With multiple forces acting against global food security, researchers in Singapore have been innovating. Read their solutions that help combat food waste and obesity, while improving health and sustainable food production.
The global food crisis marches closer. Droughts and floods caused by climate change are threatening our ability to produce enough food for a growing global population. According to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates, crop yields could fall by up to 25 percent by 2050.
Aside from this impact, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted supply chains which has also impacted food security. This has led to shortages in all manner of foodstuff from poultry to palm oil, as well as escalating food prices.
Geopolitical tensions and conflicts add to this growing food insecurity by limiting access to energy, creating rising inflation and debt.
At the same time, almost one-third – 1.3 billion tonnes – of the food produced for human consumption is wasted or lost every year, according to the United Nations. And all the while obesity rates are alarmingly high: 1.9 billion adults are overweight or obese according to the World Health Organization.
Against this backdrop, NTU researchers have devised innovative solutions so that we can provide for a sustainable future. They support the university’s commitment to mitigating our impact on the environment, which is one of four ‘humanity’s grand challenges’ that NTU has identified and seeks to address through its NTU 2025 strategic plan.
Edible by-products from food manufacturing are a potential resource that can be tapped to sustainably increase food supply, reduce obesity and reduce food waste. Two such by-products are okara, the insoluble remains of soybeans from the production of soy milk and beancurd, and brewer’s spent grain, consisting of residual barley pulp from the beer industry.
Consisting mainly of soybean fibre, okara is rich in protein and nutrients such as carbohydrates. About 1.4 billion tonnes of okara is produced around the world each year, mostly by Asian countries, including Japan, Korea, China and Singapore.
Similarly, brewer’s spent grain is high in protein and fibre. Beer is the fifth most consumed beverage across the globe, the production of which creates approximately 39 million tonnes of spent grain each year.
With the help of microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi, the nutritional profile of okara and brewer’s spent grain can be increased.
In a study published in LWT – Food Science and Technology in December 2021, okara fermented with a mixed culture of the fungus Aspergillus oryzae and the bacterium Bacillus subtilis, commonly used to make soy sauce, was found to have the best total dietary fibre profile and highest content of phenolics – compounds with antioxidant properties.
“Fermentation is a way to repurpose okara, a major food manufacturing side stream that is often discarded, and transform it into a highly nutritious food,” said Dr Ken Lee, senior lecturer at NTU’s School of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, who led the study.
Dr Lee’s research has also shown that fermented okara can be used to combat obesity. In a collaboration with Waseda University in Japan, okara from Sing Ghee Beancurd Manufacturer, a leading producer of beancurd in Singapore, was fermented with the fungi Aspergillus oryzae and Aspergillus sojae, which are used to make soy sauce and miso. The findings of the study showed that after three weeks, rats that were fed a diet supplemented with the fermented okara gained the least weight, compared to rats given normal and high fat diets. They also had less visceral and subcutaneous fat and lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
Likewise, fermented spent grain can be made into a protein-rich food emulsifier. And, unlike commercial food emulsifiers from egg yolk, this novel emulsifier is derived entirely from plants.
In a study led by Professor William Chen, Director of NTU’s Food Science and Technology Programme, the product was made by extracting and drying proteins from the fermented grain.
The resulting plant-based emulsifier can replace dairy and eggs in condiments such as mayonnaise, salad dressings and whipped cream.
Compared to the store-bought version, mayonnaise produced with the plant-based emulsifier contained more protein and higher amounts of some essential amino acids as well as antioxidants.
The mayonnaise prepared with the NTU emulsifier also tasted identical to off-the-shelf mayonnaise, yet had improved texture and spreadability.
“Upcycling food waste such as spent grain for human consumption is an opportunity for enhancing processing efficiency in the food supply chain, as well as potentially promoting a healthier plant-based protein alternative to enrich diets,” said Prof Chen.
Besides turning food waste into food, alternative sources of food and ingredients may help to ease pressure on their supplies when they are disrupted. They may also reduce the negative environmental effects created by the conventional manufacture of these food products.
