Food that really might taste like sawdust

A common complaint of food, for many reasons, is that it ‘tastes like sawdust’. Although that description is subjective – the food doesn’t contain sawdust even if its taste may suggest otherwise,* there may be more than a grain of truth in it in the near future, if Luke’s dream comes to pass. Who is Luke? And what is his vision?

Sawdust. Photo: Parvathisri / Wikipedia

First, Luke isn’t a ‘who’, but a ‘what’; Luke is the acronym for the Natural Resources Institute Finland,** which aims to ‘provide new solutions towards the sustainable development of the Finnish bioeconomy and the promotion of new biobased businesses’. The ‘vision’ fits neatly with that goal in that it hopes to both find a use for a waste product of the timber industry and help to provide additional food source for the planet’s ever-growing population.

Finnish industry produces 3.3 million cubic metres of sawdust annually. Although a large part of this material is used for pulp and energy production, a substantial fraction remains unused. Whilst the unused sawdust will eventually decompose and help to fuel natural nutrient cycles, Risto Korpinen (a researcher at Luke) believes that a better use of this material is as ‘fish food’.

However, it’s not a case of sprinkling sawdust on the rivers and lakes for it to be eaten by fish. Rather, the plan is to use the hemicelluloses in the cell walls of the sawdust as a source of sugars that can then be used to produce ‘single cell protein’.

Unfortunately, the news reports I’ve tracked down, which all seem to recycle the same source press release, are vague about how this single cell protein is to be made. However, Mr Cuttings infers that an alga is to be fed the sawdust-derived sugars, and other necessary nutrients, which will then grow and reproduce in sufficient numbers to be fed to the fish, which can then be eaten by humans.

This lignovorous suggestion has the advantage of exploiting a sustainable resource – there are a lot of trees in Finlandadding an income stream to the Finnish timber industry, and helping to move away from use of soy protein or wild fish to feed the fish (which latter fish-food source would counter-productively reduce global fish stocks…).

The project, codenamed MonoCell, is still in its early stages, but sounds promising. So, Luke, helping to put the fin back into Finland…?

[Ed. – if this sounds a little like ‘déjà-vu’, readers will be reassured to know that in hard times past Finns, and other Scandinavian peoples, have been known to use tree bark to make bread. So, Luke is arguably rediscovering an old solution to a modern and future food shortage problem…]


*However, there are stories around that suggest some foods do include sawdust or wood.

**For those who are wondering how abbreviating Natural Resources Institute Finland can give Luke, I believe that Luke is derived from Luonnonvarakeskus, the name of the organisation in Finnish.

Reference List

Dutta, T. M., Josiah, A. F., Cronin, C. A., Wittenberg, G. F., & Cole, J. W. (2013). Altered Taste and Stroke: A Case Report and Literature Review. Topics in Stroke Rehabilitation, 20(1), 78–86.