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Plant-based meat could create a radically different food chain

by Ace Damon
Plant-based meat could create a radically different food chain

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October 12, 2019

A journalist enters Honest Burgers, a small chain of restaurants in Britain. Aware of the carbon emissions from cow breeding, he orders a herbal burger. It has a convincingly robust flavor, at least when wrapped in a brioche cake and loaded with vegan Gouda and chipotle "mayo". He asks where this wonderful ecological virtueburger was made? Shyly, officials report that the patty – provided by Beyond Meat, a California-based company – was brought by plane from America.

To be fair, Beyond Meat has plans to start producing its food in the Netherlands. The company's expansion is just a sign of a shift in demand for food to replace meat on people's plates. A business niche is becoming popular. Startups and established food conglomerates are hungry for a slice of a fast-growing market for herbal meats – foods that mimic the taste, texture and nutritional qualities of meat without a single animal in sight.

At the moment, the meat substitute market is small. Euromonitor, a market research firm, estimates that Americans spend $ 1.4 billion a year on them, about 4 percent of what they spend on real meat. Europeans also consume about $ 1.5 billion in meatless meat a year, but that's 9-12 percent of what they spend on beef.

Euromonitor expects the alternative meat market in Europe and America to double by 2022. Barclays analysts estimate that global sales of alternative meat could grow from 1% of the total meat market to 10% over the next decade.

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There are no bones about it

In this case, the implications are vast. Until recently, the only way to make meat was for an animal to eat a plant and then be killed. Now, with better technology, it may be possible to create radically different and animal-free food chains. And coffins are constantly improving the taste of fake hamburgers.

Demand for herbal meat is driven by a combination of environmental, ethical and health concerns. Raising animals for meat, eggs and milk is one of the most resource-intensive processes in agriculture. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, it generates 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Globally, the demand for animal meat is increasing as people in developing countries get richer and can afford to delight in meat. In rich countries, on the other hand, a growing number of people say they would like to eat fewer animals. They may even say that.

Nearly two-fifths of Americans who described themselves as carnivores said in a February Mintel survey that they wanted to add more herbal foods to their diet. Some call themselves "flexitarists": not wholly vegetarians or vegans, but eager to reduce their meat consumption. Young people are the most fervently flexible. About a third of Britain's under-35s told a Mintel survey in September 2018 that they wanted to reduce the amount of meat they ate compared to less than a fifth of older people.

Partly because of this, demand for meat substitutes has grown by 37% in the United States over the past two years and 30% in Western Europe. Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, another plant-based food company in Silicon Valley, has entered the market. Impossible raised $ 700 million in private funds; his supporters include Bill Gates. Since Beyond Meat went public in May, its valuation has more than quintupled to $ 8.4 billion.

Many of these companies regard herbal milks as a precedent. The market for these products took off in the mid-2000s, recalls Matt Ball of the Good Food Institute (GFI), a nonprofit group in Washington, DC, which monitors and promotes herbal meat awareness. This owes something to smart marketing. In 2002, Dean Foods bought Silk, a soymilk brand, and insisted that it be placed next to cow's milk on supermarket shelves. This made consumers think of it as just another variety of white things you put in cereals, rather than a strange product for people with allergies.

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Herbal milk – including almond, oatmeal and hemp – now accounts for about 15% of retail milk sales in the United States and 8% in Britain. In the past year, nearly two-fifths of US households have bought alternative milks. They often do this alongside dairy products; In a survey by Ipsos-MORI, 38% of US consumers said they consumed herbal milk, but only 12% did it exclusively. The others were flexos, drinking moo juice and variety of nuts or beans. In Britain, 20% of people surveyed by Mintel consumed these products, but only a third of them did so because of an allergy or intolerance. The rest said the new milks were healthier or more ethical.

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Meat without meat has been around for some time. In 1901 John Harvey Kellogg, the inventor of the cereal (which he hoped would make people less interested in sex), received a patent for protose, a "vegetable meat substitute" made from wheat and peanut gluten. For a long time, however, the pseudo-meat market was small, and the incentive to make it tasty was modest. Perhaps that's why so many old vegetarian burgers had the taste and texture of heavily salted wood chips.

