S’pore Startup WhatIF turns instant noodles and soups into healthy food


It is no exaggeration to say that Singaporeans are ardent food lovers.

The city-state is often lovingly described as a ‘gourmet nation’, and even its falconry culture has managed to enter the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Unfortunately, most of the beloved food in Singapore is unhealthy, often laden with oil and highly spicy. It is the same with snacks that are usually high in calories and have little nutritional value.

This is what food technologist Christoph Langwallner realized after the birth of his children.

“In my daily work, I had to prepare snacks that are tastier than the previous ones. It meant adding more flavors that have little or no nutritional value, just to go home and discourage my children from eating the food I made, ”said the Austrian entrepreneur.

He wanted to solve that sore point and was one of the founders WhatIF Foods. The launch harnesses the power of Future Fit crops – crops that are nutritionally dense, climate-resistant and resource-saving – and incorporate them into familiar comfort foods.

This helps to improve the nutritional profile of the food, while ensuring that it tastes as good as ever.

The food paradox

WhatIf Foods
Image credit: WhatIF Foods

WhatIF was started by five experienced scientists and managers in the food industry who are “fed up”.

Since their priority was the lower score, they had to add artificial additives for greater visual stimulation, more flavor enhancers to make the food “just a little more addictive”.

“Our food system has enabled the parallel existence of obesity and nutrient deficiencies, and non-communicable diseases have become the norm,” said Christoph, co-founder and CEO of WhatIF Foods.

According to WhatIF, seven out of 10 people suffer from what they eat. It is added that too much eating kills three times more people than hunger. This reality was later called the Nutrition Paradox by the WhatIF team.

The nutritionist paradox posed Christoph and wondered if it was possible to diversify food sources by sowing climate-resistant, drought-resistant, and nutrient-resistant crops.

For the past six years, the team has moved between labs and fields, exploring Future Fit crops and how to harness its potential to nurture people, the Earth and farmers.

WhatIF Foods was finally launched in 2020 after a “major launch due to unprecedented operational challenges caused by the pandemic, such as border closures and disrupted supply chains”.

Despite the setbacks, the team decided to dive into the market to test whether consumers would accept WhatIF Foods ’value proposition well.

The first products launched were instant noodles and instant soups, which received “great support” from both consumers and the media.

The best of both worlds

WhatIF Foods
Image credit: WhatIF Foods

Instant food, especially instant noodles, is a pleasure for many, and is often consumed as a quick preparation for lunch or a late-night snack.

Despite its convenience and taste, which is often addictive, it has a bad reputation as extremely unhealthy. These worries are alleviated by WhatIFs healthy pasta.

Its noodles are dehydrated on steam and high-speed air, instead of deep frying. This results in 55 percent less fat, 130 percent more dietary fiber and 110 percent more protein than those typical on the market.

According to WhatIF Foods, best-selling instant noodles are BamNut noodles with sweet hot spices ($ 3 per serving; box of five for $ 15) and Moringa noodles with sesame spice garlic ($ 2.70 per serving; box of five for S). 13.50 USD).

The noodles, along with the rest of the product range, are currently available at RedMart, Fairprice Online, Amazon.sg, Everyday Vegan Grocer, Nourish and Food Folks at Lau Pa Sat.

A holistic approach

WhatIF Foods
Image credit: WhatIF Foods

Asked what sets WhatIF Foods apart from other health food brands on the market, Christoph told the Vulcan Post that the brand is adopting a “holistic approach”.

The company first addresses the Nutrition Paradox by redesigning the well-known practical food, which is notoriously low in content, into healthy options that nurture the consumer.

The guiding principle of WhatIF Foods is to take advantage of the natural properties of the ingredients, combining them with a strong understanding of taste, taste perception, human palate and knowledge of nutrition to create the final product.

He then finds and innovates raw, natural, but forgotten materials used by the planets. They are also called future crops.

Some examples of Future Fit Crops include peanuts and bamboo moringa, which are used in WhatIF pasta.

WhatIF Foods
WhatIF’s approach is best incorporated into the vein diagram on the packaging / Picture of merit: WhatIF Foods

Sour Bambara (or “BamNut”) is a key ingredient in Future Fit used in all WhatIF soups and shakes, as well as its high-protein BamNut noodles. It is an extremely hardy legume that can grow in poor soil conditions and arid climates without the need for fertilizers or pesticides.

These features make BamNuts an orientation towards ‘insurance’ for agriculturally vulnerable agricultural communities, providing them with a specific harvest and food source.

Traditionally, Bambara peanuts are consumed in a variety of forms – eaten whole as snacks, cooked by cooking, frying and toasting, or mixed into porridges and bread as flour.

WhatIF Foods seeks to harness the raw potential of BamNuts as future crops because it believes that in order for people to change their current diet, people must harness the elasticity and nutrition of powerful plants.

By using these crops as ingredients, more sustainable agricultural practices are promoted around resource-using crops that can be grown on degraded arable land.

In the end, it set up its supply chain in a way that rewards the most important stakeholders: farmers. In particular, WhatIF Foods is trying to keep its supply chain short to work directly with farmers.

“In this way, we provide value to farmers through a reach program, while allowing them to gather more value by bringing them closer to the market. By growing future crops on degraded land, farmers also benefit from land that would otherwise remain economically unproductive, ”Christoph said.

The future of food

So far, Christoph is proud that the WhatIF team “has managed to preserve the integrity of the vision and mission they have for the WhatIF Foods brand.”

Earlier in February, he was awarded the Prime Minister’s Hibiscus Award in Malaysia. It was a recognition of the effect the brand is driving with the use of Future Fit Crops.

“With this, we can’t wait to expand the impact we can create with Future Fit crops in our Southeast Asian region, growing resilient crops for an agrobiologically diverse regional food system,” Christoph said.

Despite its successes, communicating the WhatIF Foods mission remains a challenge. People want to be healthy or do well, but they can behave in ways that are contrary to their intentions because they are limited by what is readily available.

Currently healthy, tasty and suitable food that is good for the planet has not been widely present, but Christoph hopes WhatIF can bridge that gap.

“What we do at WhatIF Foods is to take away the sustainability and well-being headache and replace it with delicious, convenient and affordable food that affects our planet, communities and your well-being,” Christoph said.

Shown image: WhatIF Foods

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