I’m in a bustling outdoor market in Southeast Asia.

I walk past stands overflowing with edible wonders, burlap sacks and cardboard boxes filled to the brim with beans and seeds and spices. The smells are almost overwhelming; turmeric, ginger, basil, garlic, and other spices mixing in the air with incenses and rich odors from food vendors scattered throughout the market. There are children everywhere, helping their families sell their goods and playing with tattered soccer balls through the aisles of the market. Most of the vendors are women, and they sit on stools or the ground, wearing traditional woven blouses with smartphones in their hands. Modern and traditional are inseparable here.

Of the hundreds of seeds and grains in this market, all different colors and shapes, one catches my eye. The soft-spoken farmer selling these seeds tells me he has trucked them in from his farm, 200 km away. They are used on a daily basis to feed his family and many other families like his. I buy a bag of these strange seeds and tuck them into my backpack.

Man takes notes.

The research begins. I learn that these seeds have been cultivated and eaten for hundred of years in this region, and yet are completely unknown in Western food systems. So then what does this one little seed from the other side of the world have to do with how the global population eats?

Think about our food system: We buy groceries, we cook food, we serve it, we eat it. What’s the problem here? To start with, more than 1 billion people go to bed hungry every night. 2 billion aren’t eating food with enough nutrients in it. And the rest mostly have access to food that’s bad for them and bad for the planet.

We want to discover how we can use plants, like that one little seed, to fix all of this.

Let’s dig into nature’s richest food source: the plant kingdom. Within it, there are over 300,000 species. That’s over 18 billion plant proteins, 108 million lipids, and 4 million polysaccharides. Everything from seeds and beans, to leaves and roots. Every promising find is catalogued in our plant library, and then we dive deeper to characterize their many little components. We explore their potential for good proteins, better fats, and more nutrient density. We test how these plants might make useful food ingredients.

Farmer at work
Seed library

We feel a crazy sense of urgency around this task. So we’ve built a system that enables us to screen through plant characteristics faster every day. The more we explore, the more data we gather along the way, and the faster we’ll find useful answers.

This is how we find new plant ingredients to make the food products we love. As the Canadian yellow pea led us to JUST Mayo, and as sorghum is key to our JUST Cookie Dough. This process paves a concrete and sustainable path towards cleaner, simpler, healthier food. And it brings us closer to the wisdom that farmers, like the one from that distant seed market, have held for generations about caring for each other and for the planet.

Udi, global plant sourcing
May 2017