Today's alternative meat makers are more ambitious. They aim to outperform the conventional meat industry. Your scientists are designing herbal meats that taste very much like the real thing.

What makes meat taste like meat? The complete sensory experience of eating a slice of meat begins when the constituent proteins, fats and sugars within it interact during cooking. Apply heat and the amino acids and sugars react. The meat turns brown and releases dozens of volatile molecules that give it taste and odor in a process known as the Maillard reaction. Then, as meat is eaten, the bite, texture, umami flavor, and fusion fats combine to give meat eaters an experience they know as "fleshy."

Each new market participant tried to recreate these fleshy sensations as closely as possible. Their products are usually based on vegetable protein sources such as soybeans, wheat or pulses, which are combined with a variety of fats, colors and aromas. Impossible Foods' soy-based hamburger, for example, also contains haem, an iron-rich molecule that exists in living things to help proteins carry oxygen. The haem gives the flesh a reddish color. Helps create a fleshy aroma and flavor when meat is cooked. In Burger Impossible, the formulation uses hemoglobin. This occurs naturally in soybean roots, but is made for impossible foods using genetically modified yeast.

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Beyond Meat's hamburger is made from proteins that come from peas, mung beans and rice and is mixed with beets to give the burger a reddish hue and the ability to "bleed" when bitten. It also contains coconut oil and cocoa butter stains that give the hamburger a marbling when cooked, similar to the fat of a beef burger.

Many herbal food companies hope one day to make pseudomeatas that look even more like animal muscle itself. This is complicated. To get the right texture from their hamburgers and herbal nuggets, manufacturers use a process called extrusion, in which the ingredient mixture is pushed through a small hole to create meat-like fibers. However, the actual animal muscle tends to have a more complex structure than any extrusion can achieve.

Most of these companies argue that their products are healthier than animal meat. Some statements are more convincing than others. A herbal hamburger tends to provide the same number of calories as a similarly sized piece of meat. Herbal meats contain no cholesterol, have less fat and more fiber and vitamins. They also prevent the increased risk of colorectal cancer that, according to the World Health Organization, is linked to the consumption of too much processed red meat. However, they also tend to contain more salt and less protein.

One big difference between meat and vegetable products is that the latter are continually improving. Because they are designed from scratch, manufacturers can continue to adjust recipes to make every bite tastier or more nutritious. While meat companies are constantly looking for ways to raise animals more efficiently, pseudo-meat manufacturers adapt and refine their own products. Like Silicon Valley software writers, their recipes are never complete.

From the moment the Impossible hamburger was launched, the company began to get feedback. Consumers told the company that they wanted a better "bite" hamburger and wanted to grill themselves without crumbling. Impossible also wanted to reduce the amount of salt and saturated fat while adding more protein. Impossible Burger “2.0”, launched earlier this year, replaced wheat protein with soy, which had the advantage of making the hamburger gluten free. Future iterations are planned. Researchers want to make hamburgers juicier so they don't get dry when cooked over medium. "The cow won't taste better," says David Lipman, chief scientist at Impossible Foods. But herbal meats will.

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High steaks

Atten Jan van der Goot of the Wageningen University Food Process Engineering Laboratory works with a Dutch company called Vegetarian Butcher (a pioneer in the vegetable meat industry). His latest invention can create muscle-like structures and textures within herbal meat slabs using a device called the Couette Cell. This consists of two concentric cylinders, one of which rotates around the other while the ingredients are sandwiched. By exerting force on the proteins in the mixture, the ingredients stretch into fibers and roll up. The result is a gelatinous red plate of plant meat that contains long, thick, elastic, muscle-like fibers that look and fall apart like pork or beef. Dr. van der Goot's team showed that when grilled, cuts of this "muscle" can sizzle, brown, and give off steak-like aromas.

On one…

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