Dr. Sirli Rosenvald of TFTAK
This episode is part of the Transforming the Future of Proteins series, where we explore the work of XPRIZE Feed the Next Billion, a global incentivized competition that challenges innovators to reinvent alternative proteins
On this episode, we are excited to host Dr. Sirli Rosenvald, head of alternative protein research at TFTAK. Sirli is a highly experienced food scientist with over 10 years of experience in food research. She has vast experience in managing different teams and projects with a specific emphasis on alternative proteins and sensory and consumer research. She is a recognized expert in the alternative protein space, having published numerous scientific articles and presented at industry and scientific conferences.
Alex Shirazi (00:03):
Thanks for joining us on the Future Food Show. This episode is part of the transforming the Future of Proteins series where we explore the work of XPRIZE Feed the Next Billion, a global incentivized competition that challenges innovators to rethink alternative proteins. We’re excited to host Dr. Sealy Rosenthal, head of alternative protein research at TF Tuck. Sealy is a highly experienced food scientist with over 10 years of experience in food research. She has vast experience in managing different teams and pro projects with specific emphasis on alternative proteins and sensory and consumer research. She is a recognized expert in the alternative protein space, having published numerous scientific articles and presented at industry and scientific conferences around the world. Sealy, I’d like to welcome you to the Future Food Show.
Sirli Rosenvald (00:55):
Thank you. And I’m very happy to be there. Thanks for inviting me.
Alex Shirazi (01:00):
Sirli, tell us a little bit about your background.
Sirli Rosenvald (01:02):
So I have been a food scientist for more than 10 years now. After I graduated my master degree in the university, I started to work for an industry for a while, but after few years I understood that I still want to go deeper into food technologies and decided to start my PhD thesis and that is what brought me into TFTAK. And since then I have been doing a lot of different things here all related to the food. But when I started, my profession was more into sensory science and aroma and how people really perceived the taste and aroma food. And I was a project manager for some time. Then I started to lead different research groups at first in food technology in general. Now, a few years ago I started to lead teams working in the alternative protein space as I was myself also more working into sustainable new protein directions. And starting from the 1st of June this year I just started as a chief scientific officer for food research in TAF Tax. So now working with different food related topics.
Alex Shirazi (02:22):
Very cool. And was your PhD program in or related to sensory science?
Sirli Rosenvald (02:28):
Yes. So my PhD was actually how to combine, so how to understand the product by using different mythologies. So by using people, using the senses and how you can correlate it and how you can additionally use different instrumental techniques like gas chromatograph, your liquid chromatography to really combine and and understand how you can measure the perception of what people are feeling and how you can really put it together or understand what are the molecules behind it. So that was the aim of my thesis.
Alex Shirazi (03:03):
Wow, okay, cool. And I think it’s, it’s very exciting to think how deep we can actually get into the connection between food and I guess the, the human experience. Now can you give us kind of an overview of TF Tuck?
Sirli Rosenvald (03:17):
Yes. So TFTAK is now almost 20 years ago, it was established in 2004 and it is a private owned research organization. And what TFTAK does, it has two like large research direction. One is for biotechnology, so working with different microorganisms like bacteria or yeast or fungi and really optimize their growing process to produce specific molecules or to receive higher biomass yields. And the other part of TFTAK has always been food technologies. And when TF Duck started, it worked a lot with different classical food technologies like bakery and dairy technologies. And now I would say a recent five years, the alternative protein has gone into our attention and I think we’ll try to use all the knowledge that we have on dairy to bring it now into how to develop, for example, dairy Alternatives. And TFTAK is collaborating with different companies. So we provide like applied research service helping out with product development or solving some specific technological problem. But we also participate in different research projects either funded by eu like Horizon programs. And we have been also granted multiple already Good Foot Institute grants and we also collaborate with different universities and we take interns for bachelor master also PhD studies and also people working in TFTAK. They also go and teach in the universities and we collaborate a lot with different, both academical and also with private sector in Estonia but also in in more broad in Europe and even beyond.
Alex Shirazi (05:12):
And that seems like a very great fit for the feed, the next billion challenge. How did TFTAK and and your team first actually hear about the XPRIZE challenge? We
Sirli Rosenvald (05:23):
Have thought about it and try to memorize <laugh>, which, which way we’ll get to hear about it. And I think it was through Good Food Institute channels or something like this, so I guess through social media network. And it was already in 20 20 20 and it seemed to be a really interesting challenge to take part in. And I have to say that it’s, it’s the only that kind of that kind of project that we have participated so far. So we, we haven’t had before and we are still not having any that kind of of of project, so like competition. But I think it’s very inspiring. It’s very motivative and we are really, really happy that we can be part of this competition.
Alex Shirazi (06:10):
Now I’m gonna ask you about your kind of solution to the challenge in just a moment, but first I wanna ask you about how big the team that’s working on the challenge within TFTAK is.
