Farm2Kitchen - dry pack - © 2023 Regina Food Bank

‘Engineered’ Soup Mix: Not GMO, Just Common Sense

A group of food scientists in Saskatchewan have developed a nutritious, inexpensive dry soup mix designed for Food Bank clients to help them get the nutrition they need without having to rely on the foods the Bank might have on hand…

Farm2Kitchen Soup - © Liam O'Connor via CBCFarm2Kitchen Oat and Lentil Soup: Ready to serve…

It’s a little like dietary roulette. Folks who rely on the local Food Bank to feed themselves and their families are at the mercy of what more-well-off folks donate. Except, of course, for basic essentials that the Food Banks use cash donations to buy.

So it’s no wonder that some folks are eating whatever the Food Bank has for them, regardless of what they may really need. Or what really goes together to make up a spread that at least resembles a normal, recognisable meal.

Science to the rescue!

Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan have teamed up with the Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Centre in Saskatoon to develop a special dry soup mix. It’s intended to provide concentrated, balanced nutrition to diners who may not have much else on their tables.

“We’ve seen a 42 per cent increase in the amount of people we feed year over year,” reports David Froh, vice president of the Regina Food Bank. “We’re feeding over 15,000 people a month. Almost half of those are children. The reality is that one in five kids, one in eight households, are food insecure. It truly is a record demand.”

The product, called Farm2Kitchen, is an oat- and lentil-based blend. It’s the first practical domestic result of an effort that was begun years ago by University of Saskatchewan professor Michael Nickerson. The original research was aimed at finding the ideal blend of cereals and pulses (grains and beans/peas/lentils) to match human nutrition needs. It was part of a program to create relief supplies for victims of the Ethiopian drought.

What it’s like

The stuff is literally a ‘just add water and simmer’ mix. When it’s ready to serve, it looks a lot like French Canadian Split Pea Soup. The creamy texture and whole lentils make it both visually familiar and filling. Nickerson doesn’t go into what the soup tastes like. But you can assume it would remind you of its French Canadian counterpart.

Ready to roll

The product is ready to roll out in mass quantities says said Mehmet Tulbek, president of the Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Centre. The current pilot production system can turn out 15,000 packets of the soup mix a day, each making up into about 5 cups / 2.25 L of soup. Even if they don’t scale up production further, Nickerson says his project can easily provide 3 million packets of soup mix to Food Banks a year.

If they do ramp up production, Tulbek observes, the project has the potential to serve the whole ‘hungry world’.

Not about profit

Farm2Kitchen is a cheap product to make. Especially, Nickerson notes, in Saskatchewan where they grow a lot of lentils locally. It’s, “sustainably sourced, sustainably produced, [and] minimally processed.” But it’s also ‘not about profit’, adding another major dimension of cost savings to the production price equation.

The inaugural production run of Farm2Kitchen was given to the Regina ans Saskatoon Food Banks as a test bed to gauge acceptability by clients. The product has enjoyed a good initial response.

Nickerson also notes that Farm2Kitchen will not be sold in stores. It’s specifically intended as a ‘relief’ option.

My take

This may be just what the world needs to help take mounting pressure off the Food Banks. And ensure that folks who are making hard decisions these days can get along a little less stressfully. We keep hearing that some families are skipping meals altogether to save on food expenses. In others, parents are reporting they go hungry so their kids can eat. And families in need shouldn’t have to choose between putting food on the table and turning the lights on after dark.

One angle on this development I want to spotlight is… Farm2Kitchen is being produced and distributed to Food Banks on a break-even basis. No one in the loop takes a profit. So if you’re offered some for sale, either in a store or on the ‘casual’ market, don’t buy it. And report the occurrence to your local Food Bank.

~ Maggie J.