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Creating high-protein staple foods through bioinformatics and fermentation

Article-Creating high-protein staple foods through bioinformatics and fermentation

bread factory, processing, istock gerenme cropped.jpg
By combining bioinformatics, fermentation, and cutting-edge processing, EQUII is turning flour from primarily a source of carbohydrates into a complete protein powerhouse for healthy staples such as bread and pasta.

A great deal of innovation in the protein space is focused at present on sustainability. Achieving nutrition, taste, and affordability at the same time however is not always that straightforward. The startup, EQUII, has sought to address this, by turning flour from a mere carb source into a complete protein powerhouse.

“Our products don’t have any ingredients that are not typically used in the bakery or pasta industry, nor do they carry GMOs,” explains Monica Bhatia, co-founder and CEO, EQUII. This making them extremely easy to integrate into existing lines.”

Cutting edge processing innovation

EQUII’s technology has three major innovation areas. The first element is a bioinformatics algorithm, capable of reading whole genomes and predicting the nutritional quality of the entire proteome. “This step allows us to scan thousands of microbes found in foods, especially fermented foods and discover the ones that can make complete proteins when fermented,” says Bhatia.

The second step is fermentation. With the microbes from step one, grain starches are fermented to produce complete proteins at low-cost. The final downstream processing step isolates proteins post-fermentation. “We are able to study and tailor the water binding properties of our protein during the downstream steps,” explains Bhatia. “This allows EQUII protein to get the right texture and taste during final recipe formulation.”

These mixes have been validated at conventional, large-scale industrial facilities for bread, bakery, and pasta. EQUII’s success was recognised at this year’s Fi Europe, when the company won the Most Innovative Food or Beverage Ingredient award at the Fi Global Start-Up Innovation Challenge. “This award is so meaningful to us,” says Bhatia. “It provides us with strong validation, as we discuss our innovation with partners in Europe and around the world.”

Sustainable protein, healthy nutrition, and great taste

The inspiration for EQUII came from the realisation that following a nutritionally balanced diet is not always easy. Life can be hectic, and many people simply don’t have the bandwidth to think about every aspect of their meals. In addition, healthy food choices don’t always taste great.  

“I started EQUII to make nutrition on our plate a default, by creating staple foods that are high in protein, low in carbs, and have great taste and texture,” Bhatia explains. The market for plant-based proteins has been growing leaps and bounds, but most innovation over last 10 years has focused on mimicking meat.”

Bhatia recognised that staple foods are as much a part of our plates as meat. She saw a major opportunity to improve food systems through high protein staples enriched with plant-based protein. “The idea was to address the need for sustainable protein and healthy nutrition, and meet consumer preferences in one product,” she says.

A key challenge at EQUII’s beginning was accessing the resources needed to achieve proof of concept, without requiring significant investment. “Our goal was not only to create a protein, but to go the extra mile and demonstrate that our protein can create a product like bread with similar taste and texture as normal bread,” says Bhatia. “This required specific skillsets, equipment and R&D tools.”

To achieve this, EQUII partnered with institutions like the California Wheat Commission, which lent the start-up equipment, tools, and knowledge.

Building a resilient and sustainable food economy

EQUII has since built up a strong customer base of product manufacturers. The company is also currently in talks with several major B2B players in the field of staples.

“The amount of innovation in our field is growing at unprecedented rate,” says Bhatia. “This gives me confidence that we will see a much more resilient and sustainable food economy in the years to come. I saw many innovative ingredients in the plant-based space displayed at Fi Europe that can provide great solutions to solving the major challenges around taste, texture and cost for the consumer.”

“I met with and talked to some companies in the space of flavourings, preservatives and fibre solutions that I had not seen before, and was just amazed by how good the products were.”

Moving forward, EQUII plans to focus both on commercialising its flagship products – EQUII Baking blend, EQUII Complete protein bread and EQUII Complete protein pasta – and continuing on the path of improving yeast strains and fermentation processes to create ingredients ready for massive adoption.

Main image: iStock/gerenme