Foodtech Startup Pioneers ‘Instant Hangi’ Flavour

Dr Kiri Dell from Faculty of Business and Economics and Associate Professor Saeid Baroutian from Faculty of Engineering.

Already attracting the attention of established food companies, including Wellington’s Fix & Fogg, a local startup is pioneering the transformation of native kānuka tree properties into a range of food ingredients.

Auckland University business lecturer Dr Kiri Dell has teamed up with chemical engineering academic Saeid Baroutian to develop a liquid smoke ingredient. Their startup, Nuka, has worked with the team at New Zealand Food Innovation Network’s Auckland base, FoodBowl, to complete a semi-commercial production run of Kānuka Liquid Smoke.

The product, which was said to ‘add an instant hangi flavour to your kai’, has been bought by Wellington peanut butter barons Fix & Fogg and plant-based meat company Plant Tech Nation.

Expected to start by early October, the next step is to set up a factory on a Māori land block in Ruatōria – likely in a shipping container first off – so production could be scaled up.

At present Nuka had investment from the commercial arm of University of Auckland, Uniservices, and landowners had provided access to the resource. Longer-term, the plan was to secure large commercial manufacturers as clients to underwrite the business.

In a statement, chemical and materials engineering associate professor Saeid Baroutian said the process of transforming kānuka into liquid smoke was done through fast pyrolysis, an intense heating process.

“Fast pyrolysis is a process in which kānuka wood chips are rapidly heated to 400-500 °C in the absence of air to be thermally decomposed into liquid smoke.”

Baroutian said his fast pyrolysis system resulted in a kānuka food flavouring ingredient that also acted as both an antioxidant and antimicrobial agent, helping to preserve and extend the shelf life of treated products.