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My dad is an extremely picky eater. He won’t eat coconut, or raw tomatoes, or avocado (I know!). Ask him why he avoids these foods and he’ll give you a simple answer: texture.
Texture is a major part of the eating experience, one which can make or break a food product. That’s why one of the biggest hurdles to creating realistic meat alternatives isn’t appearance, or even flavor — it’s texture.
So how do companies make plants — or cultured animal tissue cells — mimic the complex texture of animal products, especially whole muscle cuts like chicken breast or steak? There are a few strategies out there:
Startups like Redefine Meat and Novameat use machines to print plant-based ingredients, such as pea protein, into fibrous strands meant to replicate the complex texture of animal muscle. They could also use the same 3D printing tech with cultured animal cells, though they haven’t branched into that space yet. Though a cool concept, 3D printing is a ways away from this being an affordable, widespread solution to mimicking tricky alt-meat textures.
Mushrooms — er, mushroom roots
A more affordable and scalable way to create meat-like texture is through mycelium, or mushroom roots made through fermentation. Atlast Foods grows mycelium scaffolding on which companies can either place cultured animal cells or plants, and Prime Roots and Emergy Foods (which just came out of stealth this week!) are developing their own meat alternatives based off of the fungi. Affordable and scalable, yes — but how well does it actually imitate the chew of meat?
The New York Times wrote about the latest in texture innovation this week. Harvard scientists reported they had successfully grown cow and rabbit cells on a scaffold made from gelatin. Yes, the same stuff that’s in the gummy worms you’ll hand out to trick-or-treaters tonight.
When it comes to texture, gelatin has two advantages. In addition to providing a flexible physical support on which the cells can easily grow, gelatin, which is protein, melts when cooked, which could help cell-based mimic the tender texture of, say, a seared steak.
Be it through 3D printing, gelatin, mushroom roots, legos or something else entirely, companies will have to nail the texture problem before they can hope to entice everyday consumers to switch over to alternative proteins. And it’s not just about whether the ‘meat’ cuts and chews like the real thing. As Daniel Scharff, Director of Strategy & Analytics for JUST, mentioned at SKS 2019, alternatives to traditional animal products also have to cook in a way that’s familiar to consumers. “It has to replicate the experience that they’re used to,” he said.
However, once scientists do figure out the texture issue, it could open the door to a whole new group of alternative meat products