S’pore-based startup makes milk & instant noodles out of underrated, nutritious nuts


Growing the Bambara nuts can help replenish the soil nutrient and possibly revive non-productive lands in the long run

Heard of the Bambara groundnuts?

Also known as Kacang Poi in Malaysia, they are the lesser-known relative of edible legumes such as peanuts, soybeans and lentils.

While they may not be popular now, the Bambara groundnuts have great potential to become a staple food ingredient that is also beneficial to the environment.

via WhatIF Foods website.

Bambara groundnuts – the wonder crop

According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the Bambara groundnut is 63 per cent carbohydrate, 19 per cent protein and 6.5 per cent fats. The nuts are also rich in minerals containing Vitamin B and iron.

Such a nutritional composition makes the Bambara groundnuts a potential staple food ingredient.

Furthermore, these groundnuts are drought-tolerant and nitrogen-fixing. This means they do not need fertile soil to grow on, nor do they need chemical fertilisers to grow well.

Instead, growing the Bambara groundnuts can help replenish soil nutrients on the ground and revive non-productive lands. Over time, farmers will get more productive lands to grow other crops for a living too.

This is where WhatIF Foods, a Singapore-based and planet-based food company, saw opportunities to positively impact both people and the environment.

To help you understand better how WhatIF Foods is different from other food producers, here’s how their chief commercial officer, Andrew Reeves, described their business.

“Sustainability can metaphorically be compared to our switch from petrol cars to hybrid cars. But what we're talking about is going 'full electric'. So, we're trying to do what Tesla is doing in the automotive industry, for the food industry and have people join us on the next step of a game-changer approach.”

Making their brand known

WhatIf Foods first launched its BamNut noodles in 2020 and then its BamNut milk in 2021.

Sadly, they could not conduct food sampling or roadshows to promote their instant noodles and milk because of the pandemic.

Covid-19 aside, Reeves shared that it can be challenging to get Singaporeans to try a “radically new product”.

Understandably so, not many of us would want to be a guinea pig to try something that we don't know much about.

For those who are curious, Bamnut milk has a thicker texture as compared to oat milk, and there is a nutty aftertaste. Photo by Zheng Zhangxin.

Citing Impossible Meats as an example, he said Singaporeans can be more receptive to trying new products from brands which have first established a following or success overseas.

Given how WhatIF Foods uses crops that no one has used or heard of before, it was and still continues to be “a lot of heavy lifting” to convince people to give it a shot.

Putting a creative spin on their marketing, such as allowing their customers to gift a pack of BamNut milk to their loved ones for free for every purchase, WhatIF Foods succeeded at gaining loyal customers in Singapore two years on.

A social enterprise grant from the DBS Foundation in 2019 was timely and “the amount of support [they] received went far beyond just a monetary sum,” Reeves said.

The bank also provided publicity to help the brand gain awareness in its early days and helped the company find valuable interns through a university internship programme, WhatIF Foods’ strategic business development director, Amelia Tan shared.

“The support from DBS all these years has definitely been instrumental in helping us get the product and word out to more consumers, which accelerates the impact we make in the world—benefitting the consumers who purchase our products, as well as the farming communities that we have partnered with,” Reeves added.

The team behind WhatIF Foods, consisting of employees from Singapore, Malaysia and Australia. Photo taken in 2019, courtesy of WhatIF Foods.

In search of more regenerative crops

Currently, WhatIF Foods is working with farmers in Ghana to grow the BamNut. They are also building relations with communities in Indonesia and Malaysia, where BamNut can grow well.

Photo courtesy of WhatIF Foods.

The company is also looking at other regenerative crops that can uplift farming communities and improve the environment.

One example is the Moringa, which is coined as “a miracle tree” by some communities.

The Moringa is packed with vitamins and minerals. Its leaves have seven times more Vitamin C than oranges and 15 times more potassium than bananas.

It is also one of the few plants with all nine essential amino acids that our bodies need, WhatIF Foods shared.

Similar to the BamNut, the Moringa is drought resistant and easy to grow.

The WhatIF Foods’ Moringa noodles are now amongst the brand’s best-selling products.

In the near future, you can look forward to more regenerative food alternatives by WhatIF Foods like shakes, yoghurts, and condiments.

Image via WhatIF Foods YouTube video screenshot.

Four types of instant noodles by WhatIF Foods. Photo by Zheng Zhangxin.

Where to buy?

If you are interested to try out WhatIF Foods products, you can get them at the following retailers or F&B outlets:

  • Bettr Barista – BamNut milk white cold brew
  • NamNam - Noodle dishes featuring WhatIF Foods BamNut noodles, Charcoal noodles and Moringa noodles
  • Mong Cha Cha Cafe - BamNut-based waffles, bubble tea, ice cream
  • SaladStop! - BamNut mango and strawberry chia pudding
  • Foreword Coffee – BamNut milk is available as an alternative milk option

You can also buy them online and in-store at selected Cold Storage, FairPrice Finest (WhatIF Foods noodles only) and Lazada.

This article was created in partnership with Mothership on Earth

The 2022 DBS Foundation Grant programme is open for applications till 31 May 2022. On top of our unflagging support for social enterprises with grants of up to SGD 250,000, we have also launched a new grant programme to support small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs) looking to kickstart their transition towards becoming more sustainable businesses with grants of up to SGD 100,000.

The programme includes holistic support from the bank, and endeavors to grow businesses-for-impact, which are key to a more sustainable future for all. Join us, and apply before 31 May 2022:

Learn more about how you can continue your journey #TowardsZeroFoodWaste.

Find out more about DBS’ other partnerships and initiatives #TowardsZeroFoodWaste.

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