Episode 15: Food Pioneers

The innovators of future food

Adam's Weekly Blog

Food Pioneers

Food Pioneers

We think of food as something we make in the kitchen out of small packets of...
We think of food as something we make in the kitchen out of small packets of dried goods or fresh food straight from the market or the fridge. We associate it with families, good conversation, smells and tastes. It’s a homely vision of something that has become much more than the nutrition it delivers. Food is about the warm associations that please us.

It is also, of course, a multi-billion pound international industry and a huge area of scientific investigation and development. Worldwide more than two billion people do not get enough crucial nutrients in their diets. It’s called ‘hidden hunger’. That’s nearly 30 percent of the global population. Yet at the same time, another third of the world’s population are officially overweight according to the World Health Organisation.

There has been an increasing move in food production to not only try and improve the taste of food, but to almost cross over into health and medicine. Many companies are now attempting to introduce extra vitamins and nutrients into basic products and make agricultural products more resilient to disease and pests.

Rice is one of the world’s staple products. It is eaten by millions of people every day and I went to one of the big food science companies to see the work they are doing to improve it. That’s why I found myself in a laboratory in Chicago with a Vice President of the Abbott Fund which is working to improve the nutritional value of rice.

Chicago lives up to its nickname of the ‘Windy City’. Standing on the street corner filming some pieces to camera we had to take frequent breaks to let the wind die down so that my words could be heard above the din. The only advantage of being bald is that there were no added problems of my hair looking untidy in the wind. It was also so cold I would rush to the crew van between shots.

I was happy therefore to move indoors to meet Katherine Pickus, the vice president of Abbot’s global charity fund to discuss this aptly named, Ultra Rice. Katherine explained that alongside the challenge of successfully fortifying rice with other nutrients, such as iron, they had to be careful not to alter the appearance, taste or smell of the rice to make sure it was still acceptable for the consumer. It sounds as though it should be relatively straightforward but it has taken decades of patient research to get the formulation just right.

Horizons likes to put the science to the test, so my taste buds were duly deployed. We boiled up some standard, basmati rice and some of the Ultra Rice in glass beakers in a laboratory. There was something a little off-putting about cooking rice in a laboratory. I wasn’t convinced I would enjoy it. In fact the rice tasted fine – although I’d have preferred a Michelin starred restaurant as the setting, rather than a lab bench.

Work like this, to help improve the quality of food is not just big business it can be vitally important to millions of people who depend on safe and secure food sources around the world.
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