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Food is reimagined in Finland

Hailia Nordic has developed technology that boosts the value of undervalued small fish, which is today used widely as fish and animal feed.

Hailia Nordic

Finnish firms have come up with imaginative methods to produce protein, better utilise fish catches and replace cocoa.

Solar Foods, a Finnish producer of what it believes is the purest and most sustainable protein in the world, has announced its first partnership with a major global food brand, Japan’s Ajinomoto Group.

The Lappeenranta-based company said the strategic alliance is aimed at developing new products with Solein, the protein it produces from a natural microbe through fermentation using only air and electricity, in Singapore. The partners will also launch a marketability study for the products in the country in early 2024.

The plan is to later expand the collaboration beyond Singapore.

Pasi Vainikka, CEO of Solar Foods, highlighted that the partnership aligns with the strategic goal of introducing the innovation to global markets through co-operation with major food industry players. Ajinomoto and Solar Foods, he envisioned, can together shake up existing food categories, reduce the environmental impact of food production, and support human health and performance.

Ajinomoto has a presence in 36 countries and regions, and products available in over 130 countries and regions.

Solein is produced not dissimilarly to growing a plant, characterises Solar Foods. Instead of water and soil, the microbe is fed electricity and four key ingredients captured from air: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. The fermentation process allows it to grow at a rate that is 20 times faster than photosynthesis.

The end result is similar to dried soya or algae in terms of its macronutritional composition: 65–70 per cent protein, 5–8 per cent fat, 10–15 per cent dietary fibres and 3–5 per cent mineral nutrients.

Solar Foods received its first novel food approval in Singapore in September 2022, with the first public taste of Solein offered in May 2023. Vainikka pointed out last month that the protein is the first successful attempt to channel energy from the sun to humans in the form of edible calories without relying on photosynthesis.

“So far, photosynthetic plants have been the only feasible way to receive energy from the sun to feed humankind. Now, this process can be bypassed in its entirety,” he said.

The company has outlined that its next step will be to scale up production and make the protein available to food companies that are interested in utilising it to concoct more sustainable products. It is presently seeking the requisite authorisation for the protein in several key markets, including the EU, UK and US.

Solein, the protein innovation by Finland’s Solar Foods, has a delicate flavour with a pleasant note of umami that allows it to “vanish” into foods without changing their taste, making it a functional, nutritious and versatile substitute for meat or plant proteins.

Solar Foods

“Real thing” recognised as world-changing idea

Another nourishing Finnish innovation was recently recognised at Fast Company’s 2023 World Changing Ideas. Onego Bio in May revealed that Bioalbumen, the animal-free egg-white protein it produces by means of precision fermentation, was named a winner in the food category and finalist in the agriculture category of the awards programme.

Bioalbumen is produced not dissimilarly to beer, according to Onego Bio. The production process relies on Trichoderma reesei, a micro-organism that is fed water, sugar and certain minerals to produce a protein powder with the nutritional and functional upsides of egg white but without the environmental, ethical, safety and supply chain-related concerns.

Maija Itkonen, CEO of Onego Bio, described ovalbumin, the major protein found in egg white, as one of “nature’s wonders”.

“Bioalbumen is not a substitute. It is the real thing,” she declared. “It is part of an emerging category of animal-free ingredients produced through fermentation. Precision fermentation is the newest chapter in the history of making food without animals. It allows us to provide people with food that is sustainable, tasty, and healthy—without cutting any corners or making any compromises.”

The company also pointed out that its production technology is unique in terms of scalability and minimal waste production because the side-stream biomass can be used in, for instance, packaging materials and animal-free mycelium leather.

While egg production has never been ethical, efficient or sustainable, it added, the need to shift to better alternatives is ever more urgent due to the surge in egg prices – so dramatic that it is known as eggflation – caused by spiking feed prices and bird-flu outbreaks.

Onego Bio’s Bioalbumen has the functional and nutritional upsides of egg white without any of the environmental, ethical, safety and supply-related concerns, according to the Finnish company.

Laura Toppinen / Onego Bio

Diamond in the rough

Hailia Nordic in May announced the launch of two new fish products made from so-called rough fish, Pulled Small Fish and Small Fish Strips.

The products are made using technology designed to enable the food industry to make better use of the roughly 100 million kilos of Baltic herring caught annually in Finland. The easy-to-scale technology makes it possible to process even the smallest fish into suitable meal ingredients, thereby increasing the share of catch that can be consumed by humans.

The products will initially be targeted only at professional kitchens in response to a strong desire to increase the use of domestic fish.

The Karkkila-based company highlighted that presently only a small percentage of the catch is consumed directly by humans because rough fish – that is, fish below fillet size – is used as fish and animal feed. Michaela Lindström, CEO of Hailia Nordic, argued that increasing the processing value of undervalued fish is necessary to raise the appreciation of domestic wild-caught fish and restore its status in the local cuisine.

“The small fish in our seas are far too valuable to be regarded as rough fish,” she said.

Hailia Nordic uses fish caught in the Gulf of Bothnia, a recommended seafood choice according to WWF.

The company also drew attention to the production technology’s potential impact on food self-sufficiency. Lindström indicated that it is regrettable that the high share of fish imports is “taken for granted,” pointing out that tackling the situation would both add revenue to the domestic food system and prop up food security.

The product launch is only step one for Hailia Nordic. The company has set out to develop the necessary expertise and technology to utilise underutilised small fish in food production and reduce its spillage outside the food system – to fur farms, for example – around the world.

“Innovations are needed to bring food more directly to people without wasteful intermediate steps,” said Lindström.

Fazer is offering Finnish and Swedish consumers a “taste of the future” with its new cocoa and palm oil-free candy tablets.


“Taste of the future”

Fazer, one of the most iconic food companies in Finland, in May reported that it has commenced the pilot sales of grain-based and cocoa-free candy tablets in Finland and Sweden. Called Taste the Future, the tablets come in two flavours: blueberry and salted caramel.

The vegan-friendly and palm oil-free candy tablets are made with gently roasted malted rye to create a deep and bitter flavour profile not dissimilar to cocoa, which is rounded out with vegetable fat. The grains for both tablets – rye and oats – are sourced around Lahti, Southern Finland.

“Our talented chocolate scientists managed to develop a unique delicious solution, which uses locally produced rye to replace cocoa in the candy tablet,” stated Annika Porr, senior manager at Fazer Confectionery. “Rye is a much-loved grain in the Nordic countries, its full and rich flavour profile being perfect for this development project.”

The tablets have been found in few selected locations in Helsinki, Malmö and Stockholm since 16 May. Fazer is collecting consumer feedback during the pilot to develop the products further.

Heli Anttila, director of new product development at Fazer Confectionery, highlighted that climate change is threatening many traditional cocoa-growing areas, creating the need to explore alternative sources for sustainable cocoa.

Fazer and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland are together exploring the potential of cellular agriculture for cocoa production. The early signs have been promising.

“Cell-cultured cocoa is still far from our plates, but it offers us a novel approach to managing the challenges of sustainable cocoa sourcing in a fair and transparent value chain,” Porr stated in August 2022.

By: Aleksi Teivainen