Thai researcher wonders if chicken feathers on the menu might fly

Thai inventor Sorawut Kittibanthorn presents food dishes made from chicken feathers at a kitchen in Bangkok, on Dec 14, 2020.
PHOTO: Reuters

BANGKOK/NAKHON PATHOM - When Sorawut Kittibanthorn was looking for new types of waste to recycle, the then London-based student was drawn to the millions of tonnes of chicken feathers being discarded each year.

Now back in his homeland of Thailand, the 30-year-old is seeking funding to continue his research into how best to convert the nutrient component found in the feathers into a powder that can be transformed into a lean, protein-rich source of edible food.

"Chicken feather contains protein and if we are able to serve this protein to others in the world, the demand from everyone... will help reduce waste," Mr Sorawut told Reuters.

Indeed the potential appears huge, given that Mr Sorawut reckons about 2.3 million tonnes of feathers are being dumped in Europe alone each year.

And with generally higher poultry consumption in Asia, he believes there could be up to 30 per cent more feather waste that could be exploited in the region.

Mr Sorawut, who studied for a Masters of Material Futures in London, said the idea still needs to go through other research and development phases.

But prototypes including his take on chicken nuggets and a steak substitute have received positive reviews from some.

"You know the texture is very complex and advanced. It's something you wouldn't imagine that chicken feathers will be able to improvise into this kind of dish," said food blogger Cholrapee Asvinvichit, after tucking into "steak" served with gravy, mashed potatoes and a salad. "I really could imagine this (being served) to me in some like, Michelin star (restaurant), or some fine dining experience."

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Prof Hathairat Rimkeeree, a food sciences professor at Kasesart University, was also pleasantly surprised by the results. "I think it does have the potential to become an alternative food source in the future."

Plant-based substitutes for meat have been gaining popularity as more people shift towards vegan or vegetarian diets, amid growing concerns about health risks from eating meat, animal welfare and the environmental hazards of intensive animal farming.

While feather-based foods cannot be categorised as vegan or vegetarian, Mr Sorawut feels they should be considered ethical dining.

"I plan to approach the zero-waste restaurants first because even though these dishes are made from poultry waste, it is still a by-product from animals (we normally consume)."