At Food Loves Tech you can get your hands (and mouth!) on emerging trends in the space where food meets technology. The event is a creation of Vayner Media and Edible Manhattan and was held at The Waterfront NYC.
The crowd was big but not overwhelming and filled with lots of young, curious, excited faces. Exhibits were grouped into 4 loosely defined areas: In the Field, In the home, In the City and On the Horizon. At the end was a bazaar featuring products and services that are already on the market.
Not only were there some interesting companies and cool products, but all attendees had ample opportunity to talk directly with passionate reps, researchers and creators. The organizers hope this will become an annual event.
Check out these four Food Loves Tech trends featuring products and companies to look for now and in the future.
This is a little snippet of conversation I overheard by the Home Grown exhibit displaying a living, chirping prototype for creating your own tiny cricket farm (for consumption):
Attendee: Isn’t that kinda f-ed up that we are just growing them to eat them? Oh wait, that’s what we’re doing with cows.
Home Grown Rep: Yeah, but with cows, it’s even more f-ed up.
Truth. Our animal agricultural system is problematic for a variety of reasons. Beef tends to be the go-to environmental example. (Check out this National Geographic article for info on all the resources required to produce 1,000 calories of beef.) The United States is the largest producer and consumer of beef so this is our problem. Three companies were interested in bringing a variety of insect proteins to market as a more sustainable alternative. The aforementioned Home Grown, cricket protein bar manufacturers Exo, and One Hop Kitchen, makers of cricket and mealworm bolognese.
They are realistic that this is will be a slow process and are hopeful that they can convince a younger generation to include insect proteins in their diet. I tasted all the available bug samples and found that they are pretty similar to proteins we are already accustomed to eating. Home Grown’s roasted crickets tasted a lot like sunflower seeds. Exo’s protein bars taste like your typical protein bar and both the mealworm and cricket bolognese tasted like a standard store bought jar of bolognaise sauce. In the future, look for boundary-pushing chefs to bring bugs into the kitchen and onto avant-garde restaurant menus.
These companies have the technology but weren’t really making a product I was excited about. However, it’s still possible that someone will print something really delicious and this could take off.
The Beehex exhibit drew quite a crowd and offered taste tests of their 3D-printed pizza. Their printer held three cartridges — clear plastic tubes filled with dough, sauce, and some kind of soft “real” cheese. It squirted out one layer at a time and is capable of creating a few different shapes. Our pizza was heart-shaped. Then a human transfers the pizza to the oven.
As anyone who’s ever tried to make pizza from scratch at home knows, crust is an art. The 3D pizza printed by the Beehex printer was doughy and soft like wonder bread and had little flavor. It reminded me of the rectangular slices served in my junior high and high school. Beehex’s plan is to upstage the vending machine pizza by creating a kiosk featuring an eight-cartridge machine, offering more variety in crusts and sauces. The kiosks don’t exist yet, but will most likely first open in Texas or California, where the company is based. I’m not sure the novelty will be able to sustain them since the quality wasn’t there yet.
The other presenter in 3D printed food, Nufood, showcased a machine that prints “flavor bursts” from a syrup. No matter what syrup you put in – raspberry of black truffle, you get the same texture of flavor filled beads into a shape you draw on their app. They were selling it as a way to enjoy fresh flavors out of season, but they had made syrup out of fresh raspberries. The syrup was what preserves the raspberries out of season, not the printing, right?
Names to know in urban agriculture, Gotham Greens and AeroFarms, showcased their products and process. Gotham Greens opened their flagship urban greenhouse in 2011 in Brooklyn. They offer sustainable, pesticide free greens grown year-round from their Brooklyn, Queens, and Chicago greenhouses. Newark, NJ based AeroFarms ups the tech factor by growing their greens in a former nightclub with LED lights. Greens sit in layered trays and hanging roots are misted with the exact amount of water and nutrients required.
These “farms” look complicated, but offer the simple reward of fresher sustainable produce for consumers. Much of the produce in the US is grown in California. That means that east coast grocery store greens may have already had a long trip before they arrive at your home. Know your local urban farms and you can look for city grown greens, usually at a similar price to conventionally grown organics. Their products also offer consistency since they are able to completely regulate the environment. This is a huge plus for wholesale buyers running restaurants and food service.
Presenters had their eye on a specific corner of the market – the serious home chef. A lot of the items would be useful in small urban kitchens. One of my favorites was a little gadget the size of a clock called Uno made be Creative Cuisine by Grant that can turn your slow cooker or rice cooker into a sous vide machine. Bartesian offered the Keurig machine of the cocktail world. I wasn’t completely sold on straying from the handmade variety, but I could see this being useful for outdoor dining when you want a busy cocktail area to stay clean and bug free. This also might be interesting if you want to be able to entertain at a moments notice without stocking up on mixers, fruits, etc.
With so many cool new companies, this is just of fraction of the fun. Check out the Food Loves Tech website for a list of all the presenters, and sign up for updates for next year.
Katie Le Seac’h is a freelance writer and sommelier living in Brooklyn. She writes about wine, food and parenting.