Food technology

Agrofood, Food technology, Plant science

Flanders is home to one of the world’s most innovative agrifood clusters, and Johan Cardoen has been a central figure in that ecosystem for over three decades. From leading positions in agtech startups to the Managing Director of VIB, Cardoen has run the gamut of Flemish biotech. Interested in his decades of firsthand experience in the sector, we spoke with Cardoen about his views on the past, present, and future of sustainable agriculture.
In the battle against the climate crisis, precision fermentation presents a hopeful aid. Using microbes to create valuable materials, we can help to transform the global economy and shift away from harmful agricultural and industrial practices. However, despite the support of industry and Venture Capital cash, this field still faces many challenges. Though promising, we need further investment in this innovative technology before it can fully deliver on its potential for sustainable solutions.
Instantly turning water into beer may sound like a biblical miracle, but that’s exactly what Belgian start-up Bar.on is now doing. Their ‘molecular beer printer’ takes mere seconds to turn water into different styles of beer, with customized bitterness, alcohol content, fruitiness, and sweetness. Backed by science, the company is on a mission to make the beer industry more sustainable and hopes to soon roll out its molecular beer mixing technology to different markets.
Belgian-American AB InBev, the world's largest brewer, has set up a separate R&D division called BioBrew to develop animal-free proteins using precision fermentation. Quite a number of companies are already focused on producing alternative proteins, which don’t cause harm to animals and are more sustainable, but they generally lack the capacity to produce them on a commercial level. This is one of the things that sets BioBrew apart, thanks to AB InBev’s knowhow of using yeast fermentation on a large scale to make beer.
Much has been said about the huge economic potential of algae, but this ‘green gold’ has yet to meet expectations. The European project IDEA – led by Belgian research center VITO – is examining the economic benefits of microalgae and developing strategies to overcome remaining challenges. Interim results show that algae can very well be grown in the climate of Northwestern Europe and can be used to efficiently produce products such as healthy biscuits, animal feed and cosmetic applications.
Researchers have identified the bitter substances in Belgian endives and chicory. Using the gene-editing technique CRISPR/Cas9, they have also succeeded in eliminating them. The result is a less bitter vegetable that may be more appetizing to children and adults alike. The catch? Outdated EU gene editing laws present a major roadblock for any company looking to actually produce the vegetables in Europe.