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Image credit: ReThink events

What the fork? I tasted the menu of the future in Singapore

December 18, 2019

Agri-food tech events all too often fall victim to an extremely irritating shortcoming — the food served is bland and unimaginative. This irritating irony is especially disenchanting when these events take place in large hotel chains like the Hiltons, Marriotts and Grand Hyatts. Granted, these big names are all doubtless wary of getting sued for someone on their premises choking on, say, an experimental serving of grasshoppers. But second rate catering is also perilously ingrained in their event hosting models, which push event organisers into signing up to bland, eternally-simmering buffets — the utter epitome of rampant food waste waiting to happen.

It is all the more jarring when speakers onstage are waxing lyrical about the lofty future of food and farming, only for delegates to break out for a lunch of yesteryear, all of provenance unknown. Probably a fair bit of single-use plastic gets thrown into the bargain, too.

Thankfully, that stodgy fate did not await delegates at this year’s Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Week in Singapore. Rethink Events, the Brighton-based organisers, used to be as guilty as anyone of being complicit in the above. Yet this time, they came up trumps. And they did so in such a spectacular fashion that I feel it’s worth running through this menu from start to finish. Let it be an inspiration for other such event organisers that, yes, it can be done!

Before we do this, let’s raise a glass to Rethink and Singapore’s Grand Hyatt Hotel for hosting this, and for compiling and serving a menu to remember. Credit where credit is due:

Coffee break

At the coffee stations, you could find Singaporean startup Nutrition Innovation serving its Nucane low glycaemic sugar replacement, along with CSR Better Brown. As AFN reported earlier this year when the startup closed its $5 million Series B funding round, the technology produces a functional, natural sugar carbohydrate that can reduce sugar use by 70%, while integrating a broad range of substrates like protein and fiber that confer additional health benefits. These were available in sticks for hot drinks and baked into various coffee break items. Sweet!

For lunch, we could try the latest from Triton Algae Innovation, including homemade Algae pasta with rooftop garden basil pesto, seaweed-algae soup, and homemade algae ice cream

(For those who like drinking blue liquids, there was also a microalgae drink served up by Back of the Yards Algae Sciences, a GROWhort member of AgFunder and Rocket Seeder’s accelerator in Singapore. And if you want an absolute tome to read on micro-algae, check out this piece here on ‘Booming, blooming micro-algae.’

Elsewhere the week saw servings of the Beyond Burger and the Beyond Sausage.

You could also try vegan Heura butter chicken, mapo tofu OmniMeat with spicy bean sauce, and smashed baby potato, Daiya cheddar and chive

From Wilmar Greenfarm Food:
  • Vegetarian BBQ Buns: Steamed buns filled with plant-based pork cooked in a traditional BBQ sauce
  • Vegetarian Fried Chicken Pieces: Crispy and juicy plant-based chicken pieces
  • Vegetarian Chicken Satay: Plant-based chicken satay, marinated with lemongrass. Best eaten with the peanut sauce!
  • Fish-Flavoured, Shredded Vegetarian Pork: Plant-based pork marinated with fermented chilli sauce made of chilli and bamboo shoot
  • Sweet and Sour Vegetarian Ribs with Truffle: Plant-based ribs slow-cooked with truffle and a caramelised sauce
  • Vegetarian Rendang Chicken: Plant-based chicken rendang packed with traditional Malaysian & Indonesian spices and flavours

From MEOD: Mixed Salad Greens (indoor-grown)

From Karana: Jackfruit burgers and curry. (Read my review of this alt protein offering in a Thanksgiving special here.)

To quench your thirst, from Yeo’s there was PH Infinity Water, Red Date Black Tea, Chrysanthemum Tea, Iced Tea Lemon

Founder Food: My Review

If all that was not enough to sate your appetite for foodtech startup produce, there was an evening of founder food stands to wander through, as entrepreneurs eagerly cajoled red wine-swilling investors and reporters with offerings of vertically-farmed kale and strawberries, or servings of plant-based crab.

This reporter wandered through and within seconds was roped into tastings good, bad and ugly. There were bright-eyed hawkers of anything from cricket flour to plant-based smoked salmon.

