In a world in which more than 30% of agricultural produce goes to waste, approaches and methods inspired by the circular economy are emerging alongside developments aimed at transforming the food industry’s byproducts into high-quality edible raw materials. Meet two innovative Israeli companies that may change the way we view food.
The circular economy offers the obvious alternative to excessive consumerism, to the wasteful use of resources, and to the mountains of waste that pollute the environment – all of which constitute a real threat to our future. In contrast to an economy that uses resources in a one-off and exploitative manner, a circular economy supports repeat use while rehabilitating systems. This approach requires creative thinking and the development of new production systems that will benefit the environment, humankind and business.
The Protein That Was Born from a Byproduct
One successful example of a circular economy is Yeap – a company whose name is derived from the words “yeast” and “protein.” As its name suggests, the company takes yeast that is the superfluous byproduct of industrial processes and transforms it into a functional concentrated protein powder that can be used to produce food.
Yeap is the first company in the world to develop technology for the revolutionary use of yeast streams from industrial production that would otherwise be thrown away or become animal feed. As well as utilizing the byproducts, the process the company has developed does not require fermentation, uses existing production lines, and saves the expensive construction of a special factory and equipment. The resulting proteins is manufactured at relatively low cost and enables rapid scalability, thereby overcoming one of the most significant obstacles in the alternative proteins market.
The patent-protected process results in a white protein powder with a 70%-80% concentration. From a functional perspective, Yeap’s protein can replace eggs, soy, and some milk proteins, and can be used in baking, milk products, condiments, as a lecithin substitute, and in the world of meat substitutes. As a functional protein, it enables a smooth creamy texture devoid of a grainy sensation, adds highly concentrated protein value, and can maintain the product’s structure. This quality saves the use of fat, some stabilizers, starch and preserves products’ higher protein level.
Jonathan Goshen, one of Yeap’s co-founders and the company’s CEO, explains that although the world of edible protein components currently offers a range of solutions, such as soy, pea, and animal proteins, each of these has at least one central disadvantage. Animal protein harms animals and is unsustainable. Soy protein contains allergens and estrogen and lacks the taste of animal protein. Pea protein has low nutritional value and has an off flavor.
In contrast, yeast-based protein contains no allergens, can be easily digested (very high PDCAAS), and is a whole protein with the nine important amino acids. Moreover, its positive production qualities include a scalable circular economy process involving relatively low production costs. Furthermore, the protein is also sustainable and contributes to reduced usage of land, water, and energy resources, and to lower greenhouse gas emissions. From a practical perspective, the protein can also be used in the functional world and in the world of “bulk”, where it is used as the main protein element.
Yeap’s protein has an umami taste that can be “played with” in end-products, and which is devoid of off flavors present in other vegetable proteins. The umami is used when wanting to preserve the original taste – such as with meat substitutes – but in other products, the company has succeeded in achieving an almost zero-umami flavor level.
Transforming Nothing into a Tasty Product
Yeap began operating in 2020 as part of the ‘Kitchen Hub’ Incubator run by the Innovation Authority and Strauss. “We exist thanks to the Innovation Authority and Strauss. We came up with the idea, and they provided the capital”, says Goshen. “The incubator supported us and provided assistance with the technology, business development, marketing, recruitment, and comprehensive support in opening doors, establishing contacts, and even with a hug when it was needed”.
In addition to Goshen, the core team includes entrepreneurs Didier Toubia and Dominik Grabinski, CTO Keren Kles, a protein expert who joined the company from Flying SpArk, and COO Dana Marom.
Currently, Yeap produces several hundred kilograms of the protein each year. While production now takes place overseas, Yeap is currently in communication with Israeli manufacturers with the aim of beginning local production.
Goshen says that the primary assignment currently facing the company is to successfully turn overseas partners running Yeap pilots into clients. One of the pilots with a global food company located in Europe has already led to the development of a product. Yeap also seeks to raise capital to progress to the ‘Go to Market’ stage and to expand the team. The objective is to become a company that operates in Israel with branches overseas, starting with locations in the United States and Europe.
“Everyone is talking about how, in the future, there will not be enough food to feed the world’s population, about the need to protect animals, to decrease water and land usage, and to lower greenhouse gas emissions”, Goshen says. “The beauty of the Yeap initiative – and this is one of the things that attracted me – is to try and fully utilize the maximum quantity of existing resources. We started from scratch and have achieved a delicious sustainable product that can be used in a wide range of applications”.
Compared to its competitors in the functional ingredient landscape, Yeap maintains that its scalability is quicker and cheaper, translating into a more affordable product. In addition, some competitors use a mixture of several components while consumers’ preference today is for as few components as possible. “With a single component we can do what others do with several components”, Goshen explains. From a health perspective, the Yeap protein is whole – without allergens and with a high digestibility level (PDCAAS).
