I have several loves in life, and one of them is eating. Ask anyone who knows me, and they'll tell you that I'm quite a glutton with an under-appreciated skill of sniffing out Happy Hours from afar and gulping down food as if I were a Dyson V25. Another love of mine is technology and startups. But since most of the developments I cover are in the cyber and SaaS areas, I don't often get to experiment with them. So, when I was given the opportunity to combine these 2 loves and meet dozens of Israeli food tech startups at The Kitchen's FoodTech IL conference, Strauss' startup incubator - I had to say yes– and my stomach was grateful for it. So, here are some of the tastier startups I met there.
Next Gen Hummus: Who needs a coffee machine when you can have a hummus machine
You probably already have a coffee machine in your office. If you're lucky, you might also have a beer tap or ice cream machine, but do you have a hummus machine? The first thing I saw at the exhibition – that warmed my heart and stomach – was a collaboration between Strauss and the Israeli startup Tamooz who developed a machine called Hummix or Hummus Next Gen (depending on who you ask). You should know that Tamooz, is no stranger to designing technology for the food and beverage industry as they have designed and developed several devices for SodaStream in the past.
Inside this rather massive hummus machine is a container for grinding and a designated place for ground and cooked chickpeas. With the machine, you just choose your preferred hummus-tahini ratio, and in a few seconds, with a very unappetizing effect, you will receive hummus in a bowl. All you have to do is garnish it to your liking. I was skeptical about this machine at first, but it did taste like store-bought hummus. I will say that it is far from feeling like the fresh hummus you might get on a Friday morning, especially because the chickpeas are already cooked and ground, so the hummus comes out cold and not warm. But still, it's hummus - and hummus has a warm place in my heart.
More Foods: A meat substitute from... seeds?
There are quite a few meat substitutes on the market, and even quite a few Israeli ones, and as someone who eats tofu most of the time, I am waiting for a better meat substitute than those on the market. Currently, on the market, you have a lot of soy and seitan-based substitutes, but More Foods substitute is somehow made from... pumpkin and sunflower seeds. The same snack that you might nosh on while watching TV, or add to a salad, is being used as a meat substitute. The company explained to me that they take the seeds, grind the oil out of them, and then mix them with water - and the result is a meat substitute that reminded me a lot of thinly sliced seitan.
Though seeds may not make you think “high protein”, the company managed to reach 26% protein, with 6% fibre and with very little fat (at least from what I was told). On top of everything, and perhaps most importantly, it was delicious. I will say that the "meat" was covered in sauce, but that's not a bug, that's a feature. The company explained to me that the raw material is very good at absorbing flavours, which tofu, for example, doesn't do so well. Interestingly, More Foods' products are already available in several places in Israel like Mexicana and Jem’s. It can be used as “pulled meat”, chunks, or like a “minute steak”. I know one thing for sure– if they start selling their product in the supermarket by my house, they can count on at least one loyal customer.
Ansa: Fresh coffee at its finest
So, after the hummus machine, I move to a coffee machine. But not a fancy coffee machine like the one you have in the office which makes every kind of coffee beverage under the sun, but usually sub-par. This machine serves you coffee that you probably wouldn't even be able to mimic at your local coffee shop– it is that fresh. You may know Ansa as Griin, its former name. They offer a smart roasting device that either fits on top of existing coffee machines or stands alone. With this machine you simply put unroasted (green) coffee beans in, specify the type of coffee on the computer, and the machine roasts them perfectly. With your freshly roasted beans, you can then make any coffee you want, with whatever mechanism you prefer and simply enjoy fresh coffee.
Look, I'm no coffee sommelier. I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I can recognize different subtleties from one coffee to another. I just know if "I like it" or "I don't like it", and the coffee that Ansa gave me was very tasty. Was I able to differentiate between their coffee and that of my Philips machine at home? No. But Ansa focuses on more than just taste and freshness– they are more environmentally friendly. How? The roasting solution saves the packaging of beans in aluminum and plastic, while at the same time the machine itself saves about 80% of the energy required in the roasting process. In addition, the supply chain of the beans is shortened significantly, thus creating a more positive effect on the environment. So, why not give it a go?
Vanilla Vida: Vanilla that can also grow in your neighbourhood
If you've ever bought real vanilla extract or real vanilla pods, you're probably still in debt from it, because the prices are exorbitant. The reason that real vanilla is so expensive is that most of it comes from Madagascar, which has been suffering from some unstable weather, which has been hurting vanilla crop growth, ripening, and drying processes. This is what leads people to go the synthetic route. But an Israeli startup called Vanilla Vida claims that it can grow vanilla in almost any place using smart farms. With the help of several image processing systems and sensors, the company can control the growing process of the vanilla beans, and even control the consequent aroma and taste to the customer's needs and requirements.
The company is now in an interesting scaling-up phase. It is not yet building an end-to-end system of growing vanilla beans anywhere, anytime, but rather is instead importing unripe vanilla pods from Madagascar, which are then ripened in their smart process here in Israel. I tasted several desserts which used their product, and they were delicious– bursting with flavour so much so that you could see the real vanilla in them. I also snagged a few different types of vanilla that the company actually produced, and I can only imagine it is the smell of paradise.