IFT 2018: A Plant-Based Food Science Fantasy Come True

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Samples of agriculture giant ADM’s new, mouth-watering plant-based shreds awaited all Expo hall entrants. I’m embarrassed to confess how many of these I ate throughout my time at IFT18.

If you’re a food scientist, it doesn’t get any bigger than this.

The Institute of Food Technologists’ (IFT) annual gathering in Chicago attracts more than 20,000 attendees, all of whom are somehow tied to putting food on the rest of our plates. If you’re grateful for the abundance of food at our fingertips that past generations could only fantasize about, these food science nerds are some of the folks you ought to thank.

This past week I got a chance to attend the conference for the first time at the urging of my friend and food scientist Adam Yee, and trust me: I wasn’t let down.

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Chickpeas were the new black at IFT, with very cool products like dairy-free nacho cheese dip.

Yes, I got to learn about the use of wheat germ to make foods that taste and look exactly like nuts (except nut-free and much cheaper). Yes, I got to sample all the new sugar-free dark chocolates that are sweetened with the hottest glycemic-friendly sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit. And yes, I got to meet cool food scientists who help the world better understand the many benefits of this field’s work, like MJ Kinney of FareScience.

But the real star of the IFT convention was clear from the moment you walked in. The big trend in food right now: more sustainable alternatives to animal agriculture.

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Not sure “pea milk” is the best marketing name, but wow, did AGT make a great mousse from peas.

With a whole speaking track dedicated to alternative proteins (think both plant-based foods and clean meats), there was no shortage of discussion of the rise of alt-meat and other alt-animal products. I enjoyed hearing and talking with those speakers, especially about the regulatory landscape for these new foods. Attorney Stuart Pape gave a particularly insightful speech about why clean meat is more up FDA’s regulatory alley than USDA’s, for example. And Jessica Almy provided a very good analysis of the current state of alt-proteins in Washington. (In addition to clean meat, questions to ask: Is soymilk “milk”? Should peanut butter be able to use “butter” in its name? Does a coconut have “meat”?)

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Amoretti’s gigantic banner hung over the entrance to the conference proclaiming news that should let Nutella know which way the chocolate wind is blowing.

As informative as the speakers were, the real action was in the Expo hall, where hundreds upon hundreds of food companies, from start-ups to titans alike, vied to prove who was on the most cutting edge of plant-based innovation.

I hope you enjoy this very small selection of pics I took there offering a glimpse of the hottest IFT trend: plants proteins as the star of the food science world.

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Did I mention chickpeas were all the rage? Artesa’s chickpea protein drinks and snacks will likely be in your shopping cart soon, and after sampling them, I can assure you you’ll be happy about that.

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