From 'insect dairy' to fish blood, here's what the future of food will look like, according to innovators

We meet the people turning the food industry on its head, gnats and all. All they ask is you keep an open mind

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Meet the young men and women leading the charge in the food chain. Cherry-picked last month by the organisation behind The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, these folk have two things in common: they are all under 35 and they are all revolutionising the world of gastronomy.

Their ways of doing so, however, are delightfully innovative. Some build upon age-old cuisines, others harness the power of technology. Some support young chefs and local farmers, others aid animals and protect the planet.

We find out more about some of the projects that may change the way we cultivate, cook and eat in the near future.

Drink your insects

Leah Bessa, in blue, has created the world’s first insect-derived 'dairy' product, made from the sustainably farmed black soldier fly 

No list on innovative food products or technologies would be complete without acknowledging the use – and potential need – of insects as protein. South African gastro-designer Leah Bessa, 30, firmly believes insects are the food of the future.

Her company Gourmet Grubb is responsible for creating the world’s first insect-derived “dairy” product, made from the sustainably farmed black soldier fly. Entomilk forms the base for Gourmet Grubb’s ice cream and will soon be developed into a hard cheese.

Diminishing animal populations aside, using insects as a food source also does wonders for the environment, given that they don’t produce greenhouse gases, are more water and energy-efficient to rear; they are also high in good fats compared to red meat.

In order to influence the more squeamish and provide the experimentative with better access, Bessa and her team have launched The Insect Experience, a pop-up restaurant in Cape Town where people can sample just how delicious insect-based dishes can be.

Minimise fish waste

Josh Niland promotes ways to cook with the less-understood parts of fish such as the eyes, bones and blood, to avoid waste. Photo: Rob Parmer

Australian butcher and chef Josh Niland, 33, is leading the charge on a nose-to-tail fish revolution, based on the premise that “if the world could see the potential yield of one fish being doubled, that would be one less fish removed from the ocean”.

Niland believes people only cook with half a fish. His aim is to promote ways to utilise the less-understood parts of fish – the eyes, bones and blood, for example – to create creative yet delicious meals. This, he believes, can change the fishing industry for the better, as well as the way we transport, handle, preserve, sell, buy and cook fish.

Niland’s The Fish Butchery in Sydney promotes sustainable fishery, focuses on lesser-known species and sells one-off home-made products such as dry-aged swordfish bacon.

“My mission is to bring desirability to the whole fish. It is neglectful, ignorant and plain ridiculous that across the world, over half of fish is tossed in the bin,” he says.

A toast to cacao

Louise Mabulo has helped 200 farmers plant 80,000 trees in the Philippines through The Cacao Project. Photo UN Environment

Filipina chef and agriculture advocate Louise Mabulo was heartened and inspired to see cacao plants still standing after a typhoon ravaged the crops in her home town of San Fernando in 2016. What started as a tycoon relief initiative – to transform local farming by cultivating the resilient and high-value cacao plant along with short-term crops such as bok choy, okra and pumpkins – has culminated in The Cacao Project, which has helped 200 farmers plant 80,000 trees across 70 hectares of land thus far.

People imagine that as soon as the clock strikes midnight, food turns to poison. It's crazy to think that so many are going hungry, yet so much good food is going to waste

In addition to providing a sustainable means of livelihood, the project also helps revive water sources and combat deforestation. Next, Mabulo wants to create a series of chocolate products that will help tell the story of Filipino farmers and their cacao – a product most often associated with West African and South American countries.

“I want to deconstruct the negative stigmas surrounding agriculture in my country and change the narrative for local farmers, so we can make their trade into an art form that is agriculture and food sovereignty in the Philippines,” says Mabulo.

Plant-based foods that prioritise taste

Matias Muchnick creates plant-based products using an algorithim that replicates an animal's molecular structure, so as not to compromise on taste 

Matias Muchnick, 32, is one name that stands out in the gradually expanding sphere of plant-based meat and dairy. The Chilean entrepreneur has two aims: to take animals out of food production and to never compromise on taste.

Accordingly, his company NotCo – backed by Jeff Bezos and co-founded alongside a computer scientist and biochemist – uses an algorithm to analyse the physical and chemical characteristics of animal food, and come up with combinations of plant-based ingredients with the same molecular structure as meat-based ones, thereby replicating their taste, smell and texture.

Ingredients such as pea protein, chicory root fibre and cabbage juice concentrate are combined to offer alternatives to mayo, ice cream and burgers, products that are currently available in Chile, Argentina, Brazil and the US.

“Eating animal products harms our planet – fact,” says Muchnick; accordingly, his company’s NotMilk uses 92 per cent less water and creates 74 per cent less emissions, making it suitable for those avoiding animal products as well as better for the planet.

Doing away with expiry dates

Solveiga Pakstaite created a temperature-sensitive indicator that can tell when food has actually spoiled, rather than relying on expiry dates. Chet Strange

Solveiga Pakstaite, 28, was as confused as the rest of us about how seriously to take expiry dates on food products. So the industrial designer created Mimica Touch, a temperature-sensitive indicator that tells consumers when their food has actually spoiled, rather than relying on oft-misleading dates.

Mimica Touch is basically a packaging that reacts with bumps to signal when a product has gone off. It uses gelatine, which decomposes at the same rate as meat products and turns to liquid when no longer fit for consumption. While the invention was originally aimed at the visually impaired, it is more accurate than the flawed fixed-date system that was introduced in the 1970s.

“People imagine that as soon as the clock strikes midnight, food turns to poison. It’s crazy to think that so many are going hungry, yet so much good food is going to waste,” says Pakstaite.

