20 Dec 2022 — Holding a centuries-old tradition of agricultural innovation, eastern Galilee, Israel, is busy looking ahead at modern solutions to the problems faced by the food and beverage industry. FoodIngredientsFirst speaks to Bountica, one of the food-tech start-ups within the Galilee agri-cluster and part of the accelerator group Fresh Start.
Working primarily on new means of food preservation, Bountica is developing food-safe protein coatings that prevent decay and spoilage of perishable foods and beverages. Dr. Maayan Gal, chief technologist at Bountica, and Fabian Trumper, CEO of Bountica, explain the procedure.
Bountica’s food preservation system is based on the science of protein-to-protein interactions (PPIs), which Bountica leverages to prevent spoilage.
“The process interferes with bacteria causing food spoilage, inhibiting their ability to grow. We took some principles from the pharma world and are trying for the first time to implement such techniques in the food-tech approach,” Dr. Gal explains.
This means a couple of things. Firstly, it interferes with specific cellular pathways of the organism. So, to identify cellular mechanisms and interfere with those mechanisms, we make it difficult for bacteria to grow so they cannot proliferate as they usually do.”
Bountica uses this food-safe protein system to prevent decay. In essence, it is a safe and digestible preservative.
“Bountica is developing modulators in the form of protein bio-preservatives that will prevent bacteria from growing but are also very safe and healthy for consumers to eat,” Gal underscores.
“We rely on very green proteins and peptides, which is another idea from the pharmaceutical world. Pharma proteins are successful and very safe.”
Pharma ideas, food-tech needs
With a background in protein science research, Dr. Gal is keen to bring his pharmaceutical experience into the food-tech arena.
“In the context of the pharmaceutical world, specific cellular interactions are important for diseases such as cancer and inflammation,” Gal stresses.
“After spending a few years at a research institute in the northern part of Israel, I learned about the challenges of agriculture and the food industry. I realized that we could transfer the same biological and technological ideas of the pharma world into the food industry.”
Gal details that the food industry is about a generation behind what is happening in pharma and explains Bountica’s desire to provide an alternative to chemical preservatives.
We should all agree that preservatives are a must. The problem is that chemical preservatives are that many of them are not as efficient as you would like them to be,” he says.
For instance, some preservatives are only active in a very narrow pH range. They need to be in an acidic environment, affecting the food and the taste of the consumers. Other chemicals like benzoic acid preservatives can contribute to unhealthy processes like protein fibrillation.”
Bountica’s preservatives are less reliable on the pH range and are safe for consumption, according to the company.
“We rely on peptides and proteins which preserve their activity in broad conditions. We are adding protein chemistry techniques, such as protein engineering tools, which can apply specific activity profiles to proteins to make them more active at a high or low pH,” Gal adds.
Scaleability of production
He is confident that the science behind the preservative is scalable.
“In terms of the science, it’s very scalable because we are using classical bio-fermentation processes.”
“We rely on safe bacteria to produce these proteins and modulators via cost-effective bio-fermentation protocols. It’s as cost-effective as it can get, and you get the protein you need.”
Trumper builds on this, noting the obstacle of regulatory processes for this system.
“With regards to regulatory processes, we are very confident that we will get through, but it will take some time,” he explains.
“The main reason is that the regulators are, in a way, scratching their heads – they’re trying to figure out how to handle the types of proteins we are developing. We are breaking new ground, but there’s a common practice on how to regulate, so we are confident we will pass regulatory tests.”
Looking ahead beyond the regulators, Trumper feels a need and demand for Bountica’s preservative.
“The functionality that we provide fills a need in the market. There’s a gap for certain products, and we need preservatives – we need them to be better and safer,” Trumper explains.
This is what we are providing. Certain product categories today don’t have any solutions. For example, the plant-based meat category. Most plant-based meat products are sold frozen, simply because they have few options in terms of preservatives to maintain the products, you know, in good quality without going through that freezing process.”
As such, Trumper feels Bontica is ideally placed to succeed and says that a few companies are looking at coatings as a way to preserve food.
As part of the Fresh Start tech incubator, Gal and Trumper are excited about the acceleration this relationship affords Bountica.
“As a young company with limited resources, we benefit from this infrastructure on both the technical and business side,” states Trumper.
“There’s a sense of camaraderie among the young food tech companies here. We share information and help each other.”
“I agree with Fabian here,” notes Gal. “Israel is a great bio incubator, and Fresh Start is a great team. As a scientist, I find many resources here I can consult with.”
“In the Israeli ecosystem, there is a long tradition of agriculture. When that agriculture started, it was pioneering, and we are following that tradition. So it’s new and old at the same time,” adds Trumper.
Competition and falafel
However, Bountica is keen on competition.
“Here in Israel, falafel is a widespread street food. But if you see a street with only a single falafel stand, you should question that,” flags Trumper. It’s a good sign when you have multiple falafel stands. It’s a sign that something positive is happening. We should embrace it. It’s not a competition, it’s progress.”
Gal adds that falafel is made with chickpeas and Bountica has “fantastic results with preserving chickpeas.”
By James Davies
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