S’pore Startup WhatIF Turns Instant Noodles, Soups Into Healthy Food
It is no understatement to say that Singaporeans are avid food lovers.
The city-state has often been affectionately described as a “ nation of foodies, ” and even its peddler culture has managed to make it onto the United Nations List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. education, science and culture (UNESCO).
Sadly, most of Singapore’s beloved foods are unhealthy, often loaded with oil, and heavily seasoned. The same goes for snacks, which are generally high in calories with little nutritional value.
This is what food technologist Christoph Langwallner achieved after the birth of his children.
“In my daily work, I needed to prepare snacks that were more delicious than the others. It meant adding more flavors with little or no nutritional value, to come home and discourage my kids from eating the foods I was making, ”said the Austrian-born entrepreneur.
He wanted to solve this problem and co-founded WhatIF Foods. The startup harnesses the power of Future Fit crops – nutritionally dense, climate-resilient, and resource-efficient crops – and incorporates them into familiar comfort foods.
This helps to improve the nutritional profile of foods, while ensuring that they always taste delicious.
The nutritional paradox
WhatIF was started by five senior scientists and food industry executives who ‘have had enough’.
Since the result was their top priority, they had to add artificial additives for more visual stimulation, more flavor enhancer to make the food “a little more addictive”.
“Our food system has allowed obesity and nutrient deficiency to coexist, making noncommunicable diseases the norm,” said Christoph, co-founder and CEO of WhatIF Foods.
According to WhatIF, seven in ten people suffer from what they eat. He added that eating too much kills three times as many people as starvation. This reality was later called the nutritional paradox by the WhatIF team.
The nutritional paradox prompted Christoph to reflect, and he wondered if it was possible to diversify food sources by sowing Future Fit crops that are climate-, drought-resistant and nutrient-dense.
Over the past six years, the team has been commuting between the lab and the field, researching Future Fit crops and how to harness their potential to feed people, the Earth and farmers.
WhatIF Foods was finally launched in 2020 after “a lot of bootstrapping due to unprecedented operational challenges the pandemic has caused, like border closures and disruption of supply chains.”
Despite the setbacks, the team decided to delve into the market to test whether WhatIF Foods’ value proposition would be welcomed by consumers.
The first products launched were instant noodles and instant soups, which received “overwhelming support” from both consumers and the media.
The best of both worlds
Instant foods, especially instant noodles, are a guilty pleasure for many and are often eaten as a quick lunch solution or late night snack.
Despite its convenience and often addicting taste, it has a bad reputation for being extremely unhealthy. These worries are alleviated with WhatIF Healthy Instant Noodles.
Its instant noodles are dehydrated using high speed steam and air instead of frying. This translates to 55 percent less fat, 130 percent more dietary fiber, and 110 percent more protein than typical proteins on the market.
According to WhatIF Foods, its best-selling instant noodles are BamNut noodles with mild and warm seasoning (S $ 3 per serving; box of five for S $ 15) and Moringa noodles with garlic and sesame seasoning (2, S $ 70 per serving; box of five for S $ 13.50).
The noodles, along with the rest of its product line, are currently available on RedMart, Fairprice Online, Amazon.sg, Everyday Vegan Grocer, Nourish and Food Folks at Lau Pa Sat.
A holistic approach
When asked how WhatIF Foods sets itself apart from other healthy food brands on the market, Christoph told Vulcan Post that the brand takes a “holistic approach”.
The company first tackles the nutritional paradox by reshaping familiar ready-made meals with notoriously low nutritional content into healthy options that nourish the consumer.
A guiding principle of WhatIF Foods is to take advantage of the ingredients’ inherent natural properties, combining them with a solid understanding of taste, taste perception, human palate and nutritional knowledge to create the end product.
It then sources and innovates around raw, natural but forgotten materials that benefit the planet. These are also called Future Fit cultures.
Some examples of Future Fit crops include Bambara peanut and moringa, both of which are used in WhatIF instant noodles.
Bambara peanut (or “BamNut”) is the key Future Fit ingredient used in all of WhatIF’s soups and shakes, as well as its protein-rich BamNut noodles. It is an extremely hardy legume with the ability to grow in poor soils and an arid climate without the need for fertilizers or pesticides.
These characteristics make BamNuts the “insurance” crop of choice for financially disadvantaged farming communities, providing them with a precise harvest and food source.
Traditionally, Bambara peanuts have been consumed in various forms – they are eaten whole as a snack, boiled, roasted and fried, or mixed into porridge and breads as flour.
WhatIF Foods strives to harness the raw potential of BamNuts as a Future Fit crop, as it believes that in order to change our current food system, humans must harness the resilience and nutrition of powerful plants.
By using these crops as ingredients, more sustainable farming practices around resource-efficient crops that can be grown on degraded arable land are encouraged.
Finally, it has set up its supply chain in such a way as to reward the most important players: farmers. Specifically, WhatIF Foods tries to keep its supply chain short in order to work directly with farmers.
“In this way, we provide value to farmers through outreach programs, while enabling them to capture more value by bringing them closer to the market. By growing Future Fit Crops on degraded land, farmers also benefit from land that would otherwise be left economically unproductive, ”said Christoph.
The future of food
So far, Christoph is proud that the WhatIF team has “succeeded in preserving the integrity of the vision and mission they have for the WhatIF Foods brand.”
Earlier in February, he received the Prime Minister’s Hibiscus Award in Malaysia. It was in recognition of the brand’s impact with the use of Future Fit Crops.
“With this, we look forward to expanding the impact we can create with Future Fit crops in our Southeast Asian region, cultivating resilient crops for an agro-biodiversity regional food system,” said Christoph.
Despite its successes, communicating WhatIF Foods’ mission remains a challenge. People want to be healthy or to do good, but can act in a way that contradicts their intention because they are limited by what is easily accessible.
At the moment, healthy, tasty, convenient and good for the planet foods are not widely present, but Christoph hopes WhatIF can bridge this gap.
“What we do at WhatIF Foods is get rid of your sustainability and wellness headaches and replace them with tasty, convenient and accessible foods that have a positive impact on our planet, our communities and your well-being, ”said Christoph.
Featured Image Credit: WhatIF Foods
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