Singapore Food Story Grant Awarded to SIT in Future Foods
SIT’s Asst Prof Du Juan and A*STAR’s Assoc Prof Bi Xuezhi have been awarded an Industry Alignment Fund (Pre-positioning) to kickstart a first-in-Asia testbed platform to advance research on plant-based proteins
These days, more consumers are making the switch to plant-based diets for health reasons. Many are also more open to trying novel foods and seek a variety of food choices. According to a report by NielsonIQ, manufacturers and investors have been quick to leverage the increasing demand for plant-based proteins.
Plant-based products made from soy, peas, or wheat should be quite familiar to most consumers. However, there are rising concerns over the quality, digestibility, and potential allergens of plant-based proteins – something that food manufacturers need to be aware of when developing novel foods for human consumption.
First IAF-PP Research Project Hosted by SIT
Earlier this year, Asst Prof Du Juan from SIT and Assoc Prof Bi Xuezhi from A*STAR’s Bioprocessing Technology Institute (BTI) were awarded an Industry Alignment Fund – Pre-positioning (IAF-PP) to kickstart the development of a testbed platform to advance research on plant-based proteins in Asia.
This is the first time SIT will host an IAF-PP research project. The grant is awarded under the Singapore Food Story R&D Programme jointly led by Singapore Food Agency and A*STAR. Titled “First automated protein profiling and functional characterisation platform for plant-based novel foods”, the IAF-PP research project will involve BTI, A*STAR’s Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE), and the National University of Singapore (NUS).
Team lead and co-Principal Investigator, Asst Prof Du Juan explains why there is a need for such a testbed platform here:
Why is there a need to develop a testbed platform for plant-based proteins in Singapore?
Currently, the food and beverage industry does not have access to a centralised platform that provides cost-effective and resource-efficient services for protein profiling and functional property tests. This means that companies interested in developing plant-based food products will find it challenging to meet food safety and quality criteria to screen many plant-based protein ingredients due to the unknown allergenicity, nutritional, and functionality information of plant-based protein ingredients.
What can the proposed testbed platform offer?
Aside from food safety, the testbed can identify previously unknown uses or applications of ingredients. Alternative sources of plant-based proteins that were previously overlooked can be tested at the platform for digestibility, potential allergens, and more.
The platform can help to ‘match’ food and beverage manufacturers with suppliers of raw ingredients. Both types of companies can leverage the platform’s research findings to spark food innovation. The approach is to use an automation process to increase output to profile and characterise functional properties of protein. This will help reduce the time and manpower costs of traditional research methods.
In addition to research on the potential food applications of alternative plant-based protein, the team of researchers also hope to provide technological expertise needed for protein extraction process. The team will also examine broader concerns such as how to store ingredients safely with the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan in mind.
How did this idea come about?
Asst Prof Du shared that the idea for this project has been simmering in her mind for a long time. Before she joined SIT, she was from the food and beverage industry.
She said, “I have always thought that there should be a service sector for suppliers of raw ingredients and manufacturers in search of ingredients to develop novel food products. I was fortunate enough to meet Assoc Prof Bi Xuezhi from A*STAR, who was trained as a plant biologist with proteomics expertise and shared my views, hence we decided to work on a proposal together.”
Why is there a need for a research platform like this now?
“The research platform will help to accelerate Singapore’s ’30 by 30’ food security goals. As a small country, we are more vulnerable to unpredictable forces such as pandemics and wars. We should explore sustainable ways to use quality ingredients to produce high-quality, nutritious, and safe foods in sustainable quantities,” said Asst Prof Du.
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