Scotland, long a byword for the world’s finest food and drink, is now committed to improving and increasing its – and the world’s – food sustainability.

Scotland’s universities are in the forefront of sustainability research and innovation. Across the country you’ll find everything from zero-waste pumpkin ice cream, to biscuits made from bugs, advances in commercial aquaculture, proteins fermented from grains and innovative solutions to dealing with coffee waste.

Here, we round up some of the ways, both big and small, in which Scotland’s academic community and entrepreneurs are helping to increase and encourage food sustainability.

N-ice idea!

At Dundee’s Abertay University, academics from the Division of Food and Drink have created a tasty, reduced-sugar treat with a view to salvaging some of the 8m tonnes of pumpkin flesh created in the UK each Halloween. Rich in vitamin A and containing 40% less sugar than normal ice cream, the vegetable alternative provides a healthy and tasty treat.

Lecturer, Dr Jon Wilkin, said:

“This type of food innovation is an important strand of our research at Abertay, where we have a strong focus on finding novel ways to repurpose and reuse waste items. We’re looking to highlight that there are simple and sometimes creative ways to reduce food waste in general”.

Biscuits with real bite

Long a part of the staple diet in sub-Saharan Africa, insect-based foodstuffs could be key to feeding the world’s growing population. At Abertay University, a project in conjunction with Italy’s University of Naples is allowing students the chance to look at more appetising ways of presenting insect proteins to reluctant consumers.

The team use every single edible part of the pumpkin to create the ice cream, including the seeds, which are roasted and used as a chopped nut substitute – YUM!

Project supervisor Dr Alberto Fiore of the Division of Food and Drink said:

“We need to be able to feed our planet and meat is becoming an unsustainable source of food. We think using insect protein could be the answer to this challenge, but the problem is that we need to fight against the reluctance of the western population to buy into this type of product".

To that end, a trio of Masters Students perfected what they believe is the perfect tea break snack – bug biscuits, baked with cocoa powder and a hint of orange - using the bodies of ground-up crickets.

Student Anja Sieghartsleitner, who is leading the study, said:

“Insects are a lot more sustainable than other sources of meat like, beef, chicken and pork. They use a lot less land and water and you can eat the whole insect, not just part of the animal. If we are seeking to feed nine billion people by 2050 then we have to change our eating behaviour, as the amount of meat we eat is not sustainable”.

Balancing the scales

If bugs don’t bite you, perhaps fish is your thing. At the University of Stirling, researchers are addressing the challenge of how to enhance fish health and production while balancing sustainable development, animal welfare, biodiversity and environmental impact.

The institute not only developed the first vaccines to help protect farmed Atlantic salmon but also is now helping keep farmed salmon free of sea lice, without the use of chemicals. Further, afield, they are working with farmers in Bangladesh and sub-Saharan Africa to ensure that local fish farms contribute both to the food chain, and to rural economies.

In Bangladesh, the outcome has been to make it easier for farmers to stock healthy tilapia in the waters of their rice fields, which has also improved nutrition among poorer households. So globally important is the work done by the University’s Institute of Aquaculture that it recently was awarded the UK’s most prestigious academic honour – the Queen’s Anniversary Prize.

Professor Gerry McCormac, the University’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor, said:

“Our experts are working to tackle global problems of food security, hunger and sustainability through aquaculture – and have a global reputation for teaching, world-class research, technological innovation and consultancy within the sector”.

Meat-free protein

Meanwhile, at the University of Strathclyde, alumni Jim Laird and former industry director of the university’s CMAC Future Manufacturing Research Hub, Craig Johnston, have launched 3F BIO – a company that uses large-scale fermentation to grow Mycoprotein from the sugars found in grains such as wheat and maize

Mycoprotein is a healthy, meat-free form of high-quality protein and an excellent source of dietary fibre. Not only that, all the effluent from the fermentation process is recycled back to a bio-refinery. The company’s sustainable protein will help feed a growing global population and address the unsustainable impact of traditional livestock farming.

The global market for protein spans multiple categories including meat alternatives, protein ingredients, and even pet food. Plant-based protein is forecast to account for over 20% of this growing market by 2050.

“We believe that this zero-waste technology can halve the production cost of Mycoprotein, the protein component in Quorn, to unlock its potential to be a genuine high-quality protein solution for growing global populations”.

Using their patented technology, the company’s vision is to produce 1 million tonnes of Mycoprotein by 2030, providing a successful alternative to farming large animals for human consumption – a tasty option that is both environmentally and economically sustainable.

Grounds for optimism

How better to digest all that than with a nice cup of coffee. But how and where to dispose of those used coffee grounds? Strathclyde University graduates Fergus Moore and Scott Kennedy may just have the answer. The pair are the founders of the award-winning Revive Eco, which develops high-value products from coffee waste.

Having worked in cafes and restaurants for a number of years while studying, the pair were sick and tired of seeing coffee grounds being needlessly sent to landfill. They set out with the simple ambition of finding a use for used coffee and bringing new life to what was previously viewed as waste.

According to the British Coffee Association, UK consumers generate over half a million tonnes of coffee grounds every day. Today, Eco Revive extracts natural oils from used coffee grounds, which have a wide range of valuable applications; including as a sustainable alternative in cosmetics to environmentally destructive palm oil, as well as other applications, including use as fertiliser, and pellets for biomass boilers.

Their goal is to minimise waste, maximise value, reduce carbon emissions in Scotland, and create a sustainable, high value, zero-waste business.

We’ll drink to that!

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