Chew on this: Israel’s alternative protein industry ready to take world by storm

You don’t have to be vegan to understand that our natural resources are limited, but you do have to be a creative genius to make a carnivore enjoy a plant-based burger, and Israeli innovators from north to shout are cooking up a storm – in the lab.

It’s no secret that the vast majority of our future food projections are bleak and the seeds of change that are making humanity rethink the nature of the food chain are already budding, be it in the form of destroying crops, the lack of basic raw materials, such as wheat, rice, and coffee, the declining rate of farmland, or the rising prices of consumer goods due to high demand and dwindling resources that are not necessarily renewable.

All of these have led more than a few culinary, business, and technology professionals to think of alternatives to shortages that are already showing their signs, with the aim of seeing these substitutes spare the world from hunger not in the short term, but for decades to come.

Enter Israel – the startup nation and a global high tech power, which is now also well on its way to becoming a food tech power.

Innovopro’s hamburger (Courtesy)

What began as inventions and patents that sounded imaginary and downright tasteless, has slowly become a reality that promises an intriguing future that changes everything we know about food and its consumption. Investors have not been oblivious to these impressive food technologies either and were quick to take a bite out of the promise they offer. As things are shaping out, it’s safe to say that investing in food tech – the next big thing in the culinary world – is an investment in a lifeline against world hunger.

“You can’t keep slaughtering 51 billion cows a year, simply because there isn’t enough agricultural land to feed them. That’s why this whole field is changing,” former MK Erel Margalit, founder and chairman of the JVP Foundation, which is also responsible for establishing Margalit Startup City, explains.

The Galilee-based venture supports more than 40 ventures in the field of alternative protein and food substitute development.

“Kiryat Shmona will deliver one of the great revolutions that will save the world from global warming – through changing the food we eat,” he adds confidently.

Some Israeli inventions are already marketed around the world, and this is only the beginning. “Independence Day is a great time to bring the story of Israeli food technology. It’s a source of Israeli pride that is changing how the world barbecues.”

This type of food is not just healthier, “it’s sustainable, it can meet the demands of the growing population, stand up to climate change, and simultaneously deal with issues hunger on the one hand and obesity on the other,” he raves.

“We chose to establish the center precisely here, in the Galilee, because this area has everything needed – climate and agriculture, research institutes and academic centers – but beyond that, it’s a place where groups that have revolutionized themselves chose to forge a social connection.

“The most exciting thing is to see the children in Kiryat Shmona and the Galilee communities become entrepreneurs in unique tracks of technology and innovation. They will be the next food tech entrepreneurs.”

From the impressive data presented by some of the leading food tech companies in Israel, one can assure that by the country’s 75th Independence Day, we will all be able to barbecue healthier without feeling any shortage. “We have a lot to be proud of,” Margalit says.

But first, hummus

As welcome as food technology initiatives are, they still have to overcome a myriad of challenges.

“Any meat alternative must be tasty, well-seasoned, and healthy for consumers worldwide to choose it over the real thing,” Margalit explained. And even though products like vegan burgers and dairy substitutes have made their way into the mainstream, the more impressive food tech chewables are still making their way to supermarket shelves. Some of them are too expensive to be widely accessible to the public, and others are still in need of pre-distribution product improvements.

One thing is sure, however, and that is that we are facing interesting and promising culinary times, much of which is likely to come out of Israel.

A veteran of this field is InnovoPro, whose mission statement says it is “committed to bringing unique plant-based protein ingredients to the global food market in order to create nutritious, tasty, safe, and sustainable food products.”

InnovoPro was the first company in the world to produce chickpea protein at 70% concentrate. The high-quality result has unique functional and nutritional qualities and it has allowed the alternative protein industry to develop a wide range of innovative plant-based protein products, also winning  Innovopro on the 2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit award.

The UN then recognized the company as one of the 50 leading global SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises] that shapes the future of our food systems.”

InnovoPro has so far raised $23 million. Most recently, it launched a protein with a unique texture, which allows food manufacturers to develop meat substitutes that have rich flavor and texture, with a “clean label” including a short list of natural ingredients and – equally important – free of allergens.

“Recent surveys show that chickpeas are considered one of the world’s leading trends in the field of food and that consumers perceive it as a superfood with excellent nutritional value,”Chief Technology Officer Nitzan Ben Chaim told Israel Hayom.

“The protein-extraction process we have developed creates a powder that has a neutral flavor, while most plant-based proteins have a very distinct flavor. Our powder has 70% protein when chickpeas themselves have only 20%

“Protein is functional, meaning it binds well with oil and water and that – as any food technologist will tell you – is very unusual,” she continued. “This means that it is easy to produce other products with our protein. In addition, the production of InnovoPro’s concentrated chickpea protein is based on a sustainable supply chain.”

Q: What is your flagship product?

“Without question – a plant-based burger made from chickpea protein.”

Redefine Meat’s ground beef (Courtesy)

Meet the new meat

Israeli 3D-printed plant-based steak developer Redefine Meat was founded in 2018 by Eshchar Ben-Shitrit and Adam Lahav with the aim of “working intensively to realize the vision of building a large worldwide meat company by using advanced technology and not animals,” and has emerged as one of the industry’s big promises.

Based in Rehovot, the company has a branch and facilities in the Netherlands and currently numbers 200 employees. It recently completed a $135 million financing round – one of the largest financing rounds by an alternative meat company in Israel – in order to expand the production line.

A former carnivore, Ben-Shitrit said he consumed meat until he was 30 and his change of heart came after his son was born.

