For the better part of the last hundred years, the modern food system has relied on artificial ingredients to change the flavor, texture, preservation and nutrition of foods. In the 20th century, the largest food ingredient companies created vast libraries of artificial chemicals, which they deeply characterized and assembled into different combinations to meet the specs of product manufacturers. Manufacturers began to incorporate these artificial ingredients into their products, and we’ve now grown accustomed to seeing these listed on ingredient labels (things like sodium benzoate, xantham gum, artificial flavors and more).
Although artificial chemicals enabled us to deliver cheap and abundant food throughout the world for the first time in history, we now know that these processed foods have extensive negative health impacts. Consumers and manufacturers alike want to move away from them, and are demanding ingredient labels that contain only natural, recognizable ingredients.
Taking food back to its roots
20th century scientists used advanced tools to discover and scale these artificial ingredients, but what if we used the most cutting-edge science of today to instead harness what already exists in nature? We know that natural microbial cultures possess incredible capabilities for transforming foods and beverages, having successfully used them for centuries to turn basic ingredients, such as milk, wheat, grapes, and cocoa, into completely new end products, like cheese, beer, wine and chocolate, respectively. These end products have entirely new tastes, textures and even functional health benefits that aren’t present in the original food’s form and that we couldn’t create without the help of these naturally occurring microbial cultures.
The breakthrough ingredient companies of 2021 are recognizing the possibilities in both of these two trends: harnessing the untapped potential of microbial cultures to naturally improve foods, and substituting these natural cultures for the artificial chemicals that consumers wish to eliminate. This is how the biodesign company Kingdom Supercultures was formed. Its microbial cultures can unleash new flavors, preserve foods and deliver new functional benefits, all in a natural way.
Up until now, we haven’t understood the mechanics of how these cultures work, but advances in microbiology, genomics and machine learning are enabling us to explore their possibilities for the first time. It’s important to highlight that we don’t use any genetic engineering, but instead simply rearrange existing cultures from food into new combinations, yielding exciting new possibilities and forming a completely new world of natural ingredients with the power to eliminate artificial chemicals.
Big picture for food development
So, what can supercultures be used for? The same way that the ingredient giants of the 20th-century created vast libraries of chemicals, which they characterized and assembled like Lego building blocks, Kingdom is now doing the same with natural microbial strains from food. Already we’ve extracted out individual cultures from commercially available foods (things like sauerkrauts, kimchis, kefirs and more) to create the world’s most comprehensive biobank of natural food-borne microbial diversity.
All of these cultures are already being consumed by people (oftentimes with great health benefits), but by assembling them into new combinations, we can unlock entirely new possibilities in a safe and natural manner. We’re able to precisely design these culture combinations in the span of only weeks by harnessing cutting-edge machine learning approaches and combining these with state-of-the-art analytical capacities in metabolomics and sensory science. This has the potential to cut the time and cost of new product R&D significantly, deliver new consumer marketing claims, and provide a cleaner, more accessible ingredient list.
On the taste front, we’ve designed supercultures that can remove off-flavors and deliver authentic flavors to plant-based products (cheeses, yogurts, and more), and that can create fermented beverages with lighter and more widely-appealing taste profiles than kombucha. On the functional front, we’re creating supercultures that can naturally preserve foods just as well, if not better, than artificial preservatives, but without any of their negative side effects.
Looking to 2022 and beyond
Now in active projects with some of the world’s leading food and beverage manufacturers, supercultures are poised to shake up the existing ingredient landscape by offering natural solutions with entirely new taste and health benefits. Already, the likes of Eleven Madison Park are using supercultures to deliver exciting flavors and textures in their new plant-based menu, while other retail products using supercultures have already started to hit store shelves. In October, Kingdom Supercultures raised $25 million in Series A funding to meet demand from our partners, signaling that a major shift in natural ingredients is on the horizon.