Culinary patriotism

Chef Ievgen Klopotenko wants to improve and share the food of Ukraine with the world 

Innovation and disruption aside, the World’s 50 Next also include those whose overarching aim is to promote the culinary prowess of their countries as whole.

From physical and digital cookbooks to a recipe-sharing YouTube channel, chef Ievgen Klopotenko, 34, has a very clear agenda: to improve and advocate the food of Ukraine. A former MasterChef winner and alumnus of Le Cordon Bleu, Klopotenko has written a manual with more than 100 recipes for use in schools, in a bid to instil pride and taste for local cuisine in young minds. The chef also co-founded a restaurant in 2019, where he researches how people used to eat a century ago and then provides modern takes on those recipes. His latest campaign is to attain Ukrainian cultural heritage status for, borscht, beetroot soup dish whose provenance is hotly disputed with Russia.

“My goal for the future is to show Ukraine to the world through our food and tastes,” says Klopotenko.

I hope we can move towards a more balanced relationship between humans and the 'individuals' that are processed through livestock industries

In another hemisphere, chef Dieuveil Malonga, 28, returned to his native Congo after years studying and working in Europe with the intent to bring his nation’s food to the world rather than the other way around.

Initially, Malonga ended up integrating African, German and French traditions to create what he describes as “afro-fusion” cuisine. On his travels around Africa to promote this new style of cooking, Malonga met an army of talented young cooks and became motivated to resolve the problems they faced. He founded Chefs in Africa in 2016, a digital platform that promotes African gastronomy, and gives both a voice and much-needed funding to young chefs across the continent. Having helped more than 4,000 people, the organisation, has also received support from the World Tourism Organisation and Unesco.

Malonga’s latest project is the Chefs in Africa Culinary Centre, the first research facility focused on African gastronomy, which launched in February.

“Food is art, food is culture, food is history, food is political. Our curriculum tackles the uncomfortable and the unknown about Africa. We address cliches and misinformation, research local eating habits, ingredients and recipes per region, and we cook together,” says Malonga.

Promoting sympathy for animals

Adelaide Lala Tam created a vending machine for paper clips made slaughterhouse casings, to encourage consumers to think deeper about industrial food production 

Slaughterhouses often resort to shameful practices – we all know, yet often ignore, this generalised view of industrial food production. Enter Adelaide Lala Tam, 27, who uses mixed-media installations to encourage consumers to examine their own relationship with the things they eat and their own responsibilities in the process.

Case in point, her project 0.9 Grams of Brass, a vending machine that sells paper clips, each moulded from a brass cartridge casing used in a bovine slaughterhouse, a fact users only become aware of after interacting with the machine. Tam’s aim is to make the object that people take away with them a constant reminder of an animal’s loss of life.

“Rather than taking a moral position for or against the consumption of animal products, I want to create a more nuanced understanding of our dependency on farmed animals. Through a greater appreciation of these animals, I hope we can move towards a more balanced relationship between humans and the ‘individuals’ that are processed through livestock industries.”

Combating food poverty

A cruel paradox, it is nonetheless true that food waste and food insecurity co-exist in many countries. Maya Terro, 34, created FoodBlessed, a hunger relief and food rescue initiative in Beirut in a bid to reduce the number of people going hungry and the amount of food going to waste.

Maya Terro created FoodBlessed, a hunger relief and food rescue initiative in Lebanon. Nabil Mounzer

The volunteer-run non-profit intercepts surplus, unsaleable and unwanted food from supermarkets, retailers, farmers markets, social events and even rubbish bins, and transforms it into wholesome hot meals given for free to underprivileged, vulnerable and disadvantaged communities in Lebanon. To date, the initiative has served 1.5 million meals, and diverted 1 million tonnes of food from landfill.

Following the port explosion last August, Terro set up community cooking centres in Beirut located within the kitchens of shuttered businesses – and prepared and delivered 100,000 meals to blast victims.

“My mission is to unite and nourish communities through the power of food, social responsibility and volunteering, while making sure no good food is wasted” says Terro.

Transforming prisoners into baristas

Ted Rosner and Max Dubiel run barista academies and roasting facilities in UK prisons 

A chance meeting with a prison executive at a coffee festival led Ted Rosner and Max Dubiel, both 33, to offer barista training classes in England’s Aylesbury Prison, England, five years ago. The duo, who run a carbon-neutral coffee bean sourcing and roasting business, firmly believe “coffee means opportunity”.

Redemption Roasters is now being rolled out in prisons all over the UK, and has eight in-custody barista academies and five penitentiary-based roasting facilities. The programme offers ex-offenders the opportunity to educate and reinvent themselves, as well as to seek employment once they are released (statistics suggest only 36 per cent of prisoners find work within two years of being released, although former inmates who find work are 50 per cent less likely to commit a crime).

“No other full-service coffee company is currently roasting in a prison. Our focus now is on expanding our reach: more shops, more wholesale and more education academies,” says Rosner.

Own a tree, save a farm

Ata Cengiz has developed a website that allows people to buy their own tree and track its yield 

Would you care more about the yield of a tree that belonged to you? Ata Cengiz, 28, believes so, which is why he’s developed Tarlamvar, a website that allows users to buy their own tree.

Not only can customers then track its development, get information on its temperature, humidity, irrigation and fertilisation status and be notified with a countdown to harvest, but their investment also helps small farms that practise positive crop husbandry to double or triple their income, and speed up the farm to table journey.

Farms such as the one owned by Cengiz’s family, which has been working Turkish pastures for 450 years.

“There are ways to make the bridge between farmers and consumers shorter and consequently fairer for farmers, more transparent for consumers and more sustainable for our world. Tarlamvar is just one of them,” he says.