What happens when your vegan boyfriend wants to eat healthy but has little time for food prep? If the girlfriend is a Technion student, she just might come up with a solution.

Neta Shimony was among a team of Technion graduate students participating in an international food-tech competition tasked with creating healthy processed food when her boyfriend’s dilemma sparked the idea for a tofu omelet mix.

She and her teammates, from both the Faculty of Data & Decision Sciences and the Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering, developed an instant (just add water), freeze-dried, vegan, tofu-based omelet that comes in two flavors: mushroom and the popular Israeli tomato-infused shakshuka. “OmeleTofu” took home the gold medal in the Food Solutions competition held in Brussels and funded by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology.

The silver medal went to a team of Technion undergraduate students for a vegan, gluten-free, low-sugar, savory protein snack made from chickpeas and lentils with a cashew-based filling. “Proteinchick” is manufactured using the water in which the chickpeas are cooked to bring the ingredients together in a process that gives it a fluffy and crunchy texture.

Given the Technion’s ties with industry, Garuda Labs helped develop a prototype of the OmeleTofu, while a chef from the Bishulim culinary school in Israel helped make the Proteinchick prototype.

Winning the top medals was exciting, but the biggest takeaway might have been the affirmation that processed food need not be junk food. “We think of ‘fresh’ and ‘natural’ as the healthy and ‘green’ choices, but that’s not quite true,” said Prof. Maya Davidovich-Pinhas, one of the teams’ advisors. “Modern processing methods, based on scientific knowledge, can preserve and even enhance foods’ digestibility and nutritional values.”

Freeze-drying, used for the OmeleTofu, is one of the processing methods that preserve a food’s nutrients. Moreover, healthy processed foods could be more environmentally sustainable as they do not spoil quickly like fresh products, and don’t require refrigeration and cold transportation, which has high energy costs.

Technion Professors Uri Lesmes and Avi Shpigelman, who also mentored the students, have long been working with processed foods and innovative food tech, which helps explain the University’s history of wins. Since the launch of the Food Solutions competitions in 2017, Technion winning projects include: vegan oat-based labneh, soy-based yogurt, low-sugar chocolate cake, spirulina-enriched falafel, and a solution to help prevent spoilage of natural juices.