“I started researching the world of meat substitutes and discovered that there is an opportunity for a significant leap forward in this field. Adam and I began thinking about how we could apply the principles of the technological world we came from in food. Very early on, we hired a chef to develop the products, because we placed flavor and the sensory experience as a top priority.”

Within a short period of time, the company registered over 10 different patents for “new meat,” which does not contain animal components, including advanced technologies for the production of three-dimensional cuts.

Redefine Meat scientists are actually researching the building blocks of real chunks of meat and reconstructing them using plant components.

“Over the past year, our products have been launched in dozens of leading restaurants in Israel, London, and Amsterdam,” Ben-Shitrit said, adding, “The goal is to completely change the rules of the game, compete with cuts of meat of the highest quality, and to afford those who are ‘cutting back,’ vegetarians, vegans – basically everyone – the meat experience.”

Q: What is your flagship product?

“Lamb and beef-style Redefine Flank cuts.”

Magic mushrooms

Kinoko-Tech founders Dr. Jasmin Ravid, Dr. Daria Feldman, and Hadar Shohat met at HUJI Innovate – The Hebrew University Entrepreneurship Center. They decided to harness their expertise in food technology, microbiology, plant sciences, and nutritional sciences to harness the magic of the mushrooms to essentially grow superfood in a new way.

According to Kinoko-Tech’s website, the result was “a super nutritious product that is rich in protein and unique dietary fibers and contains all 9 essential amino acids, to create a complete protein.”

Ravid, who serves as CEO, told Israel Hayom that the company believes that “the best solutions to the challenges we, as humanity, face, can be found in nature. All you have to do is look in the right direction, and in our case – the fungus kingdom.

Founded in 2019, Kinoko-Tech develops an alternative protein-based on fungal mycelium – the root-like structure – that grows on legumes and grains.

A superfood. Kinoko-Tech’s alternative protein (Haggai Leffler)

“The protein substitutes on the market today don’t show up on our plates in their natural form, rather they go through many stages of processing before becoming the final product,” Ravid explained. “Our technology harnesses a completely natural process to produce a final product that has great flavor and texture, without the need for processing that could undermine the product’s nutritional values.

“The growth process we have created is natural and ecological – one that reduces the carbon footprint left by the food industry. Our product is rich in complete protein and dietary fiber, free of allergens, gluten, and cholesterol, and made without genetic engineering.

“In addition, it is also easy to cook. We have ‘shawarma’ and ‘hot dogs’ that have not undergone any processing except the addition of spices, so that they have only two ingredients – mushrooms and legumes – without any artificial additives.”

Kinoko-Tech products are still in the research and development stage and are not sold commercially. The first facility for growing kinoko is in the advanced stages of construction in the southern city of Ashdod, with the aim of marketing the company’s products to selected restaurants and later also to supermarkets as early as next year.

Q: What is your flagship product?

“Hot dogs are our favorite ‘junk food’ so we created a clear, healthy version that you can eat without feeling guilty.”

The perfect bite

Ronny Reinberg, the co-founder and CEO of Alfred’s Food Tech, decided to go into food tech after nearly 20 years of doing research and development in pharmaceutical companies and over a decade as a vegan.

“I had a burning desire to make an impact,” he says. “For me, it was about the principles of preserving the planet for future generations and preventing animal cruelty.

“My family comes from Argentina, so soccer and meat were always at the center of things. My grandfather, Alfred, was a meat factory manager in Buenos Aires and my father, Raoul, worked at Tnuva for many years. The company is named for my grandfather, Alfred, and the company logo bears his image, mounted on the motorcycle he loved so much.”

The innovative patented technology that Reinberg developed with his partner, Rafi Shavit, allows the company to produce a variety of plant-based products that have the same flavor texture as the real thing, from hard cheese and pastrami to chicken and salmon.

Pastrami by Alfred’s Food Tech (Itzik Hanukkah)

“Health awareness, scarce agricultural resources, food safety, ethical considerations, sensible nutrition, and sustainability – all are reflected in the innovative technology we have developed,” Rainberg boasts.

Q: What is your flagship product?

“It’s hard to choose just one. I hope that very soon, everyone will be able to taste them!”

 Grilled grasshopper

One of the oldest sources of alternative proteins around is also the hardest to swallow, so to speak: grasshoppers.

Hargol FoodTech is the world’s first commercial grasshopper farm and a leader in the alternative protein space worldwide and founder Dror Tamir is willing to bet that insect-based alternative proteins are in all of our futures.

Hargol didn’t so much invent the concept as it recognized its potential – then catapulted it into the next level.

“Everyone used to eat them,” Tamir explains.”They are recognized as kosher for Jews and halal for Muslims, and even today about two billion people worldwide include them in their diet.

“Growing grasshoppers reduces greenhouse gas emissions, water and land consumption, and waste production by more than 99%. In fact, if we divert the existing resources that are invested in the production of [animal] protein to the production of grasshopper-based protein, we could feed the entire world population for hundreds of years.”

Hargol technology is market-ready and the company has three facilities in Israel.

Grasshopper-based products contain 72% all-natural, unprocessed protein (Courtesy)

“We cooperate with leading food companies in Israel, the United States and Asia, and already today you can find chocolate-flavored protein shakes for athletes and a variety of healthy gummy dietary supplements on the market.”

Grasshopper-based products contain 72% all-natural, unprocessed protein. “The ingredient is used by the food industry for a huge variety of options, especially with respect to alternative meat which, of course, we are particularly interested in,” Tamir said.

Q: What is your flagship product?

“Our hamburgers are currently being tested by leading food producers in Europe, the US, China and the UAE, and we expect that by 2023 they will be on the markets.”

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