Abigail Klein Leichman
January 8, 2023

Can processed food ever be anything but junk food?

Is it possible for energy bars, snack items, ready-to-make meals and other convenience foods to be nutritious and even environmentally friendly?

This was the challenge presented to students from Turin, Helsinki, Madrid and the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology at a Food Solutions competition funded by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology.

The two Technion teams won gold and silver medals for their innovative ideas.

Challenge met: Make a processed food healthy, not junky
Group photo of the winning Technion students with their mentors. Photo by Rami Shelush/Technion Spokesperson Department

The gold medal went to OmeleTofu, an instant (just-add-water) vegan omelette in a choice of mushroom or shakshuka flavor. The product is freeze-dried, which preserves the ingredients’ nutritional values better than heat-based drying methods.

The team of graduate students behind OmeleTofu — from the department of data and decision sciences and the department of biotech and food engineering — came up with the idea to help one team member’s vegan boyfriend find a healthful fast-food option. Garuda Labs helped them make the prototype.

The silver medal went to Proteinchick, a vegan, gluten-free, low-sugar, savory protein snack made from chickpeas and lentils with a cashew-based filling.

Challenge met: Make a processed food healthy, not junky
The Proteinchick product. Photo by Rami Shelush/Technion Spokesperson Department

The chickpea cooking water is used to bring the ingredients together in a process that gives it a fluffy and crunchy texture. A chef from Bishulim culinary school helped make the prototype.

“We think of ‘fresh’ and ‘natural’ as the healthy and ‘green’ choices,” Prof. Maya Davidovich-Pinhas, one of the teams’ guides, explained.

“But that’s not quite true. Modern processing methods, based on scientific knowledge, can preserve and even enhance the food’s digestibility and nutritional values.”

In addition, fresh products require cold storage and cold transportation, which have a high energy cost that shelf-stable products do not incur. Fresh products also spoil quickly, and often go to waste.

Davidovich-Pinhas pointed out that food processing has been a part of human history for millennia.

“It’s what enabled people to preserve food for winter, make it safe for prolonged periods, and carry it on long journeys. Even cooking is a form of processing food, which makes nutrients easier to digest, renders the food safer, removes toxins and pathogens,” she said.

“Health-consciousness, a scientific approach and new technology enable us to do the same things in smarter ways, and to get novel healthy food solutions.”

OmeleTofu and Proteinchick join a line of victories for Technion students in Food Solutions competitions since the initiative’s launch in 2017.

Winning projects from previous years include vegan oat-based labneh, soy-based yogurt, low-sugar chocolate cake, spirulina-enriched falafel, and a solution to help prevent spoilage of natural juices.

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