Recently, Prof Chen and his team have developed a nutritious fungi-based food product that resembles meat. The fungus Agaricus bisporus used to cultivate the product is the same one that grows button mushrooms. Grown on nutrient-rich common food waste such as soybean skin, wheat stalk and brewers’ spent grain, NTU’s fungi-based food product tastes more like meat and has a better nutritional content than proteins from peas, chickpeas, wheat gluten and soy.
Palm oil is the most widely consumed vegetable oil, found in many food products, ranging from chocolate to cooking oil.
However, the rapid expansion of oil palm plantations has been implicated in massive deforestation in several countries, destroying the habitats of endangered native wildlife.
To alleviate these shortages, edible oils that can replace palm oil are being explored.
In one study led by Professor Chen, a common microalga Chromochloris zofingiensis was cultivated and edible oils were extracted from it.
The findings of the research were that oil derived from the microalgae was healthier and more eco-friendly than palm oil. It contains more polyunsaturated fatty acids than palm oil, which can help reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol levels in blood and lower a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke.
The microalgae-produced oil developed in collaboration with scientists from the University of Malaya, Malaysia, also contains fewer saturated fatty acids, which have been linked to stroke and related conditions.
As the microalgae grow, they convert carbon dioxide to biomass relatively quickly. Hence, the scientists say that using microalgae to produce edible oil would also help remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, as the microalgae can convert it to biomass and oxygen via photosynthesis.
Prof Chen is currently working with local and international food companies to bring these food innovations from the laboratory to the market and onto our plates. Watch this space.
Singapore – Hilton (NYSE: HLT) promotes conscious travel across its properties in Asia Pacific by making sustainable practices more accessible for guests, as travellers now seek more meaningful experiences. Honouring this year’s Earth Day theme, “Invest in Our Planet”, Hilton has released its latest Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Report, which emphasises its renewed commitment to taking real-world actions to reduce the environmental and social impact of its hotels and operations worldwide in pursuit of a better world to travel.
Across its global network, Hilton continues to considerably close the gap toward meeting key sustainability targets from its Travel with Purpose 2030 Goals. In 2021, Hilton recorded:
In Asia Pacific, Hilton focuses on driving responsible and sustainable tourism through a wide range of initiatives aimed at making a positive environmental and social impact – from advancing restoration efforts, to reimagining business events as corporate travel makes a comeback.
Driving Holistic Water Stewardship
Leading river cleanup organization Sungai Watch aims to protect waterways on the Indonesian island by developing and testing trash barriers that prevent plastics from entering the ocean. As Bali’s waterway guardians, the group also documents data on trash found in rivers, to deepen the conversation with companies on how to use more environmentally friendly materials.
In support of its efforts in leading environmental restoration and providing communities access to clean water, Hilton has named Sungai Watch as one of its 2021 Hilton Effect Foundation grantees. The grant will enable the organization to install more trash barriers to lessen the impact of plastics on the community.
Hilton Ningbo Dongqian Lake in China is at the forefront of rainwater harvesting and recycling. Its rainwater recovery system collects rainwater from the property’s premises, which goes through ultraviolet disinfection and automatic replenishment systems to improve water quality. The hotel uses the treated rainwater for various non-potable purposes, such as cleaning roads and watering plants.
The system recycles approximately 1,400 tons of rainwater each year, which is equivalent to the amount of water consumed by a family of three for one year.
Sustainable Dining and Green Kitchens
Hilton continues to make progress in its responsible sourcing journey with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Seafood Legacy Co., Ltd. and UMITO Partners Inc. to procure more sustainable seafood for its hotels in Japan and Korea. The procurement of Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) Chain of Custody-certified seafood in these markets has surpassed 25% in the month of December 2021 – a marked improvement from less than 1% in 2018.
Amid supply chain disruptions, Conrad Seoul and Hilton Tokyo Bay made strides in sustainability, achieving MSC and ASC Chain of Custody certifications – a first for any hotel in South Korea and a first for any Hilton hotel in Japan, respectively. Diners who are looking for fresh, organic and locally sourced food at these hotels can now opt for food items marked with the MSC and ASC ecolabels, from either a specially curated sustainable seafood menu or the buffet spread.
In South East Asia, leading the farm-to-table experience is Conrad Koh Samui ‘s Iris Farm. Built at the onset of the pandemic, Iris Farm provides a multitude of organic herbs and vegetables for the hotel’s bars and restaurants. The farm produces 1,300 kg of food and processes 2,400 kg of compostable waste per month, recycling organic resources while conserving landfill space.
