Technion students shine in global competition to develop healthy and sustainable food products based only on natural ingredients
Technion Students Cook Up Creative, Tasty, and Award-Winning Food Solutions in European Innovation Competition
Students from the Technion’s Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering won top prizes in the EU-supported Food Solutions Project, which is part of EIT FOOD – a program that fosters innovation to create healthy and sustainable food for all. The premise of the competition was to take real-world nutritional and sustainability challenges faced by the food industry and come up with innovative solutions with the potential to transform the food system and promote sustainability and health. Experts and mentors from top European universities supervised the students’ progress, together with leading companies Nestle, Danone-Nutricia, Döhler, IMDEA and Puratos. Two of the Technion teams won first place and another came in third.
“This win wraps up a whole year of hard work,” said faculty members and mentors Dr. Maya Davidovich-Pinhas, Professor Uri Lesmes, and Professor Avi Shpigelman. “This achievement demonstrates the excellence of students in this faculty, not only in the engineering and technological aspects, but also creatively and in their ability to deal with all aspects of the process from market research, creating a business feasibility study, addressing regulatory and marketing issues, conducting shelf-life analysis, planning the commercial manufacturing process, and of course presenting their product to experts.”
This year, the Technion’s participating teams chose to tackle two challenges:
- ‘GrOAT’: creating an innovative, healthy, and sustainable product using an oat-based ingredient (a challenge presented by the Finnish company Myllyn Paras, which invests considerable resources in plant-based innovation)
- ‘FoodFE’: (Food for the Elderly): Designing novel food products for the elderly that address the issue of loss of taste, palatability, and efficiency of nutrient uptake.
Once the teams had formed, they spent around six months developing their product from ideation to final product and presentation. The process involved attempts to assess product manufacturing at the Technion’s food pilot plant under the guidance and extensive mentoring of the three faculty members, and support from senior industry representatives. The students also consulted with chefs at Bishulim – Tel Aviv’s culinary school – who helped refine and resolve some of the culinary aspects.
The Bioat Group won first place for developing a vegan “labneh” cheese spread based on fermenting the oat ingredient and dietary fiber. The team was not only awarded first place by the professional judges, but also came in first in the crowd favorite category. All four team members are graduate students: Maayan Ben-David, Liora Bernstein, Carolina Lejterer, and Gil Raphael. They explained that “we have worked in product development, experienced ups and downs and overcome many challenges on the way from taste and texture to product safety. We are proud of the result and happy to contribute to the global challenge of developing sustainable substitutes for dairy products.” According to the judges, the taste was unique and delicious, and employees from a company with origins in the Middle East gave it the authentic stamp of approval by claiming that the taste was very close to the original labneh they were familiar with.
The concept for the product came about when one of the team members was on maternity leave and looking for dairy-free alternatives while nursing her new baby. Her search exposed a big gap in the market for healthy and tasty dairy-free products and so the idea for Bioat was born.
The CRACKEAT Group won first place in the Food Products Challenge for the Elderly, keeping in mind their struggles with obesity, diabetes, and nutritional requirements. The team came up with a soy-based, creamy treat with a crisp cookie on top. The product was praised by the judges for its unique presentation and taste. The final product provides a complex experience of different textures, while also being more environmentally friendly than current packaging solutions. It is high in protein and fiber, sugar-free, and low in saturated fat. CRACKEAT went through many taste tests among its target population who gave it the thumbs up for taste and texture. Members of the group were Dor Abu Hazira, Shlomit Hakim, Hadar Kochavi, Victoria Skortov, and Linor Rochlin.
Coming in third place in the Food Products Challenge for the Elderly was another group from the faculty – Shahar Hefner, Nova Neumann, Christine Oviad, and Dana Raz. The four developed Lite Delight, a unique nutritional snack based solely on natural ingredients and tailored to the needs and desires of the senior population. The product offers something chewy but not too chewy that is portable and tasty. The individual brownie-like cake bar was praised for its soft, fluffy texture, combined with a sweet taste and no added sugar. It went through many rounds of rigorous taste testing among its target audiences that resulted in a winning ginger-orange flavor.
The proof is in the pudding
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the groups did not fly to Europe to present their products but sent them by courier to the judges so that they could taste them firsthand, having already impressed them with their innovative ideas and business plans. The judges praised Bioat, CRACKEAT, and Lite Delight for their quality and congratulated the teams on their professionalism and attention to detail on their packaging and branding.
The teams’ wins are the latest in a string of student victories from the Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering in similar EIT FOOD competitions. In 2018, a Technion team won first place with Algalafel – a spirulina-enriched falafel – and in 2020, the Microbes Team won the top spot for its biological solution for preventing fruit juice from spoiling, a phenomenon whose damages are estimated at tens of billions of dollars a year.