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Finnish food sector toasts to healthy, sustainable innovations

Solein, a vegan protein developed from thin air by Solar Foods, is one of the most exciting recent food innovations from Finland.

Solar Foods

From green vodka and low-alcohol gin to protein from thin air, the future of food is on show in Finland.

The Finnish food and beverage industry has been showing off its innovative spirit.

Helsinki-based Anora Group in October launched what could be the most sustainable vodka in the world, Koskenkorva Vodka Climate Action, in the UK. Created in collaboration with farmer Jari Eerola and the Baltic Sea Action Group, the vodka is made of barley grown by the practices of regenerative agriculture, a rehabilitation approach that sequesters carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into the ground.

“With Koskenkorva Vodka Climate Action, we are using a batch of single-estate barley that ferments a little bit differently to others, so we take a more hands-on approach in the process,” Mikael Karttunen, global brand ambassador for Koskenkorva Vodka, toldThe Drinks Business.

The benefits of regenerative agriculture are enormous. Karttunen told that were all farmers of the world to adopt the practices, some 322 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide would be removed from the atmosphere.

“[That’s] almost as much as we emit globally in 10 years.”

Anora Group has launched a vodka made of regeneratively farmed barley, making it possibly the most sustainable vodka in the world. Image: Tiina Parkkinen / Altia

The gluten-free and vegan-friendly spirit is also produced at a distillery that runs predominantly on bioenergy and boasts a recycling rate of 99.9 per cent, with even the barley husks left over from distillation used to power the distillery.

The Helsinki Distilling Company reported it has started producing an alcohol-free distillate to cater to the growing segment of consumers who abstain from alcohol but want to enjoy drinks that mimic genuine cocktails. Although the distillate derives its flavour from ingredients such as citrus fruits and juniper berries, making it an alcohol-free substitute for gin, it is not intended for consumption as neat.

Non-alcoholic distillate Helsinki Nolla can be used for making mocktails such as Tom Nollins. Image: The Helsinki Distilling Company

Mikko Mykkänen, master distiller at the Helsinki Distilling Company, told Helsingin Sanomat that the production starts with the extraction of the fruits, berries and other botanicals. The extracts are then distilled and mixed before the alcohol created during distillation is removed without being replaced by any solvents.

The precise recipe and production process will be kept under wraps, however.

Mikko Mykkänen, master distiller at the Helsinki Distilling Company, has created an alcohol-free distillate with hints of citrus fruits, juniper berries and other botanicals. Image: The Helsinki Distilling Company

“We’re the first Finnish product on the market and want to hold on to our advantage,” explained Mykkänen. “I’m sure that alcohol-free distillates will start coming from other companies, too.”

Another Helsinki-based startup that has embraced the spirit of change in the alcohol marketplace is Kåska, the namesake low-alcohol gin of which was launched last year in Finland and Hong Kong. Although the launch event was held remotely due to restrictions adopted to rein in the coronavirus pandemic, the distillate has fared well in its first year-and-change on the markets.

Kåska Casual Spirit is a low-alcohol gin with spruce, citrus and floral notes. Image: Kåska

Hong Kong was selected as the first foreign market due to its concentration of taste-maker locations and trend-setter areas, as well as its status as one of the cocktail capitals of Asia, according to Eetu Topo, co-founder of Kåska.

“Hong Kong has been a profitable market for us the whole time, even though we aren’t talking about massive volumes,” he stated to Kauppalehti in August. “The market share of low-alcohol products is about one per cent, but the sales of low-alcohol distillates grew by 80 per cent last year.

The 15-per cent gin is to be launched next in Denmark, with additional market entries scheduled for late 2021 and early 2022.

Globally, Finnish food products appeal particularly to health, environment and sustainability-concerned consumers.

The products are among the best in the world in terms of the hygiene levels, traceability and accountability of the entire food chain. Poultry farms in the country have been antibiotic-free for well over a decade, while the quantity of antibiotics fed to livestock is one of the lowest in Europe.

Nutrition from thin air

Solar Foods has initiated a so-called novel food application procedure to plant the seed for the European launch of Solein, a vegan protein created by microbes that metabolise carbon dioxide. The procedure was initiated by submitting a dossier containing information and scientific evidence on what the startup believes is the most sustainable protein in the world to the European Commission on 2 November.

Necessary for any food not widely consumed in the EU before 15 May 1997, the procedure ensures the food is safe, not labelled misleadingly and nutritionally fit for its purpose.

Solein is created by microbes that have probably been around for longer than the animals and plants people eat, believes Solar Foods. Image: Solar Foods

Solar Foods reported that the micro-organism that forms the protein has been tested rigorously and its composition monitored and characterised during the last two years of product development. The compositional data, it said, raises no concerns linked to safety or allergies and proves the protein is safe to eat and nutritionally sound as an alternative protein.

Even though the notion of producing food literally from thin air can sound otherworldly, the natural organism has likely existed for longer than the plants and animals people consume, according to the company.

“But it is only now, with technology, that we can finally grow and harvest something that would normally have been too microscopic for us to see,” it said.

The company also announced it will begin building its first commercial-scale production facility in Vantaa, Southern Finland. “We estimate that commercial production will begin in the first half of 2023.”

Splashy innovations

Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) in September reported it has applied for a patent for the water circulation and treatment technology used in its plug-and-play solution for fish farming. The modular solution can be installed in, for example, shipping containers and enables the rapid startup and flexible scaling of production.

The benefits include a wide range of cost savings.

Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) believes its plug-and-play fish-farming solution delivers a number of cost savings. Image: Luke

“[The] modular concept brings savings in design costs, component manufacturing, procurement and plant setup,” listed Tapio Kiuru, project lead at Luke.

While he admitted that the notion of utilising shipping containers in aquaculture is not new, the modular solution is unrivalled in terms of efficiency: it supports high feeding levels and fish densities while needing only electricity and water connections on site.

“Luke’s method can meet several of the current key challenges in circulating aquaculture, such as high investment costs and […] high feed and labour costs,” he told.

Business Finland has supported the effort to commercialise the solution with a grant of 378 000 euros. The functioning and commercial potential of the solution is presently being evaluated in a project underway in Laukaa, Central Finland.

The EU, meanwhile, has granted funding for an aquaponics research project at JAMK University of Applied Sciences in Jyväskylä, Central Finland.

The funding will enable the researchers to launch a feasibility study, conduct small-scale laboratory tests and construct a pilot plant to monitor and develop the performance of the aquaponics system, with a view to developing it into a profitable and environmentally friendly business model for rural areas with unused agricultural facilities.

The researchers have thus far produced mint, spinach and rainbow trout, focusing primarily on water quality, system maintenance, and fish and plant growth.

“Aquaponics farming is an exciting and developing sector of aquaculture which provides an opportunity to save our environment along with providing high-quality local food products like fish and vegetables,” saidFaiqa Atique, doctoral student at JAMK.

“The method requires 85 per cent less water than traditional agricultural and fish farming practices,” she highlighted.

The EU’s Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries pointed out that the climate crisis is affecting the yields of farms, aquaculture and fisheries. Aquaponics, it said, offers an alternative method to produce crops and protein that has a minimal environmental impact, is unperturbed by seasons and does not require soil occupation.

Published on 11.11.2021