VIDEO: Cargill R&D VP talks ‘processed’ food: ‘All food is made of chemicals’

Loading the player...

To many consumers, ‘processed food’ is just another term for ‘junk food.’ It’s hard to define, but we know it when we see it (Twinkies). But do we know a ‘highly processed’ ingredient when we see it, and how much processing is too much? Elaine Watson caught up with Cargill’s VP R&D Dr Chris Mallett at the IFT Show to get his take.

The Dietary Guidelines invite Americans to substitute refined grains for whole grains, eat more fibrous whole fruits over fruit juice, and watch our intakes of processed meats; but terms such as ‘refined’ and ‘processed’ are not very useful from a nutritional perspective, argued Dr Mallett.

Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA after appearing on a panel debate discussing the pros and cons of ‘processed food,’ on the IFT stage, he said: “Whole grains have more fiber in them, so if the desire is to get more fiber in the diet, which is very beneficial, there are other ways to do it if you want to… in reality all food is chemicals, and chemicals are relatively unconcerned about the source.

“Our focus is on selling safe, sustainable, healthy and affordable ingredients… no individual ingredient is good or bad, it’s what it’s used for and the context it’s used in.”

Natural sweeteners

But what about consumer perceptions? If you are solely interested in the chemistry and functionality – rather than the story – of food, do you risk alienating consumers, or do we need to give them all a science lesson?

An interesting case in point is Cargill’s EverSweet sweetener, launching next year, in which a genetically engineered baker’s yeast converts sugars into the best-tasting steviol glycosides Reb D+M via a fermentation process. (Reb D+M are found naturally in the stevia leaf by in tiny percentages, making the economics of traditional leaf extraction challenging for these glycosides.)

While fermentation is not a new process, and producing sweeteners by feeding microbes is arguably more sustainable than growing acres of stevia plants just to extract components from their leaves, it is unclear how the market will respond to EverSweet, given that the reason food and beverage manufacturers started experimenting with stevia in the first place was precisely due to its ‘natural’ credentials (it’s from a leaf).

Stevia without stevia leaves, meat, milk, eggs without animals

In other words, if you take the stevia leaf out of the equation, aren’t you in something of a grey area in terms of food marketing, even if the final product is chemically identical to Reb D+M from a leaf? Can you even call it stevia? And does that matter?

It's a question that is likely to be thrown into sharp relief in the coming years as Silicon Valley start-ups create meat (Hampton Creek, Memphis Meats), milk (Perfect Day), gelatin (Geltor) and eggs (Clara Foods) without raising or harming animals, producing products that might be chemically identical to 'natural' or traditional foods, but are manufactured via fermentation or other methods on a 'greener, cleaner, kinder' platform.

In all food ingredients there’s a trade off

According to Dr Mallett: “In all food ingredients there’s a trade-off. What do people want? Do they want an excellent tasting sweetener that will help them reduce their calorie load that is produced in a sustainable way? Yes, it’s done by fermentation, yes, it’s fermenting a sugar… but look at wine, look at beer, they are fermented sugars, essentially…

“We’re giving [customers] an affordable, healthy, nutritious, and in particular a sustainable, ingredient.”  

Related News

Cargill, Evolva on track for 2018 launch of EverSweet fermented stevia

Cargill and Evolva still on track for 2018 launch of EverSweet fermented steviol glycosides

While siratose is found in trace levels in monk fruit, Senomyx plans to produce it at scale via fermentation

Senomyx unveils 'natural' sweetener breakthrough, plans GRAS notification by end of 2019

Dr Kerr Dow: 'Open innovation is not just a buzzword, it’s a change in mindset in the whole industry.' (Picture: Cargill)

Cargill R&D chief: 'When I started, food science was cool, now it’s viewed with suspicion'

Sweet Green Fields talks stevia, natural sweeteners

Where next for stevia? From designer glycoside blends to fermentation and enzyme modification

How far down the supply chain do consumers - and plaintiff's attorneys - expect you to look to prove your 'clean label' credentials?

CLEAN LABEL 2.0: Natural flavors and preservatives, pesticide residues, and Non-GMO in the spotlight

'Clean label' is a term widely used in b2b communications, but Panera is one of the first major brands to talk about 'clean' eating with consumers

SPECIAL REPORT: Consumers and ‘clean’ food: Where is the clean label trend going next?

Related Products

See more related products

Comments (1)

Hugo Cabret - 06 Jul 2017 | 07:49

Spot on!

Dr. Mallett could not had any better composure! Thanks for a fair interview, Ms. Watson. This article/interview was a most refreshing alternative to the normal "Good Food/Bad Food" hit pieces.

06-Jul-2017 at 07:49 GMT

Submit a comment

Your comment has been saved

Post a comment

Please note that any information that you supply is protected by our Privacy and Cookie Policy. Access to all documents and request for further information are available to all users at no costs, In order to provide you with this free service, William Reed Business Media SAS does share your information with companies that have content on this site. When you access a document or request further information from this site, your information maybe shared with the owners of that document or information.