'Tis the season to be greener

Sachi, the world's first wine brewed from soy whey, is made by Singapore company SinFooTech. PHOTO: SACHI/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - With Christmas just around the corner, The Straits Times highlights innovations that could pave the way for a greener festive season.

World's first soya wine from tofu by-product

You can raise a toast to a greener Christmas this year with the world's first soya wine - and other food innovations.

Made from soya whey, a liquid by-product of tofu manufacturing, Sachi is also the first wine produced in Singapore.

It is made by local food start-up SinFooTech, which spent five years developing a patented fermentation process to turn whey into wine.

According to its chief executive, Mr Jonathan Ng, a tofu factory can produce up to 200 tonnes of soya whey each day.

He said: "While Sachi is an example of reusing something that would be thrown away, we didn't make it just to market it as a sustainable food product, but also wanted to create something that new generations of consumers can enjoy."

The wine is available at Sachi's online store at $30 for a 500ml bottle.

Mr Ng added that SinFooTech is also producing bubble tea pearls using soya bean pulp.

At Christmas dinners, turkey and roast beef are a common sight but the impact of consuming them might not just be limited to your waistline.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, an agency of the United Nations, each kilogram of beef results in the production of 300kg of CO2 equivalent.

Another player in the local food tech scene, Gaia Foods, is helping to reduce the festive footprint.

Beef cells growing around an edible scaffold which is made from non-animal materials. PHOTO: GAIA FOODS

It is the first South-east Asian company to produce red meat by using stem cell technology. The meat is grown in a nutrient-rich environment with sample cells from the animal.

The company claims this process produces at least 80 per cent less emissions than current beef production methods.

Gaia Foods was acquired in August by local food tech company Shiok Meats, which produces the world's first cell-based crab meat.

Sustainable packaging from fungi, fruit waste

It doesn't feel like Christmas if you are not ripping into a nicely wrapped gift or unwrapping the plastic from hampers on the festive morning.

But pretty wrapping paper and one-time use plastic packaging are worsening the issue of waste.

It would be ideal to forgo wrapping paper entirely, or reuse newspapers or rough paper instead. Gifts can be placed in reusable bags.

At the same time, sustainable and biodegradable packaging materials are on the rise.

For instance, the hardy underground root network of mushroom - called mycelium - can be grown into organic waste such as leaves, used coffee grounds, or spent barley grains - to form a fused mass.

Using moulds, the mass can be set into various solid shapes and used as packaging components to replace styrofoam, for example.

Local mycological design studio Bewilder has been creating cube-like protective corners using the mycelium-based materials, to replace styrofoam corners commonly used to protect electronic equipment like printers and laptops. Mycology is the study of fungi.

The cube is made of mycelium - a hardy root network of mushrooms - and local waste materials. It takes about three weeks for the material to decompose. PHOTO: BEWILDER

The mycelium-based corners decompose in three weeks.

Bewilder also shapes the fungi-based materials into globes, to replace foam peanuts.

Recently, researchers from Nanyang Technological University's Food Science and Technology Programme, led by its director, Professor William Chen, created three types of paper-like material by fermenting fruit waste and soya waste, which is known as okara.

Thick, paper-like materials made from soy waste (left) and fruit husk/rind (right). PHOTO: WILLIAM CHEN

The fermentation process helps to concentrate the fibre and cellulose from the waste that become the main components of the paper. The fruit waste includes durian rinds and fruit peels.

The paper-like materials can be used as packaging materials, including as boxes, food containers and cups.

The NTU innovations have been licensed to a number of start-ups and small and medium enterprises, and are currently being commercialised, said Prof Chen.In the near future, you may be holding a slice of log cake in a container made of durian husks, or a glass ornament in a mycelium-based casing.


Tips for a merry green Christmas

Celebrating Christmas but hoping to do it in a more sustainable manner? With waste output usually peaking in the November to February period, according to waste management firm SembWaste, here are tips to enjoy the festive season in greener ways.

Regifting

It is the thought that counts, not the price tag.

Start your spring-cleaning routine a couple of months earlier, and besides unearthing good-as-new items that you have no use for, you may even identify treasured possessions that a loved one would appreciate even more, imbuing these gifts with sentimental value.

Thrift shops and stores selling pre-loved items offer another channel to help reduce the environmental impact of over-consumption.

Buy local

Instead of scouring e-commerce sites far and wide for gifts, support local merchants. Not only will your money go to small businesses and creators, but you will also reduce your carbon footprint of having these items shipped from overseas.

Buy experiences

Sometimes the best gift is the one you can't hold.

Instead of buying a physical item that the person may not need, giving an experience like tickets to an attraction or a workshop can be more enriching and also go towards curbing consumption overall.

For those who want to go one step further, Swiss start-up Climeworks is offering "the world's most sustainable gift" in the form of carbon offset gift certificates.

For €85 (S$130), it will remove and store 85kg of carbon dioxide at its direct-air carbon capture facility in Iceland, the largest in the world.

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