Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Centre Inc’s Dr. Mehmet Tulbek and Dr. Pooba Ganeshan talk about the Canadian province’s alternative protein innovations.

Dr. Pooba Ganesan, Principal Scientist, Saskatchewan Food

Ahead of Future Food-Tech Alternative Proteins this month in New York, we caught up with President, Dr. Mehmet Tulbek and Principal Scientist, Dr. Pooba Ganeshan of the Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Centre Inc. (Food Centre). Join these experts as they take a deep dive into how they are working to assist agri-businesses create innovative products and value-added opportunities in the food industry.

The Saskatchewan Food Centre will have facilities for companies developing precision fermentation products – what makes precision fermentation different from more traditional uses in food ingredients? What sort of things are the same?

Precision fermentation uses synthetic biology as foundation. It is essentially based on recombinant DNA technology, which has been around for many decades. Microorganisms are engineered to produce a single product such as milk protein, egg whites, plant haemoglobin, sweet proteins and so on, very much like microbial cell factories. What is exciting nowadays is that we can produce complex molecules in these cell factories to produce foods safely for human consumption. The microorganisms themselves are not consumed, only the products that are released or extracted from them. In traditional fermentation, the microorganisms themselves are consumed. Sometimes they are consumed directly, like probiotics. Other times, they are combined with food products, like sourdough, tempeh or koji.

The level of sophistication in precision fermentation is more robust and very highly controlled which allows for efficient creation of products. Under both types, feedstock can also be used to support growth, which reduce operational costs. Precision fermentation is creating new opportunities for companies to contribute to healthy and nutritious food and the Food Centre is helping to advance this technology. Besides single products, precision fermentation can also be used to contribute to a circular economy by engineering microorganisms to derive value from waste feedstocks coming from breweries and grain processing industries, where additional proteins, sugars, vitamins, and bioactive compounds can be recovered, which reduces the amount of waste going to landfills.

Dr. Mehmet Tulbek, President, Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Centre Inc

For new ingredient and developing food products – what practical things will a facility like the Saskatchewan Food Centre offer?

The Food Centre operates as a non-profit organization to support the food industry. It’s a one-stop-shop for food ingredient development to food product development. It supports anyone, from startups, to small and midsize enterprises, to well-established industries. And they offer expertise in protein and starch processing, separation, and analysis, including cereals, pulses, canola and other specialty grains.

With the increased interest and demand in plant-based alternative proteins, the Food Centre is able to transform proteins into plant-based meats with flavours, texture, aroma and mouthfeel mimicking animal-derived meats. The Food Centre is in the process of building a new fermentation facility with production capacity of up to 20,000 L to cater to the demand for production. This facility will act as a bridge for companies to test and produce their precision fermentation products. It will allow companies to assess commercial success prior to establishing their own large-scale production facilities. The Food Centre will be able to expand the use of plant-based proteins by transforming them into high value products containing bioactive peptides and more readily available proteins. Also, pulse proteins, which tend to have off-flavours and aroma, can be improved through fermentation.

Do the capabilities also include things like extraction, purification, characterization, and application work for clients? 

Yes. In fact, the Food Centre has a variety of pilot, small-, and large-scale separation, purification, and drying technology. The Food Centre has planned for large scale downstream processing equipment such as:

  • Decanters
  • Tricanters
  • Disc stack centrifuge
  • Filtration systems
  • Spray dryer
  • Vacuum microwave drying

The Food Centre has five different drying technologies which can help assist companies produce a range of product quality. Extracted/modified ingredients can be evaluated in terms of functionality and characterization. The Ingredient Science & Technology department provides recommendations for product development applications, and based on client needs and interest, a range of plant-based products can be developed at the Food Centre.

Can the products be marketed from the facility?

The Food Centre is a CFIA-inspected facility. The centre also has BRC, FDA and other food safety and quality certifications for certain suites in the facility. It has manufacturing suites, which can help companies manufacture, toll process, and provide packaging solutions as well. There are incubator suites for clients to rent for production of their products using the centre’s equipment. Products manufactured at the Food Centre can be marketed across Canada, in the US and internationally.

The Government of Saskatchewan is a Regional Partner at Future Food-Tech Alternative Proteins 2023. See the full agenda here.

For more information on the Government of Saskatchewan, visit www.saskatchewan.ca/invest

For more information on the Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Centre, visit www.foodcentre.sk.ca/