MARCH 2022 — Cruffins, brown sugar milk tea, and salted-egg everything. The latest viral food fads always seem to be on the tip of the tongue of every Singaporean.

But do these contemporary treats truly reflect the prevailing food choices that we make today?

The New Food Trend: Functional and Convenient

One of the latest food trends involves the consumption of rambutans fermented in salt water, which is supposed to give significant health benefits.

However, during an interview with Lianhe Zaobao, Dr Heng Kiang Soon, a nutritionist, researcher and lecturer from RP School of Applied Science (SAS), pointed out that the perceived health benefits of food fads like fermented rambutans are not as significant as they may seem.

As fun as food crazes are, Dr Heng finds it important to differentiate fashionable food fads and actual food trends.

“Food trends are widespread changes in food choice preference by consumers. Some food trends are long-lasting, while others prove to just be food fads,” he remarked. 

So, what does he think the latest food trends in Singapore are?

Dr Heng Kiang Soon

Dr Heng Kiang Soon, Lecturer, School of Applied Science, RP

Over the last two years, he has observed that consumers tend to choose foods with specific functional purposes, such as enhancing body immunity. Convenience has also become an important factor in food choices, with frozen cooked food and ready-to-eat food rising in popularity. These could be attributed to increasing health-consciousness and dining restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sustainable food options such as plant-based, alternative protein innovation or eco-friendly packaging has been a global trend in the food industry as well.

A Nation of Future-Ready Food Technologies

These individual food choices also have a collective impact on our nation. In fact, according to an article written by Nikkei Asia, Singapore is evolving rapidly to position herself as a food technology hub in Asia. 

This belief is reflected by Mr Samuel Aw, Senior Conexus Manager, and his team at the Formulation and Nutrition Science Technology Centre (FANSTC).

“The Singapore Government has been rolling out plans, programmes and funding to encourage innovative projects to ensure that we have a sufficient food supply and in meeting the daily nutritional needs of its people.”

A Nation of Future-Ready Food Technologies

Examples of these include the Singapore Food Story (SFS) R&D Programme, led by Singapore Food Agency (SFA) and A*STAR; and grants like the Sustainable Urban Food Production Grant, the Future Foods: Alternative Proteins Grant, and the Food Safety Science and Innovation Grant, which RP has been actively involved in.

Through this, he sees a concerted push toward the development and use of productive, climate-resilient, innovative and sustainable technologies for agriculture and aquaculture. Biotech-based foods and ingredients, underpinned by a robust future-ready food safety system, are also top of mind.

Food for Thought — Bio-Engineered Brain-Boosting Soy Cheese

One such food prototype is the brainchild of a research team from RP SAS, led by Dr Heng. 

Troubled by reports on the prevalence of dementia among senior citizens and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) among children, Dr Heng and his team formulated a DHA-rich functional soy cheese to promote brain health.

“As a researcher in food and nutrition, I share the worry on the trend and… started thinking about how to formulate functional food to promote brain health.”

Through electroencephalography (EEG), a method to measure the activity on the surface layer of the brain, their preliminary data has been promising — consumption of the soy cheese showed enhanced mental focus in young adults.

Apart from being functional, it is also a sustainable, plant-based alternative to dairy cheese. Developed from solubilised okara, part of the residue from soy-based processing, it addresses at least three concerns: functionality, sustainability, and an alternative to dairy products.

Their accomplishments were recognised when the team received a Delight Explorer Award in 2020.

Dr Heng and team in Lab

A behind-the-scenes look at how the functional soy cheese was developed

Dr Heng and his team

Dr Heng and his team after receiving the Delight Explorer Award in 2020

Supporting Food-Related Research and Development

This team is one of two recent success stories in competitions related to food innovation from RP. Another team led by Dr Nicole Liu from RP SAS and Mr Andy Au Yong from RP School of Management and Communication also was shortlisted as 1 of 17 finalists in the ASEAN ProVeg Food Innovation Challenge 2021 for their plant-based ice cream.

Participation in such competitions is one of the ways that RP supports food product innovation, an important aspect of food-related research and development. RP has also helped industry clients and partners make better decisions and reduce food cost/wastage through evaluation of natural food ingredients for bakery products, as well as screening of raw materials and additives to produce new plant-based milk formulations.

Supporting Food-Related Research and Development

“Businesses that survive and grow are the ones which are capable of meeting the changing needs of consumers. Hence, innovation, development of new food products and/or services becomes an important currency that drives the economic growth of companies and countries,” shared Mr Samuel Aw.

Fuel Up with the Latest Food and Nutrition Know-How at RP

As part of RP’s ongoing efforts in providing lifelong learning opportunities, a set of food-themed Continuing Education and Training (CET) courses have been rolled out, and are available to anyone interested in delving more into the topic of food and nutrition. These include courses like the Diploma in Applied Science (Nutrition and Food Science), Everyday Botanica, Nutrition for Healthy Living, and Knowing Your Nutritional Needs

RP’s wide range of resources and learning opportunities provide enhanced support to students, alumni and industry partners alike. It also enables RP to be a driving force in the growth of agrifood technology and innovation, with the goal of strengthening food security in our nation.

For those keen on exploring the world of food and innovation, check out the amazing research done by RP’s Formulation and Nutrition Science Technology Centre (FANSTC), Agriculture Research and Innovation (AGRI) Centre and Sustainable Aquaculture Technology Centre (SATC), or sign up for our range of lifelong learning courses to begin your journey.

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