Solein, one of the world’s most sustainable protein, has had its first official tasting 25 May in Singapore for invited guests from the food industry, investors, and journalists.
The tasting is a huge milestone for Solein’s developers, the Finnish food tech company Solar Foods. Solein received its first novel food regulatory approval in Singapore in Sep 2022. At the time, Solar Foods CEO and partner Pasi Vainikka compared the moment to when the Spanish first encountered the humble potato in the 16th century in South America.
“This is the first time in history humankind can be provided with edible calories that at no point require photosynthesis. So far photosynthetic plants have been the only feasible way to receive energy from the sun to feed humankind. Now, this process can be by-passed in its entirety. That’s an absolutely historic moment. A new era begins in the primary production of food and restoring biodiversity,” Vainikka said.
Impacting sustainability, food industry and familiar dishes
Solein is one of the most sustainable protein in the world. It is grown not from soil but with CO2 and electricity in a bioprocess that is farm-free, making it an all-purpose ingredient capable of replacing animal- or plant-based protein.
A microbial protein-rich powder that contains all the essential amino acids, Solein can be used to replace existing proteins in a variety of foods, for example in alternative dairy and meat, different snacks and beverages, noodles and pasta, or breads and spreads. It is the first form of food disconnected from the limits of traditional agriculture. This type of production method has the potential to transform the sustainability, availability and transparency of what we eat and where food can be produced.
Solein is produced using a bioprocess where microbes are fed with gases (carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and oxygen) and small amounts of nutrients. The bioprocess resembles winemaking, with carbon dioxide and hydrogen replacing sugar as the source of carbon and energy, respectively.
Solein is 65-70% protein, 5-8% fat, 10-15% dietary fibres and 3-5% mineral nutrients. The macronutrient composition of Solein cells is very similar to that of dried soy or algae. Solein provides iron and B vitamins and is exceptionally functional. Solein can be used with a wide variety of other ingredients: it vanishes into foods and doesn’t change the taste of familiar, everyday food products.
The production of Solein is not reliant on agriculture, weather, or climate: it can be produced in harsh conditions such as deserts, Arctic areas, even space. The process does not require animals or photosynthetic plants.
The Solar Foods team has worked extensively on ensuring that Solein is not only sustainable, but also a functional, nutritious, and versatile ingredient. Solein can replace meat or plant proteins in everyday foods as it can be used as a structure-forming and nutritional ingredient that doesn’t disrupt the tastes of familiar foods.
Taste is an integral component for any ingredient. Solein has a delicate flavour with a pleasant note of umami. It blends into foods enriching the original flavours.
“Food is a very personal thing: we are attached to our favourite foods and their tastes. We want Solein to let those familiar tastes shine, not take their place. The future can taste like anything we want it to taste,” Vainikka remarked.
A menu for a new era
For the first tasting in Singapore Solar Foods collaborated with one of Singapore’s most prestigious hospitality companies, The Lo & Behold Group. The tasting event washeld in the Group’s most recently launched restaurant Fico.
The menu for the tasting was created with Oliver Truesdale Jutras as the leading chef. Truesdale Jutras is widely regarded as a thought leader focused on the future of food, having been a founding member of Singapore’s F&B Sustainability Council and its current Chair. His new consultancy with The Lo & Behold Group sees Jutras teaming up with Michelin-starred chef Mirko Febbrile to create a full tasting menu using Solein.
The team was given full freedom to use the novel ingredient for creating the menu. They got to discover cooking methods for Solein and use their creativity to come up with dishes that in their mind embody what the future might taste like.
The final menu gives a glimpse into a future where tastes are familiar, but the path that food crosses to arrive on our plate might be something entirely different from today.
“We cooked with Solein and a lot of local ingredients. It was exciting because we got to play with flavours really familiar to Singaporean cuisine, but at the same time experiment and introduce Solein as something that’s entirely new and wild and never seen before anywhere,” said Jutras.
“I’m personally fascinated by the breadth of Solein. It alleviates the challenges of traditional agriculture as it can be used in everyday foods and even all the way into the kind of elevated Italian cuisine that we serve at Fico. It could even help with nourishment needs in disaster-stricken areas. Not many ingredients can bridge this gap.”
The first commercial-scale production facility of Solein, Factory 01, will open in 2024 in Finland and begin producing the novel protein for the needs of the food industry. With expanded capacity, Solar Foods expects the production cost of Solein to also drop significantly. Singapore will see more Solein in the near future.