Sirli Rosenvald (06:21):
Yeah, I think we can look the size of the team in different ways because in in TFTAK we have food and bio technologies, but we also have quite large analytical teams. So who help out with different analysis help to think how to analyze something, how to get some solutions or specific answers. So there are around five to six people who are related to xpr in everyday basis. So who are working with meets and fish alternative projects in in TFTAK. But there are also some background forces to say so who are helping out with different specific aspects, either looking out for some product equipment related things or helping out with some analysis or people from the aroma analysis part, helping really to figure how, how to get this right aroma molecules, what are the, what are the reactions that take place and how we could imitate or make it happen in our alternative product. So I would say we have like around five to six people related in tailor basis and then we have some background forces to help out with different specific topics.
Alex Shirazi (07:33):
And just to clarify, you know, typically TFTAK will not have like their own food products in the grocery stores or, or anything like that. You, your team usually, or TFTAK usually works with other companies to create new solutions or research et cetera. Is that correct?
Sirli Rosenvald (07:50):
Yes, that’s true but I, the pro, this is also one of the reason why this express competition is, is very interesting us because it provides us also a perspective of a new kind of business model. And although at this point TFAC has actually already had a bit of spinoff companies, but I think this is going to be more and more interesting perspective for TFTAK as well to really commercialize the solutions that we are creating. So be the one being responsible for commercializing because we have been supporting we we have like licensing some technologies, but really to be the one who is working out the business model and is responsible for whole of the process. I think it’s also what makes it very special and very interesting for us.
Alex Shirazi (08:40):
As the audience knows the feed, the next billion challenge does look for a whole cut piece of chicken or fish. And I wanted to ask you, you know, what is your solution to the challenge and how is it different?
Sirli Rosenvald (08:53):
Yes, so we are working in fish direction and we decided to select the salmon Atlantic. Salmon is is the species that we are trying to imitate. And TF Duck has been mostly working with plant proteins. So, and this is the reason why our solution is based on the plants and for providing or getting fish like texture. We combine extrusion technologies and other components that we got can add some extra texture. But extrusion technologies is something that we have built our competencies in for many years now. So I guess that’s why we selected that kind of technologies and that kind of of of materials as we are most sophisticated in these areas.
Alex Shirazi (09:44):
One thing I don’t think about too much when it comes to, you know, the, the final application of the challenge, but when we do look at salmon, you can essentially have it cooked or you could have it raw are, you know, which solution is your team going after?
Sirli Rosenvald (09:59):
So the the aim is it to be consumed in a cooked way, but still as in the competition your product has to have the flexibility to be used for different applications. So that makes some some extra challenges inside. So from now on for the finals, one of the important things that we have to work with is really to get the flexibility and understand what are the properties that we are still lacking to make it usable for this or that kind of food product. But eventually it would be consumed in a cooked way.
Alex Shirazi (10:39):
Okay, great. But potentially also have the flexibility for other applications as well?
Sirli Rosenvald (10:44):
Y yes, but for other application, but I would still say that it could be developed even further, but at this point we are aiming to get all the desired notes after cooking. So I guess if we would aim to have it consumed, consumed mostly in aero state, will it need to, for some of the things we would need to get some, to take some other approach. So we are aiming for the cooking one.
Alex Shirazi (11:10):
I see, okay. And, and I guess, you know, as we are thinking about creating alternatives to different types of, you know, whether it’s meat or or or something else, you know, we are gonna have more specific applications versus just a complete mimicry of of, you know, the the traditional meat, poultry or seafood. So that definitely makes sense and, and what we’ve been seeing that in the alternative protein space, now your team is now in the finals, which is very exciting. I really wanted to ask you, I think already we’ve seen a lot of impact from XPRIZE within your team and within your organization, but if you do kind of go on to win the challenge, how could this really impact what you’re doing here?
Sirli Rosenvald (11:53):
Yes, so I would say that even us getting to the semi-finals as well, it got a lot of attention in Estonian media also and I think up to the even governmental level. So I really see that it could have a potential to influence also different stakeholders in Estonia to understand a bit more what are the alternative protein products that we are talking about. Why do we need these solutions and what are the different possibilities? So I think bringing the knowledge on alternative protein field to the wider public in Estonia as well. And I think it has got the attention in Estonia, but also when I looked at my social media, there is a lot of things going on. I have also got a lot of new connections, a lot of new possible collaborators for future research on, on different topics. And I think it will advance in general the impact and the quality of this research that we are carrying out here in TFTAK.
Alex Shirazi (12:57):
I’m glad you mentioned Estonia because we have been hearing a lot more of different technologies come out of Estonia over the last, you know, couple years and, and maybe it has been a coincidence, I’m not sure, but would you say that Estonia is either big on food tech or biotech?
