Plant based meat is the new trend and it closely resembles an animal-based meat product in its organoleptic properties, using one or a combination of alternative protein ingredients.
In this article, as a food scientist and food professional, we have tried to bring science, challenges, business leaders in the field of plant based meat.
Science behind plant based meat
Plant proteins are mainly derived from cereal and legume crops and offered in whole and fractionated ingredient forms. Fractionated protein forms may encompass flours, concentrates, isolates, and hydrolysates.
Their strengths in any one function will be influenced in part by protein purity, which plays a dual role in aroma and flavor. Alongside aroma and flavor, some plant proteins are known to negatively influence mouthfeel (the detection of sand-like particulates).
To a large extent, these obstacles can be addressed through hydration, shearing, and cooking, which in combination can yield smooth, neutral-tasting.
Currently, a wide variety of plant based protein are used for the industrial manufacture of meat analogues, but soy and peas are the primary source due to low costs and the possession of some properties similar to meat.
Additional studies have concluded that oilseeds provide an adequate source of amino acids, particularly when paired with dry foods such as cereal.
The creation of hydrolyzed proteins (aka protein hydrolysates) from isolate fractions also aids protein functionality. The value of hydrolysates is their ability to fit a lot of protein into a small space while imparting the least viscosity.
Major components of plant protein sources are starches and fibers which can deliver on some of the same functionalities while filling in where proteins fall short.
Traditional starch applications highlight viscosity (thickening). The amylose content of field pea (with a smooth seed surface) is in the range of 30%–40% and is even higher for wrinkled pea (in the range of 60%–76%).
Pea–derived starch imparts gel strength, film formation, and crispness (features advantageous to replicating the texture of meat products—namely, the “snap” of a cooked sausage or the bite of a chicken breast, cut of pork, or beef).
The fiber source used by high-prole brands including Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, and Nestlé’s new Awesome Burger is methyl cellulose which is created from cellulose (a natural substance found in plant cells). It is made through heating with a caustic (alkali) solution and treatment with methyl chloride.
The end product is a white odorless powder with attractive gelling and emulsifying capabilities that is soluble in cold water, forms a gel at higher temperatures and holds plant-based meat products such as burgers together as they cook, as well as boosting succulence and juiciness. (The gel is ‘thermo-reversible,’ meaning that when it cools down, it returns to a viscous solution).
Fiber’s linear structure may be of benefit in the creation of extruded plant-based meat products (which may aim for a fibrous composition comparable to that of animal-based meat cuts).
Techniques of creating plant based meat
Meat like texture
The structuring process is the most important step for plant-based meat production because it is the foundation of meat like texture formation. The processing techniques used in structuring process can be divided into two strategies, bottom-up and top-down.
Within the bottom-up methodology, each structural component is combined to generate the final product, whereas with the top-down procedure, a fibrous texture is created through the formation of a biopolymer blend.
Among these techniques, commercial operations often use the top-down strategy extrusion, due to its robustness and ability to mass produce on a large scale.
However, other newly developed top-down strategies such as shear cell technology (applying shear forces to create fibrous plant meat) is still on the pilot scale.
The extrusion technique is widely used by the food industry as it permits for the mass production of meat analogues with high energy efficiency.
Several studies have found that the texturization of the final product is heavily dependent on the temperature of the extrusion process. For instance, to create the fibrous texture through cross-linked reactions, specific melting temperatures must be carefully chosen (Kyriakopoulou et al., 2019).
Additionally, a higher barrel temperature can help to enhance the expansion, contraction, and the water absorption of the final products.
Meat like colour
Color is often the first element to be noticed for food products; hence, it is a main contributor to the perception in taste and overall product acceptance by consumers.
Generally, uncooked fresh meat poses a red color that turns brown upon cooking. Caramel colors and malt extracts are typical heat stable coloring ingredients that can provide the final product with a brown appearance.
Additionally, reducing sugars can be added as browning agents as they are capable of forming brown substances during cooking through Maillard reaction with the amine groups in protein.
In the new generation of Plant based meat products, the red color of raw products has been obtained through the addition of beet juice/powder or soy leghemoglobin. The thermal stability and pH sensitivity of the coloring agents are of great importance for their successful application.
Coloring agents can either be mixed with the protein products before the structuring process or they can be integrated with the semi-structured plant-based materials during the structuring process (Kyriakopoulou et al., 2019).
Moreover, hydrated alginate and maltodextrin are two examples of coloring agent additives that aid in retaining the desired color by reducing the color migration within the final product.
Depending on the processing conditions, fibrous, layered, or homogeneous samples can be obtained; however, fibrous structures are optimal due to consistently higher anisotropy indices.
Meat like flavour
The process of flavor formation is considerably more complex than color formation, and flavoring agents can be divided into volatile and non-volatile compounds that are related to the aroma and taste, respectively.
