Sustainable noodles: Singapore start-up creating comfort food with ‘future fit crops’
The firm wants instant noodles to no longer be seen as a guilty pleasure – both in terms of their nutrition and environmental impact.
The co-founder of NamZ, Christoph Langwallner told FoodNavigator-Asia: “As markets grow up or go through period of a rapid economic change and the GDP per capita increases, there is a general trend of rising incomes fuelling increased food consumption and particularly of convenience foods.”
He explained: “Our current food system is feeding us into obesity, type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and more with calorie-dense but nutrient-poor food, and our unsustainable agricultural practices have led to more forests being cleared for agricultural land – destroying regions of ecological importance and biodiversity.”
Given the world’s rapidly changing climate, he believes agrobiodiversity is the way toward a sustainable future
“We are looking for opportunities to redesign comfort food in order to create a significant health impact,” he said.
The firm’s noodles, called NoodleZ, incorporates high protein, nutrient-rich ingredients such as Moringa or Bambara Groundnut, which NamZ calls: future fit crops.
“We advocate crop diversification and incorporate Future Fit Crops which not just benefit the health of those who consume it but the planet at the same time,” Langwallner said.
At NamZ, the basic criteria for such a crop is that it needs to be climate-resilient or inherently able to withstand the predicted climates of the future, have a low water footprint, be nutrient-rich, and able to economically produce good yields on degrading, degraded or marginalised land, specifically to help bring income back to smallholder farming communities with such land.
Langwallner said while these underutilised crops were sometimes foreign to the processing industry, they have developed cost-effective technologies and processes accordingly.
Healthier comfort food
Instant noodles are traditionally deep-fried to dehydrate and remove moisture to increase its shelf life.
NamZ’s proprietary technology eliminates deep-frying ensuring “the inherent nutrients and nutritional properties of the ingredients are kept,” Langwallner said.
They have a reduced fat content of 70% and reduced saturated fat content of 82% compared to conventional deep-fried instant noodles.
It also uses healthier vegetable oils where required, reducing the need for palm oil, the traditional oil ingredient in instant noodles.
As taste is a key factor for consumers, the firm conducted a blind tasting test, which found participants were unable to differentiate between market samples, and NoodleZ.
The team is currently working on a high protein version of NoodleZ which, from initial formulations, has up to 136% more protein and 83% more dietary fibre when compared to conventional instant noodles, in addition to a reduced fat content.
Langwallner told us: “From conception to our first NoodleZ product from the production line containing our proprietary technology, it took the team roughly 5 years.”
For every one billion portion of noodles, Langwallner said the NoodleZ technology could save USD10 million worth of ingredient cost alone. “With the cost savings from the opportunities, we are able to open up possibilities for inclusion of new ingredients while staying affordable to many."
NamZ’s pilot factory is based in Iskandar, Johor Bahru in Malaysia.
The firm recently received funding from the DBS Foundation Social Enterprise Grant Programme, which Langwallner said would be used to increase the production capacity at the factory,
“Currently, we are focused on bringing our NoodleZ products to customers via our business to business customers in the restaurant and catering space,” he added.
NoodleZ is aimed for a launch in early 2020, focusing on Singapore and Malaysia first. The noodles will come in different flavours and spice mixes.
The firm has plans to enter food retail by mid-2020. NamZ is currently working with an existing noodle manufacturing company which has the capacity to produce 250 million portions per year using the NoodleZ technology.
The article was updated to remove the funding amount.