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Right now at The Spoon, we’ve all got personalization on the brain. That’s because we’re in the final sprint towards Customize, our food personalization summit happening in NYC one week from today, on February 27. (Want one of the last remaining tickets? Use code SPOON15 to get 15 percent off.)
So it’s pretty natural that I’ve been marinating on how personalization could affect the alternative protein space in the future. Here are a few thoughts:
I recently tried out GenoPalate, a service that gives you personalized nutrition recommendations based on your DNA. My end report stated that, for me, a high protein diet would lead to “reduced waist circumference,” AKA weight loss. It also gave me a list of my “ideal” protein types, including eel, chicken liver, and tofu.
I’m a vegetarian, so the first two proteins on that list aren’t especially relevant. But the report nonetheless got me thinking about how these personalized nutrition services could promote alternative protein consumption, especially amongst folks that are trying to avoid meat for health reasons. As these platforms get more sophisticated, they could sync up with your specific diet (pescetarian, vegan, flexitarian, etc.) to recommend plant-based proteins that are the ideal fit for your health goals — high-protein, low fat, low sodium, etc.
The technology is still in the R&D phase, but down the road it could open possibilities for serious plant-based meat customization. Do you like your “steak” thin-cut and tender? You can print it out that way. Maybe a restaurant is trying to create chicken breasts that are shaped a certain way for a high-end dish. Set the printing specifications and go.
Because while you can’t make cows or chickens grow meat in a certain shape or texture — at least not without a couple hundred generations of breeding — 3D printing technology could allow everyone from foodservice establishments to individuals to create their own custom alt-meats.
Cultured (or cell-based) meat also has a lot of potential for customization — though none of it will happen for a while yet. Cultured meat is not even available on the market, but for the sake of argument let’s project into the future:
Say a restaurant is looking for an especially tender cut of beef that is also low in cholesterol. Or they want a super-fatty piece of beef for an especially indulgent dish. That might be tricky to do with meat from a cow, which has biological constraints and also takes much longer to create. However, with cell-based meat, a scientist could theoretically tweak a formula to make exactly what’s needed with a much quicker turnaround than actually raising an animal. This opens up some real possibilities for customized protein.
Okay, so the idea of hyper-personalized protein is pretty futuristic. But there’s plenty of time to develop it. After all, we’re currently in the midst of the plant-based revolution — and just at the forefront of the cell-based one. Once these technologies become more mainstream (and affordable), the possibilities for customized protein could become a lot less out-there and a lot more feasible.
An argument for plant-based burgers
This week nutrition scientist Dr. PK Newby wrote a guest post for The Spoon outlining all the reasons why meatless burgers are not only beneficial for the planet but also a strategic business play for restaurants.
It’s a pretty inspirational post. But to me, Dr. Newby’s most intriguing point was the sheer heat that plant-based burgers are attracting because of their newfound popularity. We’ve already seen widespread criticism in the form of negative SuperBowl ads, online smear campaigns, and even lawsuits against vegan meat and dairy alternatives.
“Novel food technologies will always have haters,” writes Dr. Newby in her article. As the popularity of plant-based meat grows, those haters will likely become more vocal. But what shape will their protests take, and how much will they threaten the growth of meat alternatives?
Keep an eye on this newsletter to find out.
Protein ’round the web
- White Castle will start offering vegan cheese on March 1st to complement its Impossible Slider (h/t VegNews).
- Is insect fat a viable butter replacement? Food & Wine says… maybe.
- Israeli startup Equinom raised $10 million to develop higher-protein seeds, like pea and sesame.
I’ll miss you all next Thursday since I’ll be busy moderating panels and networking at Customize. I’d love to see you there — get your tickets now and come hang in NYC!