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Singapore Institute of Technology and Agrocorp International Jointly Launch Research Programme to Advance Plant-Based Food Innovation in Singapore

The partnership seeks to accelerate the development of plant-based food alternatives focusing on ingredient extraction from plant feedstocks.

The Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and leading agricultural supply chain company, Agrocorp International (Agrocorp), have jointly launched a research programme to accelerate Singapore’s capabilities in enabling sustainable and efficient supply of plant-based food alternatives.

This partnership will see a first-of-its-kind research programme that is aimed at leveraging science and technology to improve the extraction of proteins from plants to maximise protein quality, yield and functionality, and to render the extraction process greener. To enable this, the four-year collaboration will see the establishment of Singapore’s first Research & Development (R&D) platform focused on extraction and processing capabilities, with Agrocorp being the university’s anchor partner.

Associate Professor Susanna Leong, Vice President (Applied Research), SIT, shared, “With the growing consumer demand for plant-based foods as well as the ongoing concerns around health and climate change, the goal of this research programme is to study how we can sustainably produce plant-based food that can be both nutritious and affordable. We are excited to chart new frontiers in the food technology space with Agrocorp and hope that the outcomes of this research programme will bring us closer to a more resilient and sustainable local food supply, in support of Singapore’s ’30 by 30’ goal.”

Mr Vishal Vijay, Director of Strategic Investments, Agrocorp International, remarked, “This represents a milestone partnership for Agrocorp in its pursuit of becoming a market leader in the global plant protein space. By improving yields and reducing water and chemical requirements, we are aiming to produce a more cost-effective, sustainable, and clean label ingredient that will allow dairy and meat replacements to compete more closely with their contemporaries. We’re thankful for how willing SIT has been to work with us on this endeavour and are delighted to partner them and their talented researchers, and leverage their state-of-the-art facilities. We’re also proud to contribute to Singapore’s ’30 by 30’ efforts with this collaboration.”

Specifically, the research programme seeks to improve plant protein quality by tweaking the protein recovery process to minimise their denaturation, and validating the proteins’ functionality in food products developed. Traditional methods of extraction are often marked by the challenge of “high cost, low functionality” – where drawbacks include low protein quality, intensive use of water and high cost of scaling. Understanding how ingredient extraction processes can be achieved using greener methods can decrease cost curves, facilitate clean labelling of food products, and enhance quality.

The join R&D effort will feature advanced food technology and methods to achieve extraction of plant-based proteins with greener conditions and upcycling of agri-waste. Amongst the technology used is the Pulsed Electric Field, a method of using short electrical impulses of high voltage to permeabilise plant cell membrane under non-thermal conditions; and enzymatic-based release of proteins from plants.

The findings from the research programme will be used to optimise Agrocorp’s ongoing product development process and enhance the quality of their plant-based products for consumers.

Agrocorp and SIT’s collaboration over the past year saw the development of plant-based products such as cheeses, eggs, and meats. In 2021, Agrocorp launched HerbYvore, its brand of plant-based products including the best-seller Pea Paneer, which is currently available at NTUC Finest and selected restaurants. More product developments are in the pipeline such as a plant-based cheddar and mozzarella, both of which will be prototyped and manufactured at SIT’s upcoming shared facility for small-batch food production that is anticipated to be ready within the second quarter of 2022.

Associated Professor Leong added, “We are at a crossroad where innovation in the food technology space is critical to game-change the state of food security in Singapore. At SIT, we aim to meet Singapore’s increasing demand for sustainable and high nutritional food products through applied research and working closely with companies to commercialise our research findings in products and processes.” [APBN]

Source: Singapore Institute of Technology & Agrocorp