FoA 263: Better Ingredients for Processed Foods with Joanne Zhang


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Today’s episode highlights two interesting consumer trends in food and agriculture. And on the surface, these two trends seem to be going in totally opposite directions, but not necessarily as you’ll hear from our guest today.

The first trend is the increasing desire for healthier, simpler, more nutritious food. The second is that demand for processed food is strong and getting stronger. You might be thinking, wait aren’t those two things complete opposites?

Well, not necessarily. Our guest today, Joanne Zhang is the founder of Phytoption, a food ingredient company that uses proprietary technology that allows them to replace certain ingredients in processed food that are synthetic or modified - like certain emulsifiers and texturing agents, with essentially simple flour like rice flour or chickpea flour. This allows more processed foods to be made with more naturally occurring ingredients.

As you’ll hear Joanne describe, these ingredients are used because they make food functional. For example, they help give a plant-based beverage the same texture as cow milk. Joanne’s technology allows these basic flours to serve the same functions without having to be chemically treated or altered in any way.

Important to note before we dive into today’s interview is that Joanne’s company Phytoption, will be separating this food division into a new company Flouring, LLC and Phytoption will continue to focus on pharmaceuticals. So you’ll hear us mention both Phytoption and Flouring, LLC in the episode because they are currently the same company.

Joanne started the company using technology developed by Purdue University after a career as a food scientist. I was connected to Joanne by Amy Wu, who is the author of the new book “From Farms to Incubators: Women Innovators Revolutionizing How Our Food is Grown”. Joanne is one of several women innovators featured in the book and I highly recommend you pick it up.

I told Amy how much I enjoyed the book and that I would like to interview some of the women she featured, and she said she had considered doing a podcast as well, so we decided it would be fun to interview Joanne together, and a couple of other women trailblazers in agtech that you’ll meet in future episodes later this year.

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