Anina Culinary Art is an Israeli startup that uses “ugly” produce to create beautifully designed heat-and-eat meal capsules. I spoke to Co-founder and COO Esti Brantz to discuss the concept, technology and mission behind Anina.
During our studies, my partner Meydan Levy and I took a food design course, where we undertook some research into food waste. We were shocked to discover that 30 to 50% of the food in the western world is going to waste. In part, this is for aesthetic reasons, which is why we, as designers, decided to focus on this, because we’re always looking to challenge the definition of beauty.
We decided to take this so-called “ugly” produce and redesign it into something that people will want to eat. These vegetables are fully nutritious and tasty. In terms of the culinary experience, they're exactly the same as the “normal” vegetables you see in the supermarket, but when someone takes the time to put every slice in the right place, they become a piece of art.
We have so many ideas on how to redesign “ugly” produce. The ready-to-cook meals that we offer are just one idea of many.
We’ve just started to produce under a manufacturing license here in Israel. In February we launched the product, in a small pilot, for the first time. We plan to keep innovating, while saving food at the same time.
Here’s a quick introduction to Anina’s products:
We slice the vegetables and make flexible paper sheets out of them. We put the sheets in a mold and make 3D forms, which we then fill with other ingredients like grains, legumes, vegetables, and spices. In the fruit version, we fill it with fruit, nuts, and seeds.
We preserve the vegetables by dehydrating them. We air-dry them at a very low temperature to maintain the nutrients. Some minerals and vitamins are destroyed when exposed to light and oxygen, like vitamin C, but more than 90% of them are preserved.
Once the capsules are dry, you don’t have to do anything else to keep them fresh. You just put them in your kitchen cupboard and use them when you’re hungry.
Our meals' shelf life is six months, but we believe we can increase this to 12 months, with the right packing technology. We have some samples in the lab that are being tested to see how our capsules survive moist and hot conditions over an extended period of time.
Over the last two years, because of COVID-19, many people have found themselves working from home and having to cook for themselves. As people are still very busy, they may struggle to maintain a healthy lifestyle, which has become a higher priority.
Consumers are always looking for shortcuts to maintain wellbeing, but now more than ever, they’re looking for safe and healthy products. Diets which are vegan, gluten-free, lactose-free, etc., are no longer a niche, or only for those with allergies. Only 1-2% of the population is celiac, but the number of people who’ve stopped eating gluten is increasing every year. So I think that this market is moving towards wellness and health.
There’s also the visual impact of having ingredients that you can recognize by looking at the food and tasting it, and not just by reading the label. When you eat our meals, you’ll recognize what you’re eating, which is something that isn't very common with ready-to-eat meals.
Some companies in this market offer ready-to-cook meals for travelers. Because they’re designed for survival-type situations, they’re pretty basic and often you can't tell exactly what’s inside. When you eat our meals at your office or the dinner table, it feels like someone’s cooked for you rather than an out-of-the-box solution, because you can see and feel what you’re eating. It's a whole different experience.
Anina aims to be innovative and at the forefront of our industry. Even now, when we're so busy with our first product line, we’re still thinking and working on improving our technology so that we can bring a new experience and way of eating. We want to improve life on this planet, both in terms of sustainability and by helping people save time while feeling good about themselves.