SINGAPORE: A food-tech laboratory focusing on creating lower glycemic index (GI) food staples, such as rice and bread, was launched on Monday (Jan 21), with the aim of incorporating new ingredient blends into everyday foods.
Opened by local start-up Alchemy Foodtech, the lab aims to develop its ingredient blends, comprising natural plant fibres and extracts, to help lower the GI of rice, bread and other carbohydrate foods without changing their taste and texture.
READ: Singapore’s approach to war on diabetes 'generally in right direction': Health Minister Gan Kim Yong
The move could help with Singapore’s war on diabetes, as one in nine Singaporeans with type 2 diabetes typically developed the disease due to an unhealthy diet and lifestyle. High GI food, such as refined white rice, bread and noodles, spike blood glucose levels quickly.
"Many people know what are the healthier foods they should be eating and that diabetes is a function of poor diet," said Mr Alan Phua, CEO of Alchemy Foodtech. "But it’s actually doing it every single day, every single meal that makes it difficult. Giving up your favourite food like white rice for brown rice, or having chicken rice with brown rice – these are things people find very hard to accept."
Using technology so that the "sensory aspect" of familiar food does not change will help people switch to a healthier diet, he said.
“With the opening of our new laboratory, we are well positioned to partner with food manufacturers in the region to create healthier products with the same great taste,” Mr Phua added.
The startup's proprietary ingredient blend, called 5ibrePlus, took three and a half years to develop and involved both engineering trials and human clinical studies.
The tasteless powder ingredient can be added to food, such as breads and noodles, without changing its taste, colour or texture. A variation - shaped into grains - can also be added to jasmine white rice to lower its GI to that of brown rice.
Adding 10 per cent of the grain-shaped ingredient blend into a serving of jasmine white rice would lower its GI to the same level as brown rice, while increasing its fibre content by 12 times, said Alchemy Foodtech's chief technology officer Verleen Goh.
While adding the ingredient blend into a serving of rice could raise costs by 30 to 50 per cent, Ms Goh said this is likely to go down as it scales up production.
The company is partnering four food manufacturers to develop lower GI versions of their food products, including bakery manufacturer Gardenia and bun manufacturer Lim Kee. It is also in discussions with a rice producer.
READ: Commentary: Unable to look sideways? Unusual signs of diabetes often unnoticed, ignored or denied
It also started a pilot partnership with restaurant chain Han’s F&B Group in January to develop a lower GI version of its fried rice.
"Their product 5ibreGrain doesn’t alter the taste of our product. That also doesn’t alter the way we prepare ... our current food," said Mr Simon Siah, general manager of Han's F&B Group.
Set up in 2015, Alchemy Foodtech secured S$2.5 million in funding last September to help fuel its development of lower GI foods and manufacturing capabilities.
Meanwhile, the Government will continue to support food-related innovation and review regulations where needed, said Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat on the sidelines of the lab's launch.
"The Singapore brand name is well regarded and trusted around the world, and food is one area we can bring together our strengths and research in food manufacturing and healthcare," said Mr Chee.
"Many of our rules are there for a good reason because we want to protect safety of consumers and ensure there’s fair competition. But at the same time, as things evolve, we need to review our rules on a regular basis and ensure ... the system as a whole stays nimble in supporting new startups and business ideas."