Author: Jennifer

Food Technology

Algae in the Supermarket

As mentioned earlier, the world seems obsessed with algae. Not limited to producing light or energy, algae has also found its way to our plate as a new vegetable, and maybe even as a substitute for meat or fish.

As we all know, the world’s rapidly growing population is making it even harder to feed everyone. According to the Dutch company Phycom, the current food production system puts pressure on food quality and security, which will eventually become a great risk to public health. In response, the company developed ‘Essentials’:  Algae separated from water, and then dried from a sort of wet, green paste to powder.

According to Phycom, algae are the new vegetables. They’re 100% natural, and contain more fiber than leeks. Filled with protein, anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals and fatty acids, algae powder is already being processed into certain food products. A two-year research project supported by the Dutch government, slated to come out this year, will find out whether one day algae can become a substitute for meat.

If the results are positive, not only will we eat less meat, we may also stop chopping down trees for soya plantations, and possibly create employment for future algae farmers. Besides being used to produce light and biofuel, will algae also be the solution to the world’s food problems?

urban trees autumn pavement

Urban Heat Causes Trees to Grow Faster

The high temperatures of urban environments causes trees to grow faster in the city than in rural areas. Researchers at Columbia’s Earth Institute have discovered this by planting seedlings of the American red oak in four sites from Central Park to the foot of the Catskill Mountains.

Cities are hotter because buildings, streets and other urban structures absorb more solar energy during the day, and radiate that energy at night. This causes a difference in temperature between the city and rural areas in the New York area, with an average difference of 2.4 degrees during the day and an average minimum of 4.6 degrees at night. Cities also have greater atmospheric nitrogen and CO2 concentrations, which are vital for plant growth.

By August, the city seedlings had developed a biomass eight times that of the non-urban trees. Besides their fast growth, the city grown trees also developed bigger leaves, giving them a greater photosynthetic area. Urban trees allocated proportionately less mass to roots, an important carbon sink, than did rural trees.

Since urbanization is happening everywhere at a rapid pace, this adaption of our trees and plants to city life may have an impact on urban forest management and climate change discussions.

Meat the Future

Hybrid Meat

On society’s search to becoming a meatless one, several new kinds of ‘meat’ pop up in the food industry. From so called ‘hybrid’ meatballs, to ‘the chicken that isn’t’, when will we really stop eating meat and long for substitutes?

According to 23 producers of meat substitutes, called Het Planeet, this will actually be in the nearby future. They produce substitutes based on soy, lupins and peas, but also on proteins like insects and algae. Het Planeet claims that the biggest threshold is not the quality, but the acceptance and perception of these protein ingredients and products. That quality should no longer become an issue, became quite clear during a taste test at the castle of Woerden in January. The battle between whole meat and hybrid meatballs turned out quite tough, since the best meatball was a whole meat one, while the second best turned out to be a hybrid: a combination of meat and 30 percent plant product. Replacing 30 percent of a piece of meat by plant product will, according to Het Planeet, cause a 15 percent reduction in meat consumption per person.

Meanwhile, in Missouri, they are less subtle in replacing a nice piece of meat. Their soy-based chicken substitute not only replicates the taste of real chicken, it also mimics the same texture and appearance  of real chicken meat. Over 20 years of research has made it possible to produce something that has nothing to do with chicken, but according to the New York Times, certainly shreds like one. Sounds like acceptance is on its way.

artificial wetlands

The Benefits of Artificial Wetlands

In 1994 researchers at Ohio State University created two artificial wetlands*  in riverine basins in order to investigate their possible benefits, and whether they could replace those lost to environmental degradation. A key benefit would be the cleaning and filtering of polluted water.

The Mississippi watershed, like many other watershed regions, is affected by chemicals that turn about 7000 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico into a so-called ‘dead zone‘. This dead zone suffers from hypoxia, a condition that occurs when nitrates and phosphorus from fertilizers cause excessive growth of algae. These algal blooms deplete the water of almost all oxygen, making it dangerous for fish and other animals. Ohio State University wanted to find out if the design of these artificial wetlands would work.

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