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Chalmers contributes to a sustainable food sector

Chalmers University of Technology’s contribution to research and development of new solutions for a more sustainable food sector is growing. Through three national centres − FINEST, PAN Sweden and BLUE FOOD  Chalmers researchers will be involved in developing the food of the future.

The Swedish Research Council Formas give 192 million SEK to four national centres for food research and innovation – and Chalmers is participating in three of these. In close collaborations researchers, industry and other actors, will develop new sustainable food systems in Sweden. This means an increase in production of more nutritious food, while the environmental impact decreases.

BLUE FOOD

BLUE FOOD, centre for the seafood of the future, will result in completely new Swedish seafood products that could play an important role in the ongoing protein shift. This shift means leaving red meat as the primary source of protein for more sustainable and healthy alternatives. Ingrid Undeland, Professor of Food Science at the Department of Biology and Biological Engineering, will, as the research coordinator, have a central role in BLUE FOOD.

“I hope that BLUE FOOD will contribute to more of our Swedish blue raw materials being processed nationally  and that this will positively influence new job opportunities, competence level, self-sufficiency and profitability in the Swedish fishing and seafood industry,” she says.

One goal of the centre is that a larger proportion of the wild fish caught in Sweden will be used as food – another is to expand Swedish aquaculture, i.e. the cultivation of, for example, fish, mussels and algae. Today, as much as 85 percent of the wild Swedish-caught wild fish is not used for food, but for low-value products that are later used in animal feed. This includes both small fish species such as herring, and sprat, but also the parts of the fish that remain after the fillet is removed. These species and cutting details need to be better utilised. But technological development is required to succeed.

“My research group has extensive experience from processes that can be used to refine both residual raw materials and small fish species. For almost 20 years, we have used complex marine raw materials to isolate functional proteins, i.e. proteins that can provide structure to food at different levels. This knowledge will be used in the doctoral student project that Food and Nutrition Science at Chalmers will supervise in the centre. When it comes to seafood quality, we also have extensive experience, not least on how to avoid oxidation of the unsaturated marine fats, which otherwise leads to the food becoming rancid and losing nutritional value,” says Ingrid Undeland.

Mehdi Abdollahi and Ann-Sofie Sandberg from the Division of Food and Nutrition Science and Robin Teigland from the Department of Technology Management and Economics (TME) also participate, as artificial intelligence,  AI, and digitalisation in the blue sector are important focus areas in BLUE FOOD. The latter will also form the basis for a PhD-student project in a later stage of the centre.

FINEST

FINEST is a centre for future innovations in a sustainable food system. The centre brings research on sustainability and nutrition, food technology, consumer behaviour, innovation management and system change together. In addition, there is a joint development of methods through the Food Transition Lab run by Rise, and a co-creation platform that will be created within the centre formation.

The centre wants to contribute to innovation in the Swedish food sector by involving actors from all parts of the value chain – to jointly create the best conditions for innovation, contribute to system change and support concrete projects, including berries as raw materials and experimental value chains.

Professor Maria Elmquist at TME, on Chalmers' involvement in FINEST:

“I will lead a work package together with RISE where we will work with innovation management and study how established players can find new paths to innovation by collaborating in new ways and with new parties. We will recruit a doctoral student with a focus on innovation in the food sector, who will, among other things, work closely with ICA and the Rural Economy and Agricultural Societies (Hushållningssällskapet). The activities in the centre will constitute an exciting research arena and lab environment for us, as we will be able to collaborate and study the participating actors, and easily test new models and tools.”

PAN SWEDEN

Efforts to limit the environmental impact from animal-based food are needed to meet the goals of Agenda 2030 but innovations within plant-based proteins options are lagging. Evidence-based knowledge within food processing, consumption and health benefits of plant-based proteins is currently scarce, which limits the necessary further development.

The centre PAN SWEDEN (plant-based proteins for health and wellbeing) will in collaboration with universities, research institutes, the Swedish industry and public sector partners, develop new knowledge and new methods to examine how increased consumption of plant-based proteins affects health and well-being. PAN brings together a unique set of interdisciplinary competence and creates a new infrastructure that integrates research on food, nutrition, technology, medicine and social sciences. 

Marie Alminger, Professor of Food and Nutrition Science, is part of PAN’s management team and she will participate in the research with focus on characterisation of plant-based proteins. Among other things, the researchers want to clarify the relationship between processing, structure, bioavailability, digestion of proteins, and how the proteins can affect the intestinal flora and health. 

 “We will compare selected plant proteins (model proteins combined with fibre components) with animal foods, in this case chicken. We want to identify raw materials with promising properties that work well in food processes − but also gain knowledge about possibilities and health effects, or risks, that come with increased use of plant-based foods,” she says.

Anna Ström is Professor at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. She is also part of the management of PAN and is responsible for the focus area "Biomolecular signatures in a precision nutrition perspective". Here, the researchers will work mainly on how plant-based nutrition is absorbed by the body and investigate the processes for uptake of different vegetable proteins in the digestive systems. As a chemist, Anna Ström contributes with the physical chemical aspects and she is particularly interested in exploring one idea with an exciting focus:

“The idea is to develop a sensor that makes it possible to follow how we degrade various plant-based proteins, which could enable us to look directly into the intestinal system. We see a great need for such technical solutions. With the help of AI, the information can be translated into new, important knowledge on the functions of different proteins in our digestive systems,” says Anna Ström.

Another research area to be explored is how the combination of different proteins, and high and low fibre levels in the diet affects us from a nutritional and health perspective.


Read the press release from Formas: Multi-million investment in Swedish centres for food research and innovation​

Page manager Published: Tue 12 Jan 2021.