But what about the actual foodstuff itself? After all, from the Klingon delicacy of Gagh (basically a plate of worms) to the delicious, sustainable Soylent Green (spoiler: it’s people), science fiction has long shown us that a key part of any high tech world is the wacky food people eat in it. How is technology changing what we’ll be heaping onto our plates? Here are seven examples of what our future meals may look like.
You can’t see the words “cutting edge food company” without talking about Memphis Meats. (Well, technically you can, but we’re trying to establish its overall importance here!) Memphis Meats creates lab-grown meat that’s manufactured by putting living animal cells into bioreactor tanks and then feeding them oxygen, sugars, and minerals until they divide and grow.
The result? Meat that looks and, more importantly, tastes like the real thing, but without having to kill animals to create it. So far, the company’s creations have included lab-grown meatballs, chicken and duck. It’s still too expensive per pound to make into a commercial product, but that cost creeps down every day. Look for its products to hit shelves around 2021.
Seafood made from algae
Do you want to eat like a Googler? If so, you may be interested in sampling the shrimp which have previously been served at the search giant’s famously high-end cafeteria. While these look and taste like regular shrimp, they’re actually made from specially-engineered red algae by the San Francisco biotech startup New Wave Foods.
As the startup points out, for every pound of shrimp caught up to 15 pounds of other animals — including endangered dolphins, turtles, and sharks — reportedly die. Sustainable “shrimp” would therefore represent a big step forward.
Bleedable veggie burgers
You know what would toughen up those soy latte-drinking, wispy moustache-wearing vegetarians? Veggie burgers that bleed, dammit! Fortunately, such vegetarians (which includes myself) can enjoy the animal-free burgers created by the startup Impossible Foods. Not only do they taste more beefy than regular vegetable patties, while containing no cholesterol, hormones, or antibiotics, but they actually bleed too.
The burgers are currently for sale. According to its creators, the Impossible Burger requires just one-quarter of the water used to produce the same burger from a cow, a twentieth of the land, and an eighth of the greenhouse gas emissions.
Few things signal to the rest of the world that you work for a swanky Silicon Valley startup more than chowing down on unusual foodstuffs like jellyfish chips. While they’re not yet available to buy, tasty jellyfish chips may soon be available, courtesy of work carried out by a Danish physicist at the University of Southern Denmark.
“We developed a method for preparing jellyfish for eating with inspiration from how gels behave in different solvents,” creator Mie Thorborg Pedersen told Digital Trends. “When we immerse jellyfish in 96 percent ethanol we observe how the gel of the jellyfish collapse, in line with theories concerning gels. After 2 to 3 days we can then let the alcohol evaporate and get this paper-like jellyfish chip.”
As with other foods on this list, sustainability is the name of the game. Jellyfish are abundant compared to a lot of the other overfished seafood populations in the ocean. While there’s no commercialization on the immediate horizon, this could be a great alternate food source in the future.
Speaking of slightly unusual sustainable food, U.K.-based startup Entocycle wants to get us all eating grubs — or more accurately the larvae of black soldier flies.
To help breed them, the company is using some cutting-edge technologies, such as growing them in smart pods which gather constant analytics about the insects and their development. While in the short term Entocycle is focusing on the animal feed market, longer term it plans to expand into the human dietary market too.
“Once people are over the ‘ick’ factor — which is only really a prevailing attitude in the west — then there is nothing to stop insects becoming part of a person’s regular, healthy diet,” CEO Keiran Olivares Whitaker told Digital Trends. “It would take a great shift in attitudes and behavior, and I think we would very much one day aim to be a part of that.”
A nice glass of algae
Worried about keeping a plate of black soldier fly larvae in your stomach? No problem: you could just wash it down with a nice lukewarm mug of soupy, genetically engineered algae. That’s what researchers from the University of California, San Diego and renewable energy company Sapphire Energy have been working on — and it could turn out to be the answer sustainable farmers are looking for.
“It’s sustainable because we can grow algae on non-arable land using non-potable or even salt water,” Stephen Mayfield, director of the California Center for Algae Biotechnology at UCSD, told Digital Trends. “Algae are also more productive than crop plants so we can produce protein, which the world really needs, in a more efficient way, and stop cutting down our rainforest to grow soybeans.”
Plus it can be used as a biofuel, too. It’s like the eco-friendly version of that Saturday Night Live sketch about a dessert topping that also’s a floor wax!
3D printed food is a broader category than anything else on this list, but no list of cutting edge food-tech should be without it. There are a number of 3D food printers available, such as the ChefJet from 3D Systems, which crystalizes thin layers of fine-grain sugar into different shapes, or pasta-maker Barilla’s 3D printer, which creates noodles using water and semolina flour.
While 3D printing with food is still relatively new, long term it should make it possible to engineer some exquisite new meals that wouldn’t be possible in any other way. Plus, who wouldn’t want to get home from the office, and just print off that evening’s meal, without having to toil away in the kitchen to make it?
- Food 2.0: Impossible Foods is back with a bloody new non-beef burger
- Time for test-tube turkey? Everything you need to know about lab-grown meat
- Taste test: The new Impossible Burger is a triumph of food engineering
- Novameat’s 3D-printed ‘steak’ looks gross, but could it save the planet?
- With Personal Food Computers, nerd farmers are finding the best way to grow