Food of the future

Food that never goes off, artificial meat grown in a lab and food pills: could this be the future of food?

Vegetables grown without soil

At first, this might seem a strange concept, but it's been going on for years. It's called hydroponics and is the method of growing plants without soil. Plants are rooted in a gravel tray or carousel and fed with a water solution containing all the nutrients needed to grow and produce our fruit and veg. Plants are monitored for signs of disease and can also be grown under cover to reduce pest problems. So the tomato in your salad might have come from a plant that never touched soil. Controlled and potentially sterile, from seed to plate: could this be the future of farming?

[Related feature: 7 shocking food facts]

Everlasting food

Last year, scientists at the University of Minnesota discovered that the additive bisin could actually stop the deterioration process in fish, meat, dairy and eggs. Researchers say it would greatly reduce food waste and cut infection rates of bacteria such as E. Coli and Listeria. In addition to bisin, we also have the '2-week old sandwich' developed by Booker, and microbial and modified atmosphere packaging can protect our food and keep it fresh. Expect technology to get smarter in finding ways to keep our food 'fresh' for longer.

Smelly ads

Forget glossy food ads on bus shelters; that's so 2011. Advertisers are coming up with wackier and more original ways to attract our attention when it comes to food. Up until now, they've been content with sticking up a giant photo of a burger and chips in our bus shelter. But adverts can now lure us in by smell, as well as sight. McCain have announced plans to fit a button to 3-D bus shelter advertisements that, when pressed, will release the scent of a baked potato. According to McCain, the scent alone took 3 months to create. What's next? Scratch and sniff cookbooks? Menus with smell-o-vision?

Test tube meat

This story has been doing the rounds for the past year or so. Scientists at Maastricht University have been able to 'grow' animal cells in a lab and come up with a tissue that resembles (at least scientifically) meat. Burgers made from this artificial meat could soon be available to buy, and Heston Blumenthal has been asked to cook the first one in October this year. But while it sounds bizarre, it could have huge environmental benefits. Dr Mark Post, leading the study, recently said: "Meat demand is going to double in the next 40 years. Right now we are using 70% of all our agricultural capacity to grow meat through livestock." Kinder to animals, and the environment — but will anyone eat it?

Anti-allergy food

Good news for egg allergy sufferers. Researchers at the Deakin University in Australia are working on a way to make allergy-free eggs. There are 40 proteins in egg white and it's thought that four of them can cause allergic reactions in some people. The scientists aim to "systematically switch off the allergens in all four, creating a hypoallergenic egg." Even weirder, any chicks that hatch from these eggs will grow to lay these allergy-free eggs. But Professor Doran claims they're not genetically modifying chickens — just altering the composition of the eggs. "We are not producing genetically modified chickens as part of this research, we are simply modifying the proteins within the egg whites to produce chickens which lay allergy-free eggs," he said. It's thought that these eggs could be on supermarket shelves within the next 5-10 years.

Food in pill form

Future-predicting sci-fi comics of the 1950s and 60s saw us all driving flying cars, wearing shiny jumpsuits and sitting around the table with our families to pop a roast dinner pill before bed. But while technology hasn't yet mastered the individual flying car, it has mastered the one dose dinner. Already marketed to survivalists, 'super-vitamin' pills contain all the vitamins and minerals needed for the body to function and actually suppress appetite. But unfortunately for these comic book writers, it seems unlikely that the general masses will one day live on these. Wouldn't we miss the textures and individual flavours of real food?
What do you think our eating habits will be in the future? Do you think we'll be popping dinner pills and carving up slabs of test tube meat, or will we continue the current trend towards purer, organic food?

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