- Catherine Latham
- BBC Business Correspondent
When Michelle Ruiz’s mother was diagnosed with diabetes in 2020, the Chicago-based chemical engineer set out to improve not only her family’s health, but the health of people as well.
“Foods that contain refined carbohydrates, such as white wheat flour, lead to chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes,” says Ruiz.
Flour is an essential food in our lives, as you say.
“I wanted to help people have a food culture where they can live healthy and long lives.”
In 2021, Ruiz co-founded Hivey Foods, which relies on a fungus root called mycelium to provide an alternative to wheat flour.
Mycelium wraps around tree roots or moves between them underground, binding them together to transport water, nitrogen, carbon and other minerals.
“In addition to a neutral taste, mushrooms are high in protein and fiber and are gluten-free and low in carbs,” says Ruiz.
However, mycelium production is an expensive process and requires a lot of water and sugars to feed the fungus.
To remedy this, Hivey uses sugar water wasted by food processing.
“Our goal is to advance our technology so that we can get fair prices, which is why we use non-recycled sugar water,” Ruiz explains.
“About half the cost of fermentation is due to the cost of the sugar used, so using a non-recycled sugar solution plays a major role in the cost of production.”
Affordable alternatives to wheat are catching people’s attention, especially after a year of turmoil in the grain market following the Russian-Ukrainian war.
And the war in Ukraine has highlighted how dependent we are on the wheat harvests that come from it. Russia and Ukraine together account for nearly a third of the world’s wheat supply, and wheat exports have been heavily affected by the war.
In July of this year, wheat prices were almost 25% higher than they were in the same month last year.
Rising prices for basic foodstuffs have caused global famine on an unprecedented scale.
According to the World Food Programme, the number of people facing acute food insecurity has more than doubled in just two years, from 135 million in 53 countries to 345 million in 82 countries today.
Additionally, we are beginning to see the impact of climate change as crops suffer from the effects of extreme weather conditions.
A 2021 Chatham House report warns that unless we drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, by 2050 our production of staple crops could fall by almost a third.
Harvard University experts say that even if we manage to limit global warming and prevent global warming by more than 2 degrees Celsius, as stipulated in the Paris Agreement, 60% of global wheat production will be threatened by the end of the century. .
“Even before the war in Ukraine, we had a dysfunctional system,” says Shelaga Fennell, an expert in development economics at the University of Cambridge and a founding member of the Forgotten Crops Society.
“While we produce more than enough food, the cost of that food to the environment is already a major concern.”
Professor Fennell warns that monoculture, growing one crop in the field at a time, is not sustainable.
“Monocultures are much more vulnerable to climate shocks, disease and drought, and more diversified agriculture is the way forward.
To combat food insecurity, some countries, including China and Egypt, are intensifying local wheat production and even growing wheat in the Egyptian desert.
Professor Fennell suggests that rather than trying to grow more wheat, consider other grains as alternatives. The one the global supply chain forgot.
“There’s a whole group of grains called millet (small-seeded grasses similar to oats and barley) that are hardier, use less water, and are gluten-free.”
Fennell adds that such alternatives could have more nutritional benefits than wheat and would be of great importance in the pasta industry.
Pasta is a staple food for millions of people around the world. They are easy to store and prepare and are inexpensive.
According to the International Pasta Organization, nearly 17 million tonnes of pasta will be produced in 2021, more than double the amount produced 20 years ago.
Durum wheat, from which pasta is usually made, is high yielding and provides about 20% of all calories consumed by humans.
In fact, about two-thirds of your daily calories come from just three crops: wheat, rice, and corn.
The world’s population is expected to reach around 10 billion people by 2050, which will put great pressure on the resources of our planet.
So, with around 50,000 species of edible plants, it might be time to explore our options.
In London’s Covent Garden, an area teeming with people and restaurants, friends, family and friends gather under the dim lights of Miscosi to eat pasta, while classical Italian music plays in the background.
But this is no ordinary Italian restaurant, and it doesn’t just sell the popular pastas. In 2017 Alberto Cartazenia opened his first restaurant in Milan and called it Misciosi.
Cartazenia wanted to serve the original Italian pasta, but without any negative impact on our planet.
Now, five years later, Miscosi has 15 restaurants in Italy and two in the UK, and has launched “M7 Pasta” – made from four cereals and three legumes, with the aim of boosting biodiversity.
“Biodiversity is killed when we approach agriculture with traditional methods like monoculture,” says Kartazenya.
M7 is made up of seven different types of cereals and legumes, which gives our pasta a unique flavor, texture and color. Thanks to the three legumes, it is rich in vegetable proteins.
All grains are organic and whole, maximizing fiber and micronutrients.
“I strongly believe that we need to change the global food system to save ourselves.”
Jill Baker, a Los Angeles-based mother of two, also promotes alternatives to wheat.
She was frustrated that she couldn’t find healthy alternatives for her two sons, who suffer from celiac disease, an autoimmune disease caused by eating foods containing gluten.
“I really tried to find nutritious, gluten-free options that weren’t fatty, sweet, salty, and calorie-dense,” says Baker. “I found cauliflower crust pizza recipes.”
“It was good, but it looked awful, not to mention my kitchen was a mess after spending 90 minutes making pizza dough, with the time constraints I struggled with as a mom at full-time.
“I realized I might not be the only one suffering from this, so I quit my job to do my own business and started making cauliflower flour.”
Founded in 2016, Caulipower has since expanded beyond cauliflower pizza crusts to offer frozen cauliflower pastries.
Its products can now be seen in more than 25,000 stores across the United States.
“Consumers want nutritious food,” says Baker. “They don’t have to choose between taste and health anymore, and frankly they shouldn’t.”
Back in Chicago, Hivey grows mushrooms and turns them into carbon-free, healthy and affordable pasta.
“We are producing a new staple food, which can be grown almost anywhere in the world, giving countries more food sovereignty, using circular technology for a more sustainable food system,” Ruiz says.
“Our pasta is not only good for you but also for our planet,” she adds.
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