Sirli Rosenvald (13:14):
I would say that up to some years ago, Estonia was not too innovative in food tech and maybe more in biotech, but not so much in food tech. But in recent years there have been a rising multiple startups now and I, if I look also the public opinion, a public discussion, what is going on? So I really think that there are some new thoughts on it to that Estonia could also be in the forefront in in food, in innovation and also biotech innovation. And I also think that the publicity that TFTAK has gained with the sex price is also giving some new belief that Estonia could really be successful and in front of this type of innovations.
Alex Shirazi (14:04):
That’s great. And these are the types of innovations that will really benefit the, the entire world.
Sirli Rosenvald (14:10):
Yes. And I think it is very important to collect all the different stakeholders from economical perspective as well and understand what, what we all could gain from this transaction be besides the environment and our health and all that kind of things. But also what is the economical benefit that all the stakeholders could also have so they could still have their place in this chain on this value chain
Alex Shirazi (14:39):
As a leader in the alternative protein space. I I really wanted to ask you, what do you think we’ll see over the next 10 years? We’re gonna see large adoption, is research and development still gonna continue on and and take place? Is 10 years enough will we see change in in the next 10 years? What do you think?
Sirli Rosenvald (14:59):
I will definitely think that we will see change. I think in some of the cases I have been asked to predict <laugh> what, what is the portion or what is the market share of alternative products compared to the meat, meat or fish? And when I have had to propose some numbers, I had said that I would believe that in 10 years the market share could be around 10%. This is like the perspective that I believe that could make the change. But from the technological side, I think in the same time there are going on a massive development in different areas. So plant-based is the category that is closest to the market. So if you look what we have today in the stores, those are ma mainly plant-based products. But I think everybody know that the quality also there is the price question, but also the sensory qualities of the taste and texture hasn’t been good enough for people to make their repeating purchases.
Sirli Rosenvald (15:59):
So plant-based products still need to improve to have better taste, better texture. And what is maybe the most interesting topics for me in plant-based area is the crop breeding part and also either selecting or focusing on crops based on their sensory properties. Because up to now plant breeding has been based on to make them resistant to diseases, to climate conditions to have a high yield, but it’s about time to start to grip crops based on their sensory properties to get rid of the bitterness, to get a lower concentration of different volatile like be e or cream like aroma molecules. And also to get the best available functionalities of the protein. So either by selecting or breeding and also new gene editing techniques could help in this area. So I think this is really interesting topic that could make a huge change because if we have the crops already with improved sensory properties, it’s much easier to get the finer products as good as well because all the masking and processing, yes you can reduce, but there is still some notes that are not desired by the consumers.
Sirli Rosenvald (17:15):
And I personally believe a lot also in, in the fermented protein category, I believe I might very much in myprotein production. And what I love about fermentation technologies is that you can basically grow or produce high quality protein all around the world. So if we talk about equity and distribution of protein in the world, so I think this is also something that is really, really important that you don’t need any lands and you don’t need any climate conditions required for traditional agriculture. So I truly believe that micro brought saying will be definitely be increasing in in the near future and also cell-based alternative. So this is also something that I guess that 10 years could be in enough long perspective to really have a change. But I also think that we could maybe see more of hybrid type products, so either re fermented and plant-based or cell-based and, and plant-based to really have the best sensory properties, but also to make the product economically feasible. So I definitely think that in 10 years there will be a lot of difference going on and as this is also younger generation who is more willing to adopt this new alternative protein product. So I guess this is also one of the aspect that will make a difference in 10 years time. So there are more of this young generation who are already used to that kind of food and are not afraid of new innovative protein technologies.
Alex Shirazi (18:55):
Wow, okay. Yeah, that’s that’s very exciting. And, and when I do think about, you know, how we might be able to look at the, the future of, you know, crop production like you mentioned and you know, maybe not as far as saying, you know, we’ll have a savory apple, but you know, maybe having some types of fruits or vegetables that work very well in applications of alternative protein because they’ve been designed like that. That is, is a really cool topic. You can learn more about Sierra Lee on LinkedIn and TF Tuck, tft, k.eu, Sierra Lee, do you have any last insights for our listeners specifically those that are either in research programs or are interested in starting their own companies?
Sirli Rosenvald (19:37):
Yes, so I think TF Tuck is always open for collaboration, so feel free to contact us, connect us. There are multiple ways how to collaborate. So we are always happy to hear people out with their different ideas and, and we would be very, very happy if we can be of help and really to make an impact by having lot of different technologies, lot of different approaches, lot of different raw materials because giving multitude of, of opportunities for consumers is the one that could really help to cut down the consumption of animal protein products.
Alex Shirazi (20:23):
Sirli, thanks so much for being a guest on the show.
Sirli Rosenvald (20:25):
Alex Shirazi (20:27):
This is your host, Alex, and we’ll see you on the next episode.