Keynote Talk: Gentle Food Processing for Better Sustainability

Boom, R. M., Wageningen University and Research Center
It is evident that the availability of sufficient, high quality food without over-exploiting our Earth, will be our prime challenge in the coming decades. This challenge is complicated by an already changing climate, which reduces the potential to intensify the cultivation of the current agricultural land, and the potential to sustainably cultivate new land, and may complicate the use of the oceans for food production. It is interesting that the system that converts our raw materials on the land, into edible foods, is quite inefficient. Of the total amount of protein that is grown on the land, less than 6% reaches our plates (Alexander et al., 2016). This is due to incomplete harvesting, losses in processing steps, but also due to the conversion of plant proteins into animal products. Making the overall food system more efficient could easily help us meet the targets set for 2050, without having to produce more primary raw materials. Our current generation of plant based protein foods is however based on an efficient method for the isolation of plant proteins, having low yield and requiring significant amounts of water, chemicals and energy. This strongly reduces the potential of these products, to improve the overall conversion efficiency, and thus to achieve our food production goals for 2050. This can change if we change our perception of ingredient production. By not refining our ingredients to purity, but to limit the refining, one can create intermediates that have excellent (techno)functionality, i.e. leading to well-structured and stable foods, but can also have better nutritional value, due to the retention of fibre and micro-nutrients. At the same time, the raw material is better utilised, leading to less side streams, while their quality remains much higher. The presentation will discuss the principle of gentle processing, present some typical intermediates that can be obtained, and will discuss their properties and uses for our future food. Overall, the concept of gentle processing will allow us to achieve more food from less raw materials, that fits in a healthier diet, and will result in significantly less waste.