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 is a Spanish startup founded in 2018 that has secured over 10 million in investment and is on a mission to solve several problems in the food industry. Most foods we eat and enjoy, including animal and plant-based products contain rather little omega-3 and instead include a lot of saturated fats which cause a number of health problems. You will hear from Andres Montefeltro as he talks about Cubiqs first innovation branded Smart fat that is an alternative to palm oil, coconut oil and butter, an alternative that halves the calories and offers a healthier more sustainable and more delicious substitute. Did you know that 96% of todays omega-3 is extracted from fish? This not only promotes overfishing but most of the omega-3 extracted from these fish cannot be consumed by humans. Its also very dangerous for our health since a lot of fish oil 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.
96% of todays omega-3 comes from fish oil
“Its a novel food in Europe”
Cubiq foods currently has two different portfolios, the first being more regular cell-based fat production and the other having a slightly more complicated regulatory pathway. Andre admits that their second line of products; omega-3 smart fat requieres a lot of paperwork, investment and technology, but he believes that developing this solution for the industry is necesarry as need more sustainable fat sources. 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 todays products and offers a better tasting, healthier foodstuff; “Today the majority of the low calorie products, the problem that they have is that they are too dry in the mouth because you don´t have the fat component”.
Smart fat: a “smarter” product
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 vegan aromas with more sustenance for plant-based products. By reducing oil content and replacing coconut oil in plant-based foods Cubiq foods is far reducing the overall environmental impact. “The impact is by far less than 100% coconut oil in terms of..tropical environmental impact with the coconut oil today.” Cubiq follows the same approach like any stem cell based company; all the knowledge they have comes from growing stem cells. First they start with a bunch of cells and they 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. In Cubiqs case, Andre and is team were thinking “which type of cells can we produce from stem cells without much difficulty scaling up”. Thats when they realized that fat cells requiere less oxygen and less resources because they have less 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” something you could never achieve with muscle cells.
Developing a socially responsible future food
Andres real aim is to create an overall healthier and more sustainable product. He explains that in animals fat accumulates the bodies toxins and so unless an animal has been fed really high quality food, we are consuming a somewhat unhealthy product when we eat meat. “Cell-based or algae-based is the same..there is no difference at all because we produce the oil & we extract the omega-3 like you extract the algae and the molecules you have in your pills or micro-capusules looks the same”.
Cubiq prides itself on creating products without GMO materials, hoping that consumers will prefer it this way. Andres says that its the best 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 affordable and it requires a lot of investment for the startups themselves. He adds that its important to generate more nutritious and more affordable plant-based options for those in developing countries; “it will offer the chance for people to not just survive” . And for Andres he believes that once the startup is functioning within the food chain he doesnt think it will hard for companies to replace their products with plant-based and add Cubiqs smart fat into their products, offering a healthier and tastier product. “I would like to see that, it motivates me every day”
Reducing meat consumption across the food chain
Smart fat is a convulsion of oil and water structured with specific proteins and polysacurites, in a way that after you prepare it it becomes solid and staple 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 to 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 creams like Nutella and others for things like margarine and bakery applications. But for every application the key element is the fusion point as the product turns from solid to liquid form. He explains that plant-based products for example require a very high fusion point to prevent losing any oil or water and “This is the problem with coconut oil, its solid at 25 degrees- a bit warmer you start spoiling (it)”.
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 the biggest meat producers right now who are planning to launch plant-based portfolios and who already have the marketing and distribution needed in place.
“Its a strong sector that needs our help right now”.
Within the next year or so Andres says they hope to be granted their patent application as well as look into their products scalability and potential customers. They are looking at producers who require large volumes of their product and are currently running tests and exploring ways in which they can create large amounts in the shortest space of time possible. However, the real key to their solution is sustainability. Cubiq is constantly exploring new ways they can be kinder to the planet, which he believes will allow them to think more long term and really hold a more competitive place in the market. Andres explains that its very important they can find a way to produce in the clients country, to prevent delivery overseas and the adding to their brands carbon footprint. They want something that is immediately ready to use and avoids any unnecesary 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, its not meat or plant-based”. Cubiq foods want to make 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.
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Listen to the full episode here: