The Flavours of Future-Food: How novel proteins will revolutionise taste and inspire a sustainable protein transition

The Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering's Joe Price explains how the ReNewFood project is aiming to create sustainable proteins that are healthier and more delicious than existing ones.

Dr Joe Price
Joe Price, advisor for ReNewFood

There are cracks in the global protein system, and they are starting to show.

Worldwide, ancient woodland and rainforest is ravaged on an incomprehensible scale to make room for massive swathes of monocrop and grazing land where artificial fertilisers and pesticides are sprayed in volume, livestock are pumped with antibiotics, and waste chemicals and gases pollute our watercourses and air. Estimates show that our food system is responsible for 37% of total global greenhouse gas emissions.

And for all the damage our food systems cause, they are vastly inefficient. Of the crop-based protein that we feed to livestock, only 20% of this is converted into protein for human consumption in poultry, and for beef the conversion rate is a mere 4%. Dairy and eggs are more efficient, but still no more than 25% of plant protein is converted from crop to final animal product.

If we want to continue to enjoy diets that are rich, diverse and flavourful as the global population continues to grow and our climate continues to deteriorate, these inefficiencies need to be addressed and the negative impacts of the food industry minimised. One emerging market that shows huge promise for achieving this is precision fermentation - a new take on a familiar technology.

Fermentation is an ancient practice that has been part of human history for over 10,000 years and has been instrumental in the development of societies and cultures worldwide. Beer, cheese, soy sauce, kimchi and sauerkraut are examples of fermentation products familiar to us. Now, precision fermentation and ingredient innovation is building on indigenous fermentation practices and knowledge by applying biotechnology to optimise the microbes used in the fermentation process, as well as the food compounds they produce. Through these innovations, this high-tech industry is making familiar proteins in much more sustainable ways, including the production of animal-analogues like bio-identical milk and meat proteins.

Compared to traditional crop growth and animal rearing, precision fermentation typically requires less than 95% of the land, less than 75% of the water and produces less than 90% of the greenhouse gas emissions. As precision fermentation takes place in carefully controlled environments, it also massively reduces the need for artificial fertilisers, pesticides and antibiotics. Clearly, food-tech has the potential to have a huge positive impact on our world, and both investors and consumers are recognising this more and more with every day.

But, according to the ReNewFood research team at The University of Sheffield, providing cleaner and greener solutions to current foodstuffs is only the tip of the iceberg for precision fermentation. Beyond creating sustainable food ingredients that can either be complete or drop-in substitutes for current foodstuffs, there is a widely untapped landscape of food-tech innovation: applying advanced protein design and engineering to develop completely new protein-based flavours that have, until now, been incomprehensible.

The ReNewFood group is a team of food scientists and microbiologists focused on the development of untapped natural proteins to be produced through precision fermentation and used as flavour ingredients. Through application of their protein science know-how and technologies, they ask: why should we focus on developing sustainable proteins that are only as good as traditional food-stuffs, when we could discover new proteins or even design innovative ones that are both healthier and more delicious than anything we can extract from soy beans or wheat gluten or cows or chickens or fish or any other traditional system? State-of-the-art protein technologies have made this a very real possibility.

Using the academic expertise of the team, ReNewFood is planning to commercialise a novel protein flavour house focused on developing innovative proteins to serve 4 flavour groups in new ways: 1) umami and meatiness, 2) sweetness, 3) saltiness and 4) bitter-masking. Through their research, ReNewFood plans to lift the lid on the unexplored horizons of protein food-tech and set us on course for the protein flavour industry of the future. This vision is centred around 3 main goals:

●      Proteins and flavours that are impossible to source ethically or sustainably, made available through precision fermentation manufacturing. Think foodstuffs that are bio-identical to foie gras or to whale or hippo or shark or any other meat. In this way, the industry can uplift consumer choice and create a dynamic food culture ripe with new taste experiences.

●      Rapidly customisable proteins with taste, texture, nutrition and probiotic profiles that can be tailored to individual consumers and those with food allergy or intolerance. Imagine a pizza where the cheese has the exact stretchiness, creaminess and fattiness that a specific person desires, or a health drink that serves the precise nutritional and gut health needs of a single athlete.

●      Weird and wonderful proteins that do not exist in nature at all and will enable us to experience sweetness, saltiness and other flavour modifiers in completely new ways. This should be the true moonshot ambition of the food-tech industry: to create an infinitely rich and contemporary flavour landscape unlike anything the world has seen before.

With the growing presence of food-tech and precision fermentation, we are entering the future of flavours. Groups like ReNewFood are posing the question of what our protein landscape will look and taste like in the second quarter of the 21st century, but it requires governments, companies, investors and consumers with innovative and adventurous spirit to find the answers.

Will you join us?

Joe Price

Advisor for ReNewFood (

CEO and Co-Founder of Evolutor Ltd

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