Real-world foods inspired by science fiction and pop culture

Food technology has progressed substantially in recent years, and many products that were once considered science fiction have now become science fact. Elliot Gardner takes a look at the most prominent real-life foods that resemble or are inspired by the worlds of sci-fi and fantasy.


Star Trek replicator - food from electricity

In July of this year, the Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) and the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland announced the result of their joint study into world hunger: a batch of single-cell protein produced using microbes, electricity, and carbon dioxide in a process the university has called 'creating food from electricity'.

The protein-creation technology has been labelled a real-life Star Trek replicator, a device that is used in the show to convert matter from one form into another and is often used to generate food without the need for cooking.

I has also been highlighted that the technology could be used to sustain astronauts during real-world, long-duration space flight. In the meantime the university has more novel applications in mind, such as cheap animal fodder. The end-goal is cheap, nutritious, renewable, pesticide-free food to alleviate world hunger. Considering the protein can be created from any energy source, including solar-generated power, it’s an exciting prospect for the future of the planet.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Willy Wonka’s three course meal gum

In 2010, researchers at the Institute of Food Research in Norwich experimented with microcapsules originally designed for the delivery of drugs to specific parts of the body as they are processed. Rather than for pharmaceutical purposes, the team were instead looking to create something much more unique: a realisation of Willy Wonka’s ‘three course meal’ gum, from Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

The experience works by utilising microscopic capsules that react at different stages of the gum-chewing process. ‘Starter course’ foods activate on contact with saliva, while the main course and dessert require rigorous chewing to pop open. This means the flavours do not reach the consumer’s palette until the right moment.

While Willy Wonka opted for tomato soup, roast beef, and blueberry pie, any complimentary flavours could be chosen due to the process of capturing individual flavour molecules and vitamins pioneered by Professor Tony Dinsmore of the University of Massachusetts’ department of physics.

The Matrix / Soylent Green - meal replacements

Meal replacement products are becoming more and more common as the technology and culinary expertise required to make them both edible and enjoyable develops. The basic premise is that the thick, powder-based beverage meets all the nutritional requirements of an average adult, reminiscent of the porridge-like slop seen in ‘The Matrix’ that was described as 'everything the body needs.'

Huel is one of the more prevalent meal-replacement products, with its branding claiming that its consumption is time-saving, cheap (£1.61 per 500 calories meal), and results in zero waste.

Another option is Soylent, which plays off the title of the film ‘Soylent Green’ that was based on Harry Harrison’s 1966 novel ‘Make Room! Make Room!’. Soylent is considerably less dark than its name-sake, but it is simply a tongue-in-cheek reference to the ‘highly nutritious’ foodstuff.

Back to the Future dehydrated pizza – expanding foods

In 1989, ‘Back to the Future Part II’ predicted many aspects on modern-day life, with the first portion of the film being set in a 1989-realised version of 2015. When 2015 actually came to pass, fans looked back at the films to see what the film got right. While hoverboards and flying cars still are not a reality, in some form the ‘dehydrated pizza’ could be considered to have come true.

In the film, a 2" mini pizza is ‘hydrated’ to become a 15" Pizza Hut meal. While making a pizza expand 13" isn’t currently possible, dehydration is still considered an effective method of food preservation.

Dehydrated food is also incredibly convenient for space travel. Rather than for space-saving purposes, NASA claim that the main reason much of the menu is dehydrated is that water is abundant on space shuttles, as a by-product of burning fuel cells.

Researchers at MIT were also inspired by the idea of expanding foods. After watching powder transform into a bread loaf in the latest Star Wars film, ‘The Force Awakens', the team developed ‘shapeshifting’ pasta noodles that quickly change shape when submerged in water to create eloquent patterns.