Making bad food, better
Did you know that in some parts of northern Mexico, the hamburger buns and muffins are, apparently, significantly healthier and better for the environment than normal? That's because some of the eggs, butter and oil that would have ordinarily gone into the mix has been replaced with the residue from a smoothie factory, and nobody noticed. It's the confession given to me by Luis Flavio Siller Rodriguez, the co-founder of EatLimmo, a Mexican start-up that has one simple, crazy aim: to make bad food good for us.
Sounding far too good to be true, the company actually uses the junked parts of mangos, guavas and avocados that are discarded by the smoothie and frozen fruit industry. That's not to say that you're eating floor scrapings, since all of this stuff is processed with as much effort as the stuff you wind up buying from Whole Foods anyway. Rather than being sold off cheap for animal feed, EatLimmo has developed a way to turn this material into a bulking agent for baked goods. So clever bakers can swap out some of that fat for a far cheaper and healthier alternative. In addition to being vastly cheaper, it's also much better for the environment, since one kg of (let's call it) Limmo Powder (and 5kg water) is the equivalent to 6kg of egg mixture.The creators of EatLimmo with a bag of their raw product
In terms of the health benefits, lets take the example of a 55 gram cupcake: with Limmo Powder, it's apparently packing 55 fewer calories, 8 percent more dietary fiber and between 4 and 5 grams less fat. It all started with other co-founder Enrique Gonzalez was diagnosed with diabetes and started to take an interest in the food that he was eating. Unfortunately, like a lot of us who have tried to become fitter and healthier, he simply couldn't resist the allure of processed food. So, instead, he decided to see if he couldn't make the so-called naughty stuff better for him.
If Limmo is as good as it claims, then why is it not a brand-name that we can all clamor for in Whole Foods? Rodriguez's answer has two parts: firstly, the Mexican bakers that they're working with don't make much of a fuss over health benefits. They're primarily concerned with cost, so there's no interest in promoting it. Secondly, there's a lot of people at the "bottom of the pyramid" who can only afford mass-produced, cheap food which includes a lot of baked goods. In essence, if he'd taken his ingredient to Whole Foods, then the only people who would have gotten the benefit would be middle and upper class citizens who can already afford to eat well, which would do "a lot less good."
So, how does it taste? I sampled the Limmo Powder cupcake you can see in the picture above and, if I'm honest, it tasted... fine. I certainly wouldn't have believed that the cupcake I was eating contained powdered mango, avocado and guava peel instead of eggs, butter and oil. In fact, while you could probably tell that something was off about it, my food eater's brain was telling me that the baker had run out of white sugar and had opted for brown to finish out the recipe. I would imagine that, when combined with a greasy double burger or some frosting, it'd be virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. Which, of course, is the point.
A Fist Full of Algae
Algama is a French company that recently launched Springwave, a drink that uses Spirulina sourced from colonies of microalgae. That's only the first step on a long road of algae-based foods that the firm is planning to produce, which is what it's been showing off here. The outfit has cooked up these weird-looking cubes that combine algae with fruits to create high-energy foodstuffs, of which the prototypes were on show.
They're intended for fitness enthusiasts, with one block of this stuff meant to replace the normal MAXX ENERGY protein bar that they'd normally chow down before a workout. It's packed full of various vitamins, including heavy quantities of B1, B2, protein and, of course, Spirulina. It's hardly innovative, since added Spirulina is common in plenty of health drinks in the US, as are algae-based foodstuffs. Hell, during our Cooking With Watson experiment we made carrot pearls out of agar, a vegan-friendly gelatinizing agent made from algae.
In the picture above, the weird looking gelatinous cubes are made of algae mixed with raspberry and pear. The other more normal-looking blocks in the background is an algae cereal bar that's been infused with apricot. It might surprise you to learn that the weirder of the two actually tastes better. In fact, if you've ever sunk your teeth into a block of raw Jell-O then you'll know exactly what it tastes like, albeit with a far grittier texture. The cereal bar, meanwhile, is an odd mix of sweet and sour flavors that, if I'm honest, just didn't do it for me.
I'd put a poll down here asking which one of these two you'd rather eat, but I'd wager that plenty of you have started driving south to Mexico in the hope of buying a carload of "healthy" cupcakes instead.