It is no understatement to say that Singaporeans are passionate about food.
The city-state has often been affectionately referred to as the "nation of foodies," and even its street-vendor culture has managed to get listed on the United Nations Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO) list of the intangible cultural heritage of mankind.
Unfortunately, most of Singapore's most popular foods are unhealthy, often laden with oil and heavily flavored. This also applies to snacks, which are usually high in calories and low in nutritional value.
The food technologist Christoph Langwallner recognized this after the birth of his children.
“In my daily work I had to prepare snacks that are more delicious than the last ones. This meant adding more flavors that have little to no nutritional value just to go home and keep my kids from eating the food I made, ”said the Austrian-born entrepreneur.
He wanted to resolve that pain and was a co-founder of WhatIF Foods. The startup uses the power of Future Fit plants – plants that are nutritionally dense, climate-resistant and resource-saving – and integrates them into well-known comfort foods.
This helps improve the nutritional profile of the foods while ensuring that they taste more delicious than ever before.
The nutritional paradox
Photo credit: WhatIF Foods
WhatIF was founded by five seasoned food industry scientists and executives who have had enough.
Since the end result was their number one priority, they had to add artificial additives for more visual stimulation and more flavor enhancers to make the food "just a little bit more addicting".
"Our food system enabled obesity and nutritional deficiency to coexist to make non-communicable diseases the norm," said Christoph, co-founder and CEO of WhatIF Foods.
According to WhatIF, seven in ten people suffer from what they eat. It added that eating too much kills three times more people than famine. This reality was later referred to as the nutritional paradox by the WhatIF team.
The nutritional paradox made Christoph think and wondered whether it would be possible to diversify food sources by sowing climate-resistant, drought-tolerant and nutrient-rich Future Fit plants.
For the past six years, the team has been commuting between the laboratory and the field, researching Future Fit plants and how the potential can be used to promote people, the earth and farmers.
WhatIF Foods finally launched in 2020 after "a lot of bootstrapping due to the unprecedented operational challenges posed by the pandemic, such as border closings and disrupted supply chains."
Despite the setbacks, the team decided to dive into the market to test whether WhatIF Foods' value proposition was well received by consumers.
The first products to hit the market were instant noodles and instant soups, which received "overwhelming support" from both consumers and the media.
The best from both worlds
Photo credit: WhatIF Foods
Instant eating, especially instant noodles, is a guilty pleasure for many and is often consumed as a quick lunch or a nightly snack.
Despite its convenience and often addicting taste, it has a bad reputation for being extremely unhealthy. WhatIF's healthy instant noodles alleviate those worries.
The instant noodles are dehydrated by steaming air and high-speed air instead of being deep-fried. This results in 55 percent less fat, 130 percent more fiber and 110 percent more protein than the typical ones on the market.
According to WhatIF Foods, the best-selling instant noodles are BamNut noodles with Sweet Hot Seasoning (S $ 3 per serving; 5-pack for S $ 15) and Moringa noodles with sesame and garlic seasoning (S $ 2.70 per serving; Box of 5 for S $ 5) USD 13.50).
The noodles, along with the rest of the product range, are currently available at Red Pa Sat at RedMart, Fairprice Online, Amazon.sg, Vegan Grocer, Nourish and Food Folks.
A holistic approach
Photo credit: WhatIF Foods
When asked how WhatIF Foods stands out from other healthy food brands in the market, Christoph told Vulcan Post that the brand has a "holistic approach".
The company first addresses the nutritional paradox by converting well-known ready-made meals known to be low in nutrients into healthy options that nourish the consumer.
A guiding principle at WhatIF Foods is to use the natural properties of the ingredients and combine them with a keen understanding of taste, taste perception, the human palate and knowledge of nutrition to obtain the final product.
It then sources and innovates raw, natural, but forgotten materials that benefit the planet. These are also known as Future Fit Crops.
Some examples of Future Fit Crops are the Bambara peanut and the moringa, both of which are used in WhatIF instant noodles.
WhatIF's approach can best be summed up using the Venn diagram on the box / Photo credit: WhatIF Foods
Bambara peanut (or "BamNut") is the main Future Fit ingredient used in all WhatIF soups and shakes, as well as in the protein-rich BamNut noodle. It is an extremely hardy legume with the ability to grow in poor soil conditions and in dry climates without the need for fertilizers or pesticides.
These properties make BamNuts the "insurance plant" for financially disadvantaged farming communities and offer them a certain source of harvest and food.
Traditionally, the Bambara peanut was consumed in various forms – it is eaten as a whole snack, cooked by boiling, frying and roasting, or mixed as a flour into porridge and bread.
WhatIF Foods is committed to harnessing the raw potential of BamNuts as a Future Fit Crop as it believes that humans must harness the resilience and nutrition of high performing plants to change our current food system.
Using these plants as ingredients promotes more sustainable farming practices regarding resource efficient crops that can be grown on degraded arable land.
After all, it has set up its supply chain to reward key stakeholders: farmers. In particular, WhatIF Foods tries to keep its supply chain short in order to work directly with farmers.
“In this way, we add value to farmers through outreach programs, while also enabling them to get more value by bringing them closer to the market. By growing Future Fit Crops on degraded areas, farmers also benefit from areas that would otherwise be economically unproductive, ”said Christoph.
The future of food
So far, Christoph is proud that the WhatIF team “managed to maintain the integrity of the vision and mission they have for the WhatIF Foods brand”.
At the beginning of February he was awarded the Prime Minister's Hibiscus Prize in Malaysia. This was a recognition of the impact the brand is making by using Future Fit Crops.
"We can hardly wait to prolong the effects that we can achieve with Future Fit plants in our Southeast Asian region by cultivating resilient plants for a regional food system with agrobiodiversity," said Christoph.
Despite its successes, communicating WhatIF Foods' mission remains challenging. People want to be healthy or do good, but can act in a way that is contrary to their intention because they are bound by what is readily available.
At the moment, healthy, tasty and practical foods that are good for the planet weren't widely available, but Christoph hopes WhatIF can fill that void.
"What we at WhatIF Foods are doing is eliminating your sustainability and wellbeing headaches and replacing them with tasty, convenient and accessible foods that have a good impact on our planet, our communities and your wellbeing," said Christoph .
Selected image source: WhatIF Foods