Snacking on bacteria and fungi in the future

Bacteria and micro-algae from the snack wall. Green camembert made from broad beans. Goose liver made from cells, with a fatty taste but without the forced way of feeding it. During the Embassy of Food conference, the public will be given a glimpse of the supermarket of the future. What is possible?

Type Update
Published on 23 October 2021
Part of Embassy of Food
Snacking on bacteria and fungi in the future
Part of Embassy of Food

According to curators Annelies Hermsen and ChloĆ© Rutzerveld, the supermarket is a fascinating place. Rutzerveld: “So many people come together. Irrespective of age, background or level of education. It is a representation of society. A place where you can see an overview of society, and a place where a lot of experimentation is already taking place.”

Rutzerveld hopes for more education and exchange so that there is real cooperation between the inventors and makers of new forms of food, and the supermarkets, companies and government. “Hopefully next year we can show what that has produced.”


For an exploration of what synthetic biology can do, Nadine Bongaerts takes the audience with her. She works with her start-up Gourmey on an ethical foie gras made from stem cells. In France, where the originally Dutch native now lives, you cannot avoid eating this delicacy at Christmas, Bongaerts says. “And I must confess, I like it too.” But the way it is made, she clearly finds unacceptable. That is one of the reasons she started Gourmey.

Before she starts explaining all the new technologies, she shows three photos of her six-month-old daughter. She is just learning how to eat. “She is enjoying all kinds of flavours for the first time in her life. Seeing her like this makes me realise even better that food is the most basic need we all have. We need it to survive. That is why we have been innovating with food since the invention of fire.”

It is not only the ethical issue of foie gras that drives Bongaerts. Climate change and the expected shortage of food also drive the synthetic biologist. Other techniques are needed to make food, to grow food.

Digital revolution

“In recent decades, the digital revolution has also influenced biology. The combination of the digital and biological worlds now allows us to transform the speed at which we produce our food and the types of food we can expect to see on our plates.” According to Bongaerts, the technologies will enable us to grow more food, but hopefully, they will also enable us to create a smarter food system. “A smarter system that not only feeds the consumer, but also our planet as a whole.”

The digital revolution allows us to study, write and edit genetic codes from nature, Bongaerts points out. It is biotechnology 2.0: a combination of biology, information science, robotics and chemistry. “Compare it to words; by simply changing one letter of the word, you have a completely new meaning. You do the same when you change a piece of DNA.”

Why is this useful? “We can use this technology to, for example, prevent a fungus from eradicating our bananas. That fungus is already there. We can wait for evolution to cause the banana to mutate and become resistant to the fungus, but that takes thousands of years. With a new technique called CRISPR-Cas, we can target a specific DNA part of the banana, make changes and make the plant more resistant to this fungus.”

CRISPR-Cas works not only for bananas but also for humans and animals, Bongearts adds. “For agriculture, the benefits are huge, less water is needed and local production is possible, which means less CO2 emissions.”


Bongaerts uses the technique for Gourmey’s foie gras. She uses the stem cells from an egg for this. The product is not yet in the supermarket. There are still many questions to be answered, she says. “An important one: how can we produce this on a large scale? We are researching this with other companies as well. To ensure that this is also available at an affordable price. Now all these kinds of products are quite expensive.”

Of course, there are also ethical issues. And it is the culture that determines whether people accept this foie gras. A small test: in the audience, about sixty per cent would eat Bongearts’ product. Would she also let her daughter eat Gourmeys foie gras? “Yes, if it’s safe. And you know, what we do in the lab, we do so controlled, much safer than meat from a factory.”


In addition to Bongeart’s story, Maria Fuentenebro and Mario Mimoso of design studio Sharp & Sour, Katinka Versendaal of The Eatelier and Eva van der Leest will be pitching. They do this in front of a panel: Gerard van der Bijl, Senior Vice President Tech at Albert Heijn, Deborah van der Zee, Vice President Food Benelux at Unilever and Rick Schifferstein Associate Professor Food Design at TU Delft and Principal Editor at International Journal of Food Design.

Museum of food on the brink of extinction

Sharp & Sour has devised a museum of food that is dying out. Fuentenebro: “Food is a powerful tool, it can trigger difficult conversations.” The museum shows that our bananas, avocados, coffee, chocolate and wine, among other things, are under threat.

Van der Bijl appreciates the way in which the duo makes visible what the impact can be. “I am glad that there are alternatives. We have to bring that knowledge together.” In this, he sees a role for the supermarket.


Commissioned by EkoPlaza, Versendaal thought up how to get more beans on our plates. “Beans have flowers and thus contribute to biodiversity. They are good for soil quality, and they are resistant to future climate conditions.” Together with Wageningen University, she turned broad beans, faba beans, into a fresh green faba yoghurt, faba feta and fabambert (faba camembert). To inspire people, she and a chef turned these ingredients into dishes such as a smoothie granola bowl, tacos and a ‘Fabambert’, her flagship dish.

That an alternative to dairy products is similar to how we use it now is not a necessity, according to Van der Zee, “but it does help in acceptance.” To Schifferstein’s question, why green? Versendaal replies, “To make a statement. It’s good for your body and the environment.”


Emma van der Leest was inspired by the Febo vending machine, the snack wall. As a bio-designer, she works a lot with bacteria, fungi and algae. People often shy away. “They associate it with the mould in the bathroom. They are good for you. You have kilos of them in your body.” With her vending machine, she explores the invisible micro life around us. The menu includes an energy drink and she developed a cream against acne.

“The products grow in that vending machine,” says Schifferstein in amazement. “I am curious to see what else it can give.”

To finish off, visitors are given a snack of fermented banana peels, a cream of white chocolate and whiskey and “some leftovers from last weekend’s event”, accompanied by a small glass of non-alcoholic cider made from apples from the University of Wageningen. Visitors visibly enjoy the creation. “The future tastes sweet in any case”.

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