Entrepreneur

Cutting Down On Carbs? This S'pore Startup Created 'Fibre' That Makes Rice, Noodles Healthier

It’s no news that Singaporeans are huge foodies.

However, our favourite hawker centre delights and much-loved fast food aren’t exactly healthy. They are mostly carb-laden, and are likely to take a toll on our health in the long run, with diabetes being one of the leading causes.

In fact, a few years back, Singapore declared a war on diabetes, calling the disease one of the biggest drains on the local healthcare system.

During the 2016 Committee of Supply debates in Parliament, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong even said that nearly one million people in Singapore will have diabetes by 2050.

This was an issue that Alan Phua, co-founder of food technology company, Alchemy Foodtech, felt was close to his heart. In fact, it was a personal brush with diabetes that led to the founding of the startup.

The Founders’ Inspiration: A Family’s War On Diabetes

alchemy foodtech founders Verleen Goh and Alan Phua
Verleen Goh (left) and Alan Phua (right), co-founders of Alchemy Foodtech

A history of diabetes in Alan’s family motivated him and his co-founder, Verleen Goh, to create a solution that could keep people healthy, but still allow them to enjoy their favourite foods.

Alan shared in an interview with Vulcan Post that both his grandmothers passed away from complications that arose from diabetes. All of his mother’s siblings are diabetic as well.

The Singapore Management University (SMU) graduate experienced firsthand how hard it was to persuade his relatives to eat healthier.

He then questioned if there was a better way for people to enjoy their favourite food while staying healthy.

I really wanted to see real solutions to help people stay healthy but still enjoy the food. I’ve seen firsthand that this is an issue. We know it’s difficult for people to give up their favourite foods, especially the rice or sugary drinks.

Alan Phua, Co-Founder and CEO at Alchemy Foodtech

This problem was coupled with the fact that the number of people with, or at risk of diabetes is steadily on the rise. Some might think that diabetes affects only the elderly, or that it is a “rich man’s disease”.

However, that is not the case anymore.

According to Alan, the fastest growing band of people becoming diabetic are in their 30s to 40s, and diabetes “can affect anybody”, from the middle-class to middle-aged.

Alan further cited a Harvard study which stated that the world loses US$1.4 trillion to diabetes a year. To put things into perspective, Google is worth around US$700 billion, and diabetes causes the world two “Googles” a year.

Making White Rice Great Again

alchemy fibre white rice
Alchemy Fibre / Image Credit: Alchemy Foodtech

After close to four years of research and development, Alchemy Foodtech released its first product, Alchemy Fibre, last month.

The product helps to lower the glycemic index (GI) of carbohydrates, preventing sudden spikes in blood glucose levels.

It is also rich in dietary fibre and prebiotic, which increases the fibre content of one’s diet and boosts immunity.

Through research and innovation, the team managed to identify the winning combination of naturally-sourced ingredients such as pea, corn, tapioca, tuber roots, beans and legumes, which make up Alchemy Fibre.

Alchemy Fibre comes in various blends and is an ingredient that can be added to carbohydrates like rice or noodles — without altering the taste and texture of the food.

This represents a game-changing solution to help Singaporeans battle diabetes and other health problems.

​From Chicken Rice To Thai And Korean Food

Alchemy Foodtech has an online store where customers can directly purchase the Alchemy Fibre. They are also stocked on various e-commerce stores such as Lazada and Shopee.

Besides selling directly to the consumer, Alchemy also partnered with various F&B outlets to get them to use Alchemy Fibre in their dishes.

Their partners range from heritage brands like Boon Tong Kee Chicken Rice and Yum Cha, to Thai cuisine like Bangkok Jam and Korean cuisine like Ahjumma’s.

alchemy fibre boon tong kee chicken rice
Image Credit: Boon Tong Kee via Facebook

[Rice] is also the most sensitive to try and change culturally — elderly folk will not react well if you try to ask them to eat less rice, or sometimes to even switch to brown rice.

With Alchemy Fibre, there is no need to make any change to diets to get the lower-GI benefit.

Verleen Goh, Co-Founder and Chief Food Fighter at Alchemy Foodtech, in an interview with Food Navigator

Using Alchemy Fibre also means that brands do not have to change their manufacturing processes in order to produce healthier products, signalling a win-win situation for both consumers and brands.

According to co-founder and Chief Food Fighter, Verleen, the application for Alchemy Fibre is broad, and can even be used in kuehs, desserts and cookies.

On A Mission To Make All Carbs Healthier

To date, Alchemy has raised a total of S$3.5 million in funding, including S$2.5 million in a pre-Series A round.

It has also won S$200,000 from the Slingshot@Switch 2018 start-up competition organised by Startup SG and Enterprise Singapore.

alchemy slingshot
Alchemy received S$200,000 for winning the Slingshot@Switch 2018 / Image Credit: Enterprise SG

Sharing future business plans, Alchemy Foodtech said they intend to release a wider range of other GI-lowering products, including solutions for other carbohydrate staples such as noodles and bread. 

When Covid-19 hit, many restaurants were forced to close and many people began preparing their own food at home.

The Alchemy team then the decided to create consumer products that could be easily used for healthier home-cooked meals.

In the months to come, Alchemy will launch baking premixes for cookies, cakes and brownies, that include Alchemy Fibre in them.

The husband-and-wife team is also working with food manufacturers such as Gardenia and Kang Kang noodles producer Tan Seng Kee Foods to create healthier versions of their products.

The team also has their eyes set on overseas markets. Alan shared that some of the team’s immediate plans include onboarding international investors and building plans for key markets overseas.

“Many people try to adopt a healthier diet, but they cannot sustain it. So we are coming from a sustainable health angle to make it easier for them,” said Alan.

Featured Image Credit: SALT Magazine, Food Navigator

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