The future of food?

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Plant cells grown at a research center in Finland. Photo courtesy VTT Technical Research Institute.

We think of ourselves as omnivores. At least Michael Pollan, author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma," says so. Modern humans, nutritionists point out, typically eat only a small range of plants: eight major crops and some two dozen fruits and vegetables.

But thousands of others could be eaten if they were easier to grow.

Maybe it's because we've still got Soylent Green on our minds that the notion of artificially growing food makes us shudder. But hey, that lovingly tended tomato plant in your garden, those pots of carefully trimmed herbs on the windowsill, they're real, not Frankenfood.

So why should we be afraid of a gadget the size of a crock pot on our kitchen counter? Just drop in a capsule, add water, press the start button, and a week later, you've got a harvest of edible goo.

A pharmaceutical researcher in Finland named Lauri Reuter thinks it's possible. Along with colleagues at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland (a 75-year-old, government-sponsored think tank located just outside Helsinki), Reuter is working on a bioreactor to grow cells of edible plants.

"You could harvest something like half a kilo of these plant cells in roughly a week," Reuter told Fast Company. They're not baby lettuces but berries. "You would grow [them] in your backyard, it would take much longer, and the season would be only once a year. Now you can do it any day around the year, and in any place."

What does it taste like? Mild (not gross), although not necessarily what the researchers expected. Strawberry cells tasted like lingonberry jam, they reported.

The team is currently working on technical problems like making a capsule of plant cells that can survive a journey to consumers. "That's a completely new area of research," Reuter says. "Nobody ever thought of putting plant cells in a capsule and sending it somewhere."

Are American consumers ready for a new version of soylent (which supposedly contained soybeans and lentils, until, SPOILER ALERT, Charlton Heston discovered that "Soylent is people")? Or will it seem as natural and effortless as popping a K-Cup into the Keurig?

Would Michael Pollan approve? Wasn't his advice to "eat more plants"? Time will tell.

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This page contains a single entry by Cornichon published on November 20, 2017 8:44 PM.

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