A Taste for Innovation

True Essence Foods Is Helping to Create More Sustainable and Flavorful Foods

Writer / Scott Soltys-Curry
Photographer / Michael Durr

When you think of food sustainability, is chocolate the first thing that comes to mind? Soon it might be, because a lab in the Near Eastside neighborhood of Indianapolis is challenging how we think about fresh foods – and it all started with chocolate.True Essence Foods

True Essence Foods is an innovative technology company that is shaping sustainability in an industry that is ripe for disruption – fresh food. Using proprietary technology and machinery, the company is creating sustainable and shelf-stable foods while also making them taste better. That sounds wonderful, but what does that even mean? Well, let’s start with dessert.

In 2014, Founder Matt Rubin set out to answer a question: How do you make chocolate taste better and more sustainable while also making it dairy free? A seemingly simple investigation to help a family member with an allergy turned into a four-year experiment involving a small team of scientists and engineers. The result of the mission was Indy’s lovable local chocolate brand, SoChatti. More importantly (and unexpectedly), the team discovered the technology they developed for the chocolate could actually change the way we think about all fresh foods. Thus, True Essence Foods was born.

Science has been a major part of Rubin’s life since he was very young, and he conducted his own juvenile experiments with liquid nitrogen and rubber bands under the supervision of his mother, a biochemist. He went on to study biology, chemistry and physics, with an eventual Master of Business degree. So it is no surprise that he has always taken a thoughtful, thorough and scientific approach when solving problems.

The technology developed by True Essence Foods is truly fascinating and maybe even a little unbelievable at first.

Scientifically speaking, chocolate is a difficult substance to work with because it has a low burning temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and it detests moisture. Traditional chocolate processing methods tackle parts of these problems, but not all of them. The result typically ends up being a trade-off that degrades the true flavor of the chocolate.

All of the technology and machinery developed by True Essence Foods (40-plus patents and growing, by the way) was developed to tackle the whole problem, not just parts of it. The result is delicious, all-natural chocolate for the masses.

Another unexpected result was that the team found the same technology and processes work on many more foods including fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices, juice concentrates, coffee and many more. This discovery led the team to start questioning everything about real foods and how to make them better.

Rubin also cares about sustainability, and he means it. You can tell by how he lights up when talking about the work True Essence Foods is doing. Then you actually look at the work the team is doing and see that sustainability really is at the forefront of everything they do.

True Essence Foods

When it comes to sustainability, there are four key factors that come into play in how we get the foods we eat – water, energy, transportation and waste. When companies focus on solving for sustainability, they usually only go after one or two of those factors, and typically the other factors suffer.

Rubin likes to illustrate the sustainability balance with the example of metal water bottles. Reusable metal water bottles are great because they cut back on single-use plastics. However, the trade-off is a manufacturing process that requires a large amount of water and energy.

An unbalanced sustainability equation was never an option for Rubin and his team. The result of their work is a process that hits all four key areas.

Building technology that creates a safe and sustainable process is only half of the story. The other half is on the shelves at your favorite grocery store.

Currently, 40% of the foods we eat are fresh foods that are not shelf-stable, meaning they require refrigeration and eventually perish. This in turn creates more than one trillion dollars of food waste every year. To keep up with the world’s growing population, farmers are trying to produce more and more food every year, causing food waste to rise in tandem. Rubin knows it doesn’t have to be like this.

The patented True Essence processes take these fresh foods and make them shelf-stable and wholly sustainable. The resulting foods are also pleasing to the tastebuds and the eyes. Thinking back to the chocolate mission, typical food processes like freeze-drying and dehydration trade off different food values to obtain shelf-stable food.

For example, processing grapes to make them last longer results in raisins, not grapes. Traditional processes cause grapes to give up their bright colors, and lose their sweetness and original flavor. The True Essence Foods process allows grapes to keep their bright colors and sweetness, and it is done in a much more sustainable way. It’s not just grapes and chocolate, either. They’re doing this with all kinds of fresh foods.

“Why do we expect a raisin to taste like a raisin?” Rubin says. “Why can’t we expect a raisin to taste like a grape? We’ve made raisins that taste like fresh grapes.”

The team has no plans to start churning out packaged, shelf-stable foods for the masses. Instead, they’re teaming up with food giants across the country to provide customized and sustainable solutions to elevate existing brands.

At any given time, the True Essence lab is working on 20 to 30 samples from these food suppliers. They take the samples and create sustainable results using their innovative processes. Then they consult with the suppliers to create and install customized solutions in the existing facilities, using the patented True Essence technologies. They’re not just reinventing food for themselves. They’re reinventing food for everyone.

It almost seems like True Essence Foods is living in the future – a more sustainable future they are creating for all of us. So what’s next for them? Besides tending to their new garden near Eagle Creek, the team will continue to provide one-of-a-kind experiences at their SoChatti tasting room inside the Circle City Industrial Complex (CCIC). Behind the scenes, they are in the process of expanding their facility, also in the CCIC, from a humble 12,000 square feet to an impressive 25,000 square feet, which will allow them to work with more suppliers. After all, it’s going to take quite a bit of room to completely change the world’s food supply chain.

For more info, visit trueessencefoods.com.True Essence Foods

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