First up, I spotted Afterglow, a Singaporean startup styling themselves as a leading plant-based brand in Asia since 2013, and heard about their plans for growing into a plant-based QSR restaurant, while offering FMCG food products and food services. Then, I strolled past Confetti, known these days as Trishaw Treats. They craft artisan snacks made from nutrient-dense vegetables in Singapore heritage flavours, all coming in home compostable packets.

Next on my wander was Archisen, which develops and operates systems and solutions to grow fresh, local produce in urban cities, touting their use of IoT, automation and data analytics. Archisen had a variety of salad vegetables to offer, such as their wasabi-tasting mustard leaves and the coveted ice plant grown in Himalayan Pink Salt.

Eclipsing Archisen in scale was the world’s largest vertical farmers, Crop One Holdings (COH). COH has been in commercial production longer than any other major U.S. vertical farmer, and is the holding company for FreshBox Farms in Massachusetts and a joint venture with Emirates Flight Catering in Dubai. Elsewhere representing various indoor ag plays were companies like Sustenir, who had presented at a Temasek event earlier in the week and were busy thrusting around indoor-grown bags of kale along with their kale-infused smoothies. Based in Singapore, Sustenir, I learned, also plans to open a new vertical farm in Hong Kong, undeterred, it seems, by the political turmoil there in recent months.

Other indoor ag practitioners offering things like salads and microgreens were MEOD and VertiVeggies, Veggie Life — which similarly aims to create their fresh produce in a controlled and pesticide-free environment. Indoor Garden, in a similar vein, was particularly keen to highlight its signature “Dryponics” system as a differentiator. But a truer taste differentiator for me was the chance to try some of the tiny indoor-grown strawberries from SinGrow, a winner of a pitching competition that week (and a member of AgFunder and Rocket Seeder’s GROW, a joint accelerator programme in Singapore.) I got a quick update from the founders of SinGrow on how the company recently launched its first product: the world’s first white strawberry cultivated in a tropical climate. Other innovations developed by SinGrow include a proprietary cultivation protocol for enhanced fruit production and a strawberry-specific hydroponic system, which enables significantly reduced energy use.

Then, something completely different. Asia Insect Farm Solutions had its cricket flour, which did not seem too obtrusively insect-ish. (Crickets, I keep on hearing, are not kosher, while grasshoppers apparently are; I still need to seek Rabbinical guidance on whether and how this is so. Any rabbis reading this, please reach out.)  Theological debates aside, grinding up cricket flour makes for a natural, sustainable and chemical-free animal protein ingredient that’s rich in calcium, iron and vitamin B12. It also has high levels of protein, all nine essential amino acids and prebiotic dietary fibre to promote gut health. Food and beverages fortified with cricket flour can address common nutrient deficiencies in the world, according to Asia Insect Farming Solutions. Touting their skills as streamlined distributors of these sorts of things and more were Glife Technologies, who supply more than 400 customers in the Singapore market and have plans to expand to other Southeast Asian countries.

There were Asian plant-based meat evangelists Phuture Foods — who served alternatives to traditional meat in local Asian cuisines — and Hong Kong’s Green Monday, a social venture group advocating a once-a-week plant-based meal philosophy. Sophie’s Kitchen, in its own furrow, produced first-in-market, 100% plant-based seafood since 2011, using traditional, plant-based superfoods, including pea protein, konjac root, seaweed and microalgae, with no soy or wheat. CEO Eugene Wong served three products mimicking crab, prawn and smoked salmon. Of the three, the crab was by far in a way the most uncanny and tasty. The prawn was impressive but ultimately missed out on the crunch, while the smoked salmon looked and smelled the part — it was certainly smokey but with a bit of a rubbery bite and an aftertaste that, for me at least, missed the mark. Karana, as I wrote before, swears by the jackfruit for texture and taste for pork and turkey alternatives, and served some at their booth. For vegan cheese options, you could get some pretty decent tasters at the Kroodi stand — established in 2017, Kroodi an artisanal brand that makes plant-based cheese in Singapore from organically grown cashew nuts. If all that tasting made for thirsty work, there was LVL Life, a functional beverage company that has developed three functional plant-based blends to level up your every day, including Plant Proteint, Raw Focust, and Natural Immunity+. Just shake, pour and drink, they told me. And so I did, crossing my fingers this would ward off any snivels on my long-haul flight back to London.

What futuristic foodtech menus have you been sampling? Send them over to [email protected]

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