Guests can look forward to picking up eco-friendly farming techniques, in addition to other meaningful and engaging activities at Conrad Koh Samui’s Iris Farm.
Meanwhile, Hilton Shenzhen Shekou Nanhai is scaling up on circular food production and keeping food waste at bay. Using smart kitchen waste treatment equipment, the hotel turns kitchen waste into carbon dioxide, water and organic fertilizers. Byproducts are used for hotel greening, the hotel’s organic ecological garden, as well as the greening of neighbouring communities. The hotel has recycled 390 tons of kitchen waste and produced about 20 tons of organic fertilizer since the equipment was installed last year.
Reducing Environmental Footprint by Redefining Events
With the return of business travel and in-person events, almost 300 of Hilton’s hotels across Asia Pacific, including Conrad Shanghai, Conrad Bengaluru, Hilton Tokyo, Hilton Sydney, and the largest Hilton hotel in Asia Pacific, Hilton Singapore Orchard, have rolled out the Plan It Forward offer to help businesses and event planners further reduce their environmental impact when hosting events.
Plan It Forward gives event planners an opportunity to host a Carbon Neutral Meeting or earn double Hilton Honors Event Planner Points at one of its participating hotels, when bookings are made by June 30, 2022 and held by December 31, 2022.
For event planners who opt for a Carbon Neutral Meeting, Hilton will offset their event’s carbon emissions as identified by its Meeting Impact Calculator report on its award-winning LightStay platform, and invest in a portfolio of high-quality carbon reduction projects with global partner South Pole.
Alternatively, event planners can earn double Hilton Honors Event Planner Points per USD$1 spent on guest rooms, meeting rooms etc., for qualifying events at participating hotels. Hilton Honors Points can be donated to charity through PointWorthy, or redeemed for future events or hotel stays, among other benefits.
For its various environmental and social initiatives, Hilton was named a global sustainability leaderon the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices for the fifth consecutive year, and was the only hotel company to earn Gold Class distinction in S&P Global’s Sustainability Yearbook.
You may access the 2021 ESG Report Highlights here.
About Travel with Purpose
Travel with Purpose is Hilton’s Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) strategy to redefine and advance sustainable travel globally. By 2030, we plan to double our investment in social impact and cut our environmental footprint by half. We track, analyze and report our environmental and social impact at each of Hilton’s more than 6,700 hotels through LightStay, our award-winning performance management system. Travel with Purpose capitalizes on Hilton’s global scale to catalyze local economic growth, respect human rights, invest in people and local communities, and preserve our planet by reducing our impact on natural resources. Our strategy aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Learn more about Travel with Purpose at cr.hilton.com.
About Hilton Effect Foundation
The Hilton Effect Foundation is Hilton’s primary international philanthropic arm. The Foundation is a nonprofit established in the U.S. and is a registered 501(c)3 charitable organization. The Foundation awards grants, in alignment with Hilton’s Travel with Purpose 2030 Goals, that have a positive impact on travel destinations around the world. Foundation grants are awarded throughout the year in accordance with tax and legal requirements. Learn more about the Hilton Effect Foundation at HiltonEffect.org.
Hilton (NYSE: HLT) is a leading global hospitality company with a portfolio of 18 world-class brands comprising more than 6,800 properties and more than 1 million rooms, in 122 countries and territories. Dedicated to fulfilling its founding vision to fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality, Hilton has welcomed more than 3 billion guests in its more than 100-year history, earned a top spot on the 2021 World’s Best Workplaces list and been recognized as a global leader on the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices for five consecutive years. In 2021, in addition to opening more than one hotel a day, Hilton introduced several industry-leading technology enhancements to improve the guest experience, including Digital Key Share, automated complimentary room upgrades and the ability to book confirmed connecting rooms. Through the award-winning guest loyalty program Hilton Honors, the nearly 128 million members who book directly with Hilton can earn Points for hotel stays and experiences money can’t buy. With the free Hilton Honors app, guests can book their stay, select their room, check in, unlock their door with a Digital Key and check out, all from their smartphone. Visit newsroom.hilton.com for more information, and connect with Hilton on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube.