Sustainable food production with low carbon footprint is being demanded not only by researchers and environmentalists but also consumers across the globe. This awareness could benefit us by enabling the changes required in the way we grow, process and consume food.
The food space is rapidly changing, and it presents an opportunity for the food industry and researchers to cater to the demand of consumers fitting their changing lifestyles and expectations. Demand is emerging for fresher and natural food, which is less processed, containing less preservatives, or are even free from artificial additives, nutritionally advantageous with less content of salt, sugar or fat, are safer food and having low impact on the environment.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, 15 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by livestock farming and hence consumers are readily shifting towards plant-based diet to put less pressure on the environment. Red meat production of 1 Kg consumes 5Kg of agricultural produce and reducing meat consumption will reduce pressure on land.
It is estimated that the rapid growth of the meat-free or animal-free industry (plant-based meat) has the potential to capture 10 per cent of the $1.4 trillion global meat industry. In fact, in next decade the market for alternative meat can reach $140 billion according to an analysis done by Barclays.
Understanding the needs of the consumers who are looking for healthier options, high-end restaurants are now experimenting with plants which have been known safe for consumption but have not been as widely used. Spirulina is one such fresh water micro-alga, known for its energetic properties. It contains minerals, proteins, antioxidants and 60 per cent of proteins. It needs less land and water to produce protein and energy. Both NASA and European Space Agency advocated Spirulina in the 1980s and early 90s as one of the primary foods to be cultivated during long-term space missions.
Moringa, also known as drumstick tree, is an extraordinary plant which is rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and vegetable proteins. It also has medicinal and health benefits such as antifungal, antiviral, antidepressant, and anti-inflammatory properties. Moringa is particularly suitable for dry regions, as it can be grown using rainwater without expensive irrigation techniques. While the plant is native to India and are extensively consumed by the Southern, Northern, Eastern and North-Eastern regions of India, it has found a niche market globally and in fine dining because of its numerous benefits.
Stevia is a sweetener and sugar substitute derived from the leaves of the plant species Stevia rebaudiana and it has 30 to 150 times the sweetness of sugar, are heat-stable, pH-stable, and not fermentable. With zero calories and having natural anti-oxidant properties, the plant is a native to Brazil and Paraguay and several studies have found that the use of stevia sweeteners as replacements for sugar might be beneficial for a diabetic, children and people who wish to lower their intake of calories.
Another superfood which is slowly recognised for its unusual benefits is Baobab tree which is a native to African continent. These trees can live more than 1000 years and the oldest tree recorded is the Panke baobab, lived for more than 2500 years. They help to keep soil conditions humid and prevents soil erosion. The baobab fruit has many essential nutrients like Vitamin C (7-10 times more than oranges), fiber (30 times more than lettuce), magnesium (5 times more than avocadoes), potassium (6 times more than bananas) and calcium (2 times more than cow’s milk).
With changing weather patterns, less rainfall to support food production system, increasing pressure on farmers to grow more food, we need to recognise these super foods which are available in our region and reap benefits out of it which will ease the pressure on the environment.
Shivendra Bajaj, Executive Director, Federation of Seed Industry of India (FSII), New Delhi