the future of food depends on their actions. By providing a platform for talented individuals to present their ideas, this initiative has paved the way for a more sustainable future.”


By NUS Enterprise, NUS Food Science and Technology Society, and NUS Department of Food Science and Technology