Meat has an umami taste, which mainly originates from the presence of monosodium glutamate and inosine monophosphate, as well as various small organic acids.
It has been demonstrated that the addition of aromatic ingredients such as spices and salt to plant-based food mixtures both before and after the extrusion process can help to generate flavorful and fragrant final products (Kyriakopoulou et al., 2019).
Some of the additives that have helped to create the impression of aromatic meat in plant-based products include the vitamin thiamine, amino acids, and reducing sugars.
In addition, chicken- and beef-like fragrances have been produced from soybean-hydrolyzed protein under specific reaction conditions.
Few scientists demonstrated that product blends with 30% wheat gluten mixed with soy protein produce the closest physiochemical properties to meat.
Thus, this discovery demonstrated the potential of WG as a protein source in meat alternatives. Moreover, many research groups have drawn their interests toward microalgae spirulina (Arthrospira platensis), which can be suitable as a meat alternative due to its high levels of protein.
One paper indicated that supplementing 30% to 50% spirulina to soy protein still can obtain well-structured final products, although increased amount of spirulina will induce a negative impact on the flavor.
Caporgno et al. (2020) further demonstrated that reducing moisture levels in the final product could help the formation of the fibrous structure when up to 50% microalgae biomass has been added.
Current commercial players in plant based meat
Impossible foods: Is a company that develops plant-based substitutes for meat products. Founded in 2011, and headquartered in Redwood City, California, the company’s stated aim is to give people the taste and nutritional benefits of meat without the negative health and environmental impacts associated with livestock products. Products: Impossible burger, sausage. https://www.impossiblefoods.com/
Impossible plant-based meat
Proteins: Soy protein concentrate, Soy protein isolate, Potato protein
Binders: Methylcellulose, Modified starch, Potato protein
Colorants: Soy leghemoglobin
Preservatives: Cultured dextrose, Vitamin C,Vitamin E
Fats: Coconut oil, Sunflower oil
Flavorings: Soy leghemoglobin, Natural flavors,Yeast extract
Vitamins & Minerals: B vitamins, Zinc, Vitamin C, Vitamin E
Beyond meat: Beyond Meat is a Los Angeles-based producer of plant-based meat substitutes founded in 2009 by Ethan Brown. The company’s initial products were launched in the United States in 2012. The company has products designed to emulate chicken, beef, and pork sausage. Products: Beyond sausage, Beyond burger, Chicken sausage. https://www.beyondmeat.com/
Proteins: Pea protein isolate, Rice protein, Mung bean protein
Fats: Refined Coconut oil, Expeller pressed canola oil, Cocoa butter
Functional: Methylcellulose, Potato starch, Sodium chloride, Potassium chloride
Colors & Flavors: Pomegranate fruit powder, Beet juice extract, Apple extract, Natural flavors, Lemon, vinegar
Light life: Lightlife Foods is a company that produces vegetarian and vegan meat substitutes. Lightlife was founded in Greenfield, Massachusetts in 1979 before relocating to Turner Falls, Massachusetts in 1998. Products: Plant based sausages, burgers, deli slices etc
Garden Gourmet: Garden Gourmet is a Nestle brand of vegetarian food products based out of Israel, and sold primarily in the United Kingdom. The company was founded in Israel in 1986 and received growth investments from Nestle early in its company history before Nestle acquired the company in 2017. Sensational sausage, Sensational burger, Sensational chorizo, Sensational mince.
Quorn: The company that produces meat substitute products originating in the UK and sold primarily in Europe, but is available in 14 countries. Products are sold as both a cooking ingredient and as the meat substitute used in a range of pre packaged meals. Products: Meatless nuggets, mince etc.
Gardein: Gardein is a product line of meat-free foods made by Conagra Brands in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada and Hagerstown, Maryland, United States. Products: Meatless chicken strips, Plant based jerky, plant-based burger etc.
Challenges with plant based meat business
- Plant based meat costs significantly more.
- Its less than 1% of global meat market so plant-based meat takes huge strides in distribution, finding its way to supermarkets, fast foods chains and more and more new markets.
- Getting products that taste the same or better and cost the same or less.
- Government support.
- Considering the nutrient content of the meat while replacing it with the plant based so as to supply same amount of nutrients.
Future of plant based meat
- The plant-based meat market is projected to grow from US$4.6 billion in 2019 to $85 billion by 2030, driven by more than half (52%) of consumers who claim to be eating more plant-based foods.
- Global problems such as malnutrition may be eradicated as plant-based protein is more efficient way of providing high quality protein.
- Boon to economies by increasing the income of farmers supplying raw materials and the manufacturers.
- Much less damaging for the climate in another critical way since emissions of greenhouse gasses are reduced by up to 90 percent when compared with conventional meat thus prevent the climate change.
- Decrease the threat of end of antibiotic resistance (the more antibiotics are used, the more opportunities bacteria have to improve their defenses, and the less effective antibiotics become)
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