from the whenua to food Nuka
Customer story

Nuka: Drawing from the whenua to create instant hāngī flavouring

This article was published on Aug 16, 2023, 2:21 PM

Reading time: 3 minutes

A smoky flavour like no other, foodtech startup Nuka is drawing on the kānuka plant to create a liquid smoke that gives food an instant hāngī taste.

What's in this article

    At a glance

    • Foodtech startup Nuka is producing a liquid smoke from kānuka plants, using it to flavour food with an instant hāngī taste.
    • Through the New Zealand Food Innovation Network, the business has been able to set up a pilot-scale process, and move to testing their concepts at a larger scale also.
    • With the first batch of Nuka’s smoke selling out, the business is looking to ramp up production as well as invest in a larger machine to produce the product in their own factory.

    Hāngī flavouring at your fingertips

    Dr Kiri Dell had always dreamed of a way to utilise her skill and expertise to bring value back to her whānau. So, by combining a deep love and appreciation for the whenua with technology, she’s doing just that with start-up Nuka.

    With its unique fragrance, Nuka is using the abundant kānuka plant, which grows wild on Dr Dell’s ancestral lands in Tai Rāwhiti/East Coast, capturing the hidden flavours and turning it into liquid smoke.

    The liquid smoke is used as a food flavouring ingredient, and adds an instant hāngī taste to kai. It also acts as both an antioxidant and antimicrobial agent, helping to preserve and extend the shelf life of treated products.

    Bridging the gap to large-scale production

    With the support of whānau, iwi and a wider support network, Dr Dell worked with her Auckland University colleague, Chemical and Materials Engineer Associate Professor Saeid Baroutian, to produce the liquid smoke. 

    From there, the pair refined and experimented with the process at the university before moving production to The FoodBowl in Auckland, a hub focused on helping food businesses scale up and innovate as part of Callaghan Innovation’s New Zealand Food Innovation Network.

    Using the food-grade facilities of The FoodBowl enabled the Nuka team to get the support they needed to set up a pilot-scale smoke extract process without a significant outlay of operational capital. As well, they were also able to further test and prove their concepts at a larger scale.

    Dr Dell says that without an open-access space like The FoodBowl, she is not sure how Nuka would have bridged the gap between R&D at the university to then moving into their own plant.

    Next steps for Nuka

    With proof of concept achieved, the first batch of Nuka’s liquid smoke was a hit, ultimately selling out. Plans are subsequently underway for increased production, with the next steps for Dr Dell and the Nuka team being to scale up further and build a larger machine to produce their product in their own manufacturing plant in Ruatōria. 

    The team isn't stopping there. Already looking forward to how they can extract more value from kānuka, Nuka is also working on two other high-value products.

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