I recently had the good fortune to eat three delicious meals in a row; two lunches with a breakfast in between; cooked by someone else. What a joy it was – an exquisite symphony of flavoursome curries, rice, side dishes and snacks courtesy of Northampton-based food development company, Eat Curious. Don’t tell the University of Northampton’s Sustainability Summit organisers, but they were worth the price of the ticket alone.
Naturally, I became curious about Eat Curious.
Eat Curious, based in Horton, Northamptonshire, was created by a group of innovative entrepreneurs determined to share their vision that plant-based food is the future. They started with a disused cattle farm in 2020 where they began exploring more sustainable and regenerative types of agriculture and landed on vertical farming, creating the company Syan Farms.
Vertical farming is an innovative agricultural technique that involves cultivating crops in vertically stacked layers or structures, usually indoors or in controlled environments. LED lighting along with climate systems are used to allow for precise control over environmental factors like temperature, humidity, light intensity and nutrient levels. This optimizes plant growth and means there is no need for pesticides or herbicides.
Vertical farming is a response to the challenges faced by traditional farming methods, such as limited land availability, climate change risks and land degradation, whilst at the same time appreciating the need for higher yields to feed the growing global population. It is also much more sympathetic to the land with no heavy machinery on site and no agricultural run-off damaging local ecosystems. Syan Farms aim to be almost totally off-grid by end 2023, thanks to 45,000 litre capacity underground water storage tanks, a closed-loop irrigation system and an on-site solar farm.
So what does it grow? Syan Farms started with herbs and micro-greens and introduced their produce to local pubs where feedback noted exceptional taste and quality. Encouraged by this, in late 2021, the team decided to build a large-scale automated facility on the farm and widened their growing capabilities to include crops such as chillies and tomatoes. Syan Farms focuses greatly on research and development and have their own Syan Lab where in collaboration with other companies, universities and initiatives are experimenting with technology to find out how to add flavour and nutrition to food. For example, by changing the wavelength of the light directed onto the crops at certain times, this can affect the growth of the crop and its nutritional value.
Enter Eat Curious in Summer 2022, as a means to utilize the output from the farm. Eat Curious has its own Product Development kitchen and manufacturing facility where they develop delicious recipes and research alternative proteins. The items on the menu include protein pieces (these were in the curries I devoured), mince, puff pastry patties, roasting joints, burgers, bangers and fillets. The list goes on and my mouth is watering as I type. You can eat all this at events, at home, out on the road and it gets even better, they have now a range of products that have no allergens (dairy, gluten, soy or nuts).
A brief history of plant-based food. The concept of abstaining from the use of animal products or the consumption of animal-derived food can be found in various religious and philosophical traditions throughout history. The term "vegan" was first coined in 1944 by Donald Watson, a British woodworker and animal rights advocate. He founded the Vegan Society and defined veganism as a way of living that seeks to exclude all forms of exploitation and cruelty to animals. Veganism gained momentum in the 20th century as animal welfare concerns and ethical considerations became more prominent along with broader counterculture and environmental movements. People adopted veganism as a means to protest against factory farming and promote sustainable living. Today Veganism has continued to grow in popularity, with an increasing number of people adopting the lifestyle, and a wider availability of vegan products.
The mission of the Eat Curious team is to create nutritious plant-based food for everyone! They want us to ‘Meat Free our Minds’ and understand that by choosing plant-based alternatives, we are benefiting our own health and the health of our planet.