Going Synthetic: The Future of the Food and Beverages Industry
Take a look at the label on the packet of food you just bought. Does it have the word ‘natural’ on it or is there anything with the prefix ‘artificial’ in the list of ingredients? Synthetic food, also known as artificial food refer to those ingredients that have been manufactured in the laboratory and engineered to mimic the same properties as found in natural substances.
Technological innovations are affecting every area of our lives and the Food & Beverages Industry (F&B) is no exception. Advancements in scientific capabilities have allowed scientists and researchers to find ways to recreate natural substances in a controlled environment. From exerting control over the quality of substances to creating never-before-seen ingredients, scientists are making headway in food technology.
Controlling food at a molecular level
The objective of creating artificial food substances is to improve the quality of food we consume. It’s been observed that some naturally occurring substances contain certain toxins or are culture for viruses and bacteria. For example, potatoes contain the chemical solanine which can be fatal if consumed in doses higher than 6mg. The same goes with amygdalin in apples and formaldehyde in pears. It’s the dosage of the chemicals consumed that matters and not the manufacturing process. In synthetically-manufactured food, scientists ensure that the content of toxic chemicals is negligible, thereby ensuring that the food is safe and fit for consumption.
Synthetic food manufacturing practices seek to change the molecular structure of food particles. Consider the following scenario. You have a calcium deficiency and you need to take calcium supplements. Today’s food technology has enabled food manufacturers to create calcium-enriched food such as pasta. You can now enter a store and grab a packet of calcium-enriched pasta, instead of the bottle of calcium tablets.
What about your favorite breakfast accompaniment — the good, old OJ? While it’s easy to assume that fresh squeezed orange juice has a higher concentration of Vitamin C, it is actually the store-bought, pre-packed OJ that has higher levels of the vitamin. Have you seen the ingredient ‘ascorbic acid’ on your bottle of orange juice? That’s synthetically produced Vitamin C and it mimics the properties of naturally-occurring Vitamin C, giving people the same benefits that freshly squeezed orange juice does post-consumption.
How do synthetic ingredients benefit us?
Synthetic ingredients help manufacturers reduce the amount of pesticides and insecticides used. Naturally-grown fruits and vegetables need to be protected using chemicals which can be harmful to people upon consumption. Synthetic ingredients do not use such harmful toxins, making them safe to consume.
Additionally, they help conserve scarce resources. When manufacturers make large batches of artificial ingredients in the laboratory, they reduce our dependence on naturally-available resources such as water, plants, and meat.
A very important benefit of synthetic food is how affordable they are. Companies gain economies of scale by procuring materials to manufacture the ingredients in the lab or the factory. They can pass on the price benefits to the end consumer. Synthetic food can potentially end the problem of global food shortage.