By Tony Hunter, food futurist

What gives a product its characteristic taste, odour and flavour? The molecules from which it’s composed of course. Welcome to the world of molecular products, where companies reverse engineer the major molecular flavour components of a product and derive them from alternative sources.

What’s on the menu?

First up is Atomo Coffee. They make their “coffee” from upcycled ingredients like sunflower seed husks and watermelon seeds which have undergone a patented chemical process. They do this to duplicate what they claim are the 28 compounds that largely define the taste of coffee. And don’t worry it still has caffeine! They raised USD$10 million in August 2020 for a total funding to date of some USD$11.5 million.

Let’s turn our attention to whiskey by Endless West. Sacrilege I hear you say, but don’t judge until you’ve tasted it, and I have. It’s made by analysing and duplicating the key flavour components of traditional whiskeys, plus alcohol and no barrel ageing. This time the molecules are derived from plants, fruits and yeasts. Not quite a whiskey and not quite a brandy, it lies somewhere in between and actually tastes very good. This year they’ve won gold and two silver medals at the London Spirits competition, the same at the SIP awards and two silvers and a bronze medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. They raised USD$21 million in April this year to expand their manufacturing and distribution.

Lastly, how about bee-less honey? That’s what startup MeliBio is producing using gene editing, precision fermentation and plant science to duplicate the flavour of honey. They recently held a well-received private tasting of their flagship product in San Francisco. They’ve raised USD1.5 million to date and are forecasting a limited commercial release this year.

Will it catch on?

Some may decry “lab-grown” products as fake and unnatural. However, to feed 10 billion people by 2050 we’re going to have to do things differently with less resources. And if it’s as TECH (Tasty, Easy, Cheap and Healthy) as conventional products and appeals to consumers’ needs and values, who cares how it’s made?


Tony Hunter is a global futurist, food scientist, speaker and foresight strategy consultant. He consults and speaks globally, using his distinctive combination of scientific qualifications, business experience and detailed understanding of exponential food technologies to deliver a unique perspective on the future of food.

The information and opinions within this column are not necessarily the views or opinions of Hot Source, NZ Food Technology or the parent company, Hayley Media.