Coffee Minus Coffee: A Sustainable Java Solution?

Coffee Minus Coffee: A Sustainable Java Solution?

With climate change accelerating, science is tackling more and more problems that I didn’t ever imagine we’d have to. Case in point: arabica coffee (the world’s dominant coffee bean cultivar) thrives on the sides of cool, rainy jungle mountains – among the most environmentally vulnerable landscapes on our planet. But we humans love our joe, so the food tech startup Atomo Coffee is hoping to soften the blow of our eventual java-less future (and buy us time to fix our climate problems) by replicating everyone’s favourite breakfast drug with lower-impact ingredients. Plus, unlike current replacements like chicory “coffee,” this new faux-go juice keeps the all-important caffeine. (Yay!)

“Atomo’s coffeeless coffee is made from upcycled ingredients, e.g. sunflower seed husks and watermelon seeds, which undergo a patented chemical process to yield molecules that mimic the flavor and mouthfeel of the real thing. […]

‘We like to think of ourselves as the Tesla of coffee,’ said [co-founder Jarret] Stopforth, who’s spent the last two decades working in food science and development. [Co-founder Andy] Kleitsch, meanwhile, is a serial entrepreneur and former product manager at Amazon.com Inc. ‘Before Tesla came along, if you wanted a luxurious, powerful vehicle that was detached from diesel and fuel, you had no option,’ Stopforth said. ‘In the same way, before Atomo, if you wanted coffee that wasn’t linked to deforestation, you had no choice. Now you do.’

Atomo’s product is poised to enter a market that is abuzz with plants masquerading as something else. (See our recent article on 3D printed protein alternatives for a peek at what’s out there.) But the dairy and meat industries have pushed back against increasingly popular substitutes – mostly citing legal definitions of the terms “milk” or “meat,” that require products labeled as such to be animal-derived. Luckily for Atomo Coffee, there’s no definition of “coffee” on the legal books; meaning they can advertise their sunflower-and-watermelon-seed concoction as coffee, without backlash from Big Brew.

I’m definitely interested in doing a side-by-side taste test of Atomo’s product, against my rocket fuel of choice. But until it hits our shores, I’ll have to content myself with bean juice the old fashioned way.

Wine in Space, Part II: In Space, No One Can Hear You Slurp

This week, the wine world had its horizons broadened a bit more, as news outlets reported on the opening and tasting of one of the bottles of Merlot that spent 14 months on the International Space Station, and arrived back on Earth just this January. (We reported on the journey and landing here.)
It was also revealed who the lucky, secret vintner was: The venerable Chateau Pétrus, producer of one of the top Bordeaux, who provided a  dozen bottles of their year-2000 vintage for spaceflight, and subsequent study at the Institute of Vine and Wine Science (ISVV). The tasting involved opening three of those bottles, and was accomplished by a group of experts, including Jane Anson. Anson subsequently reported to CNN:
“‘I found there was a difference in both color and aromatics and also in taste […] It just felt a little bit older, a bit more evolved than the wine that had remained on Earth,’ she said, adding that the cosmic wine’s tannins were more evolved and it had a more floral character.

The group of experts tasted the wine alongside another glass of the same variety that had stayed on Earth, before being told which was which.

And Anson concluded that its adventure above the stratosphere added about two to three years’ maturity to the drink.”
This past week, Christie’s announced that one of the remaining eight bottles of Pétrus 2000 from the ISS would be sold via its auction services, specially packaged with a twin bottle that stayed on Earth, so the prospective buyer can enjoy a similar compare/contrast tasting experience. As is (unfortunately) typical for most wine-related activities, that taster will have to be ready to drop some serious change: Christie’s anticipates an eventual sale price of £720,000 – or a bananas $1.2 million CAD. (The “regular” price for a bottle of Pétrus 2000 is in the $6000 – $7000 range – and I thought that was high…!)
Now that I’ve been definitively priced out of this tasting, I eagerly await news of the scientific analysis of the seven bottles left. What is the process behind the maturation of the wine – was it the zero-G environment, or heck, cosmic radiation? While the chemist in me waits impatiently for the ISVV to run their tests, my wine enthusiast half must remain satisfied with this brief peek into a very lofty (pun intended!) level of connoisseurship.

Fish Sticks: Solving a Piscine Problem with Technology

I very rarely caved to the siren song of fish sticks when my kids were young. As far as convenience foods went, we were a decidedly chicken-finger-and-pizza-pocket household. But in these pandemic times, the decidedly retro protein choice is making a resurgence. The “why” is not terribly interesting – fish sticks are, after all, supremely easy to sling onto a pan, bake, and then slide down your throat. But Hakai Magazine is using this opportunity to do a deep dive into the history of the finger food, and show how a wacky mid-century foray into frozen stick entrees (Eggplant! Ham! Lima beans, for god’s sake!) solved a particularly mid-century problem – too efficient technology.

“Stronger diesel engines, bigger boats, and new materials increased catches after the Second World War. Fishers began scooping up more fish than ever before, says [historian Paul] Josephson. To keep them from spoiling, fish were skinned, gutted, deboned, and frozen on board. […]

The fishing industry tried selling the blocks whole, as fishbricks. These were packaged like blocks of ice cream, with the idea that a housewife could chop off however much fish she wanted that day. But supermarkets had little luck selling the unwieldy bricks, and many stores even lacked adequate freezer space to display them.”

So the industry embraced technology further: slicing the fishbricks into smaller, oblong fishbricks, x-raying them to confirm bonelessness, and deep-frying them so quickly that the fish itself remained safely frozen inside.

And then, what Paul Josephson calls “the ocean’s hot dogs” took off, as a no-mess convenience alternative to gutting, scaling, and cooking regular fish. All this despite North Americans’ general distaste for fish, between its flavour (deliberately engineered to be mild in a fish stick) and its reputation as “second best” to meat.

On this last point, fish sticks are poised to enter the future, as their reliance on stable, well-managed species of fish mean their climate-change footprint is remarkably small. Perhaps I will break with longstanding DFC tradition, and sample a stick or two, in honour of the sheer technological wonder!