“Our vision is to replace soy, in both the functional and the bulk markets”, Goshen summarizes. “We want to increase access to another raw material that will become part of the flourishing industry of alternative proteins. And what is better than reusable products?”
Enhancing Vegetables’ Natural Beauty
Do you like vegetables? Want to combat the waste of food in Israel? Meet ANINA Culinary Art – a new and revolutionary Israeli startup. Esti Brantz and Meydan Levy, the initiative’s partners, got to know each other during their studies together at Bezalel. The two collaborated and created several projects together with the aim of finding solutions that will improve the quality of life and the environment. “Most of the industry is directed at serving objectives that view profit as the ultimate value”, says Brantz. “If we engage in a circular economy, we can improve not just the profitability but also the industry and the environment, even if this requires investment and development. The consumers themselves view this as a value and demand high-quality products that are good for the environment and produced via a fair process”.
The catalyst for ANINA’s current development was the exposure to the severe figures relating to the immediate future problem of feeding the world’s population in contrast to the waste of food in the western world. “The quantities of food thrown out and destroyed are enormous”, Brantz says. In practice, approximately 30%-50% of agricultural produce is thrown out at all points along the supply chain for many diverse reasons.
One of the primary factors that motivated the designers to promote a change was the filtering of food that is marketed solely based on aesthetic metrics – shapes, textures, size etc. Although the produce may be high-quality, tasty, and nutritious, vegetables that look different are sometimes not even harvested from the field.
The two decided to take the produce classified as “ugly” and redesign it as “desirable”. “We wanted to create a change and to raise awareness by making vegetables more appetizing and for people to look at them and want to eat them. Our approach is not based on a desire to educate people but rather from an emotional view of connecting with the beauty of nature. We wanted to examine ways of providing a stage for the natural beauty of fruit and vegetables. We sometimes view them as trivial because they are a cheap and available product that is not marketed in attractive packaging.
Experiments in the Home Kitchen
Brantz and Levy began a series of experiments. They visited the Machane Yehuda market every day to collect the leftover fruit and vegetables and began exploring ways of naturally preserving the food. They arrived at the method of dehydration – an historically ancient method that preserves the nutritional value of raw materials. Among others, it is used for pasta, legumes, and spices.
Dehydration is efficient in two ways: the first is the extension of shelf life from a few days, in the case of vegetables, to many months and, even, years under the correct packaging conditions. The second advantage is transportation. Vegetables contain about 90% water and dehydration significantly reduces their volume and weight. As designers, we address experiences and examine how every product we make will influence the people consuming it, thereby creating the sequence of emotions they will feel when encountering the product”, Brantz explains.
“Although we don’t come from the culinary field, as industrial designers we are familiar with physical attributes, patterns of behavior, and methods of processing countless materials. We combined technologies and techniques from heavy industries and converted them to process edible raw materials to create technological innovation and an exceptional experience”.
The team of designers was joined by Anat Natan who has vast experience in the culinary world, management, and marketing, and together with the technology team, the capsules were developed into the final product. ANINA creates a laminate – a kind of edible, visually appealing vegetable sheet. Despite their structural flexibility, the sheets are constructive and can be shaped into 3D form and can hold materials in a very stable manner, a quality that allows to package all the product’s components as a capsule.
Preparing the dish is simple: after placing the capsule in a bowl and adding a cup of water, all that is necessary is a few minutes in the microwave (or in a pot). The capsule breaks down and becomes a tasty dish. On average, each capsule contains 40% vegetables as well as noodles, grains, and spices. The process restores the water to the vegetables and cooks them. Each portion makes at least two cups of vegetable, that are approx. 40% of an adult’s recommended daily intake of vegetables.
ANINA’s capsules began to be sold several months ago via the “Aleh Online” website. Feedback is now being gathered from consumers. “The feedback is amazing”, says Brantz, “we are very happy at the high level of response and interest in the product and are learning a lot from the consumers.
“We constantly feel the amazing support of the Innovation Authority”, Brantz concludes, “it’s not just technical support – we feel supported like a family. Everyone is ready and motivated because they care and not just because it’s their job. It is challenging being a startup and the support gives us the energy and backing to continue what we are doing.
“It’s no coincidence that the food industry is so large and pollutive”, says Brantz. “Food is an existential need and one of humankind’s great pleasures. We hope to exert a positive influence on life, our body, and the environment, and also give inspiration to industrialists, who will see that it’s possible to benefit the world, as well as our physical and mental wellbeing, while also being appreciated and innovative”.