Future of Food Fund Success for Riddet Institute Researchers

Nine Riddet Institute scientists will be contributing to the future of food joint New Zealand-Singapore programme in four new projects announced today.

The New Zealand Government’s Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) Catalyst: Strategic – New Zealand-Singapore Future Foods Research Programme is committing NZ$12million to four projects over three years that all involve Riddet Institute investigators; Professor Joanne Hort, Dr Meika Foster, Dr Anant Dave, Dr Laura Domigan, Dr David Everett, Professor Ren Dobson, Professor Siew Young Quek, Professor Warren McNabb and Distinguished Professor Harjinder Singh. New Zealand and Singapore have a history of working together on science, technology and innovation. These new projects are helping to tackle some of the most important and critical issues around the future supply of protein globally.

Professor Joanne Hort (Fonterra-Riddet Chair in Sensory and Consumer Science, Massey University) is leading Te Rangahau Taha Wheako mō ngā Kai o Āpōpō: The Consumer Dimension of Future Foods, receiving NZ $3million in funding. This team of 18 researchers includes Associate Professor Ciaran Forde (A*STAR, Singapore), and nutrition scientist Dr Meika Foster (Edible Research, NZ) in a new research partnership involving industry partners across New Zealand and Singapore.

This research will examine consumer responses to new alternative proteins, within the global context of increasing interest in plant-based diets to optimise health and improve environmental sustainability. Alternative proteins have only had narrow appeal for today’s discerning consumers and the research aims to understand the contradiction of consumers expressing a desire to adjust their food choices to sustainable diets and lifestyles, yet not making this transition in a meaningful way. This research project supports the targeted growth of markets for New Zealand and Singapore in microbial, algal and novel plant (including indigenous) proteins. As New Zealand’s primary industries diversify, this research will be vital to support the unique value of produce including those from our Māori food producers, underpinned by their holistic approaches to managing the land. Professor Hort emphasised that “this research is vital to ensure technological and product innovations in the alternative protein sector are targeted towards products and ingredients that will both engage and delight consumers.”

 Dr Anant Dave and Professor Harjinder Singh, based at Massey University, will collaborate with the Cawthron Institute-led programme that has been awarded NZ$3 million through the Catalyst: Strategic Fund to investigate the potential of the red seaweed, Karengo and the microalga, Chlorella as everyday alternative protein sources. Both types of algae have high protein content but require an innovative approach to fully realise their nutritional potential.

Programme Leader Dr Tom Wheeler of the Cawthron Institute said the research team’s varied expertise will help to fill vital knowledge gaps that currently prevent the full commercial and health-promoting potential of these algae from being realised.  “We are seeing increasing demand for alternatives to meat and dairy for nutrition. Algae are a promising source of ingredients for future foods which can be produced more sustainably, with lower environmental impact and greater health benefits,” said Dr Wheeler.

Dr David Everett (AgResearch) is a senior investigator on the project co-led by Dr Linda Samuelsson (AgResearch) and Dr James Chan (A*STAR, Singapore) on the cooking and processing of seaweed to improve consumer acceptance, protein digestion and nutrient bioavailability. This project is focused on why seaweed, easily grown in the sea and rich in important nutrients, is not a popular staple in our diets. However, with the right type of cooking and processing, seaweed can provide not only micronutrients, but also proteins with possible health benefits and in a great tasting food product. This research will create new knowledge about digestion, nutritional availability, flavour and health benefits of Undaria seaweed as a whole food.

Dr Laura Domigan, from the University of Auckland is leading a project understanding the interactions between plant-based protein and cellular agriculture. The team includes Dr Domigan, Professor Renwick Dobson (University of Canterbury), Professor Warren McNabb (Massey University), Dr Sophia Rodrigues (University of Auckland), and Dr Olivia Ogilvie (University of Canterbury), a recent Riddet Institute PhD graduate.

The future of food is predicted to include a variety of protein-rich foods for consumers, including those produced by culturing animal cells in fermenters (termed cellular agriculture). It is expected that new hybrid foods will also emerge, offering increased consumer choice. Dr Domigan’s new project will build on her existing research in the area, exploring the interactions between plant proteins (soya bean and pea) and cultured animal cells, since this is central to developing successful hybrid foods. The results of this research is essential to inform regulatory bodies and policy-makers about safety and efficacy and will provide New Zealand industry with the scientific understanding of this new transformational technology.

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