Super-sweet sugar and fruit fly protein powder: Israel’s next tech

Food innovations that enhance taste and nutrition go on display at a Tel Aviv conference

Dror Tamir offers one of Steak TzarTzar's edible grasshoppers to potential tasters. The company was one of the Israeli start-ups at FoodTech Nation, December 15, 2015 (Courtesy)
Dror Tamir offers one of Steak TzarTzar's edible grasshoppers to potential tasters. The company was one of the Israeli start-ups at FoodTech Nation, December 15, 2015 (Courtesy)

Israeli technology is set to make a mark on gastronomy.

“Food is the next big area for Israeli tech,” according to entrepreneur and investor Ron Antonovksy. “We are moving from Start-Up Nation to a Foodtech Nation.”

That food tech was on display Wednesday at a conference of the same name. The first Foodtech Nation Conference, held in suburban Tel Aviv, brought together entrepreneurs, academics, and corporate executives from Israel and abroad to examine how made-in-Israel food technology can help manufacturers produce processed food that is easier to store, cheaper to produce, and healthier to eat – the three holy grails of the food processing industry, according to Antonovksy, who consults with companies in Israel and abroad, matching them up with Israeli start-ups.

For example, an Israeli start-up called DouxMatok has developed a technology to make sugar and other sweeteners taste sweeter – enabling producers to use less of the white stuff while retaining the sweet taste that consumers crave. Using a proprietary fiber-based technology, DouxMatok’s technology blankets food and drink with chemically engineered sugar or polyol molecules that enhance the feeling of sweetness in a consumer’s taste receptors.

DouxMatok has developed enhanced sucrose (table sugar), glucose, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and sugar replacements such as maltitol, xylitol, and erythritol. Tests in the UK indicate that consumers can’t tell the difference between “real” sweeteners and the DouxMatok variety.

Already a foodtech leader

It took a delegation from Minnesota to set Israel on its path as a foodtech nation, said Antonovksy, who advises companies in Israel and abroad on new Israeli innovations that can help solve problems.

“General Mills was looking for technology to enhance the nutritional value of its food products, and they heard that Israel had a lot of good technology, so they asked me to match them with promising start-ups,” Antonovsky said. “The more I examined the foodtech space, the more I realized that Israel was already a world leader in this space – except that the R&D and product development was being done in a variety of settings, and that nobody had yet organized them into a single category that could be marketed as foodtech. That’s what we hope this conference will do.”

Speaking at the event were representatives from universities in Israel and abroad, as well as from large corporations such as Tnuva, Strauss and Osem, discussing topics such as health, production, and consumer trends affecting foodtech, intellectual property rights in product development, health issues, health issues, and more. The event was co-sponsored by the Israeli Food Industries Manufacturers Association.

Taste testers compare sweets made with DouxMatok versus the 'real thing (Courtesy)
Taste testers compare sweets made with DouxMatok versus the real thing (Courtesy)

“Manufacturers are interested in areas such as cheaper and healthier ingredients, smart packaging, improvements in manufacturing systems, and functional food, which supplies higher levels of protein and other health benefits” said Antonovksy. “Israel has innovations in all these areas, and we put some of them on display at the event.”

‘Evolutionary, not revolutionary’

One start-up called Flying Spark has perfected a system that turns fruit flies into a high-protein powder that can be used in manufactured food products.

“Insects have always been a part of the human diet,” according to Eran Gronich, Flying Spark co-founder and CEO. “We are the first company in the world to generate protein from fly larvae. Our protein powder has no taste, but packs a lot of protein, and it can be added to any food product to instantly boost its protein level.”

Protein, of course, is one of the most important and expensive of nutrients, but Gronich says that fly larvae is a cheap, plentiful, and safe (fruit flies, after all, eat only fruit) source of protein. The company, which is growing its fruit flies in a 500-liter vat near Beit She’an in northern Israel. was chosen to participate in the high-profile MassChallenge accelerator (it’s not clear if the powder can be considered kosher, but some opinions would likely allow it for kosher-keepers, according to one expert who asked to remain anonymous).

Flying Spark's fruitfly-based protein powder (Courtesy)
Flying Spark’s fruit fly-based protein powder (Courtesy)

But will the public go for bug-based protein?

“We know there are cultures where all sorts of things that are anathema to Western tastes are very popular, but there is definitely an issued of cultural adjustment,” said Antonovksy. “Food is something we naturally take very personally, so we can’t expect that people are going to adopt radical changes, regardless of how ‘good’ they are. Foodtech has to be evolutionary, not revolutionary.

“The tech offered by Flying Spark, DouxMatok, and many other Israeli start-ups offers ‘behind the scenes’ benefits – the tastes don’t change, but the nutritional values shoot up. That’s what companies are looking for, and that, along with many other benefits, is what Israeli food-tech has to offer.”

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