This article is based on an episode of the Red to Green podcast on food tech for sustainability and health. The first season covered cell-based meat, dairy and seafood. Listen to this and past episodes on Spotify, iTunes and other platforms.
CUBIQ FOODS was founded in 2018 but has already managed to secure over 10 million euros in investment over the past few years. The Spain-based startup is on a mission to solve several problems in the food industry. Did you know that most foods we eat and enjoy, including animal and plant-based products, contain rather little omega-3? And did you know that they include a lot of saturated fats which can cause a number of health problems? In today’s post you will hear from Andres Montefeltro as he talks about CUBIQ’s first innovation to hit the market. Branded, SMART FAT, their sustainable offering is an alternative to palm oil, coconut oil and butter. It halves the calories found in their traditional counterparts, and offers a more sustainable and delicious substitute. Ninety-six percent of today’s omega-3 is extracted from fish – which not only adds to overfishing of our oceans, but most of this omega-3 cannot be consumed by humans. A lot of fish oil actually contains pollutants, mercury, and other harmful particles. Thankfully, CUBIQ is on a mission to change that and has found a way to extract omega-3 from poultry cells. They are safer for our health, more sustainable for our planet, and more humane to sea life.
96% of today’s omega-3 comes from fish oil
“Its a novel food in Europe”
CUBIQ foods is currently working on two different portfolios; the first being regular cell-based fat production and the other having a slightly more complicated regulatory pathway.
Andre admits that their second line of products in motion, omega-3 SMART FAT, requires a lot more paperwork, investment and technology development. Nonetheless, he believes that continuing with this solution for the industry is necessary as consumers need more sustainable fat sources on the market. CUBIQs SMART FAT is the structuring of vegetable oils with water and other ingredients to create a solid unsaturated-fat with a healthier profile. This 50% oil, 50% water product halves the calorie content you may find in most of today’s products and offers a better tasting, healthier alternative.
SMART FAT: a “smarter” product for the environment
Andres explains that, “the idea with SMART FAT is to produce a better product in terms of the experience for the consumer” including better flavors and more vegan aromas with more sustenance for plant-based products. By reducing oil content and replacing coconut oil in plant-based foods, CUBIQ is significantly reducing the overall environmental impact.
CUBIQ follows the same approach that most stem cell based companies today do; due to a lack of already existing industry research, all the knowledge they have comes from learning on the job as they grow stem cells. First, they start with a bunch of cells and grow them in a variety of reactors until they multiply. Then, in the later stages, they can differentiate the cells they need to make the target tissue. From the beginning, Andre and his team started with a simple thought: “which type of cells can we produce from stem cells without much difficulty scaling up”. The answer? Fat cells! Fat cells require less oxygen and resources because they have fewer cells per liter. This means they can optimize the cells’ conditions better than with muscles: “We expect to have 30/40% fat content in our reactors which is very high”.
Developing a socially responsible future food
Andres’ true aim is to create an overall healthier and more sustainable product. He says that in animals, fat accumulates the body’s harmful toxins. And unless the animal has been given really high quality feed throughout its life, we are essentially consuming an unhealthy product when we eat conventional meat.
Andres says that GMO-free is the way to go for the food chain as it doesn’t affect biodiversity or the environment, and that typical “organic” and “natural” foods are just not sustainable enough. For many people, and especially for those living in developing countries, organic food is not always affordable. He adds that it’s important to generate more nutritious and more affordable plant-based options for those in developing countries.
Andres hopes that CUBIQ’s presence in the market will open a door for larger companies to follow suit and that they will, one by one, start replacing animal fat with SMART FAT in their products.
Reducing meat consumption across the food chain
So, what exactly is SMART FAT? CUBIQ’s SMART FAT is a convulsion of oil and water structured with specific proteins and polysaccharides. After you prepare it, it becomes solid and stable for use in final products. The next step is to then fine-tune the type of ingredients, and its preparation, to control the hardness of the fat. CUBIQ are currently exploring the different formulas in which it works, including if it can be frozen and unfrozen. Andres tells us that when it comes to the oil structuring process there are over 100 different formulas – some are good for creamy products, and others for things like margarine and bakery applications. However, for every application the key element is the fusion point as the product turns from solid to liquid form.
“It’s a strong sector that needs our help right now”.
Andres and his team are looking at a more B2B direction, talking to some of the leading food producers in their target countries including Spain, France, Germany, Holland and the USA. They are currently in talks with some of the biggest meat producers of the moment who are planning to launch plant-based portfolios and are ready to go to market any day now. The real key to their solution is sustainability. CUBIQ is constantly exploring new ways to be kinder to the planet, which Andres believes will allow them to adopt a longer term mindset and secure a more competitive place in the market. The founder explains that it’s very important to find a way to produce in the clients own country, to prevent overseas delivery as well as from adding to their brand’s carbon footprint. They want something that is immediately ready to use and avoids any unnecessary packaging; “you dont need to have additional plastics in the food chain.” Andres believes that CUBIQ foods is opening the door for a new kind of discussion, a discussion in which new products can be incorporated into the industry and reduce our overall meat consumption.
“We need to help them with the transformation because this is not binary, it’s not meat or plant-based”. CUBIQ wants to create a new space in the market for a different kind of product and help the transition to a kinder, more sustainable and “smarter” food chain, and we think they are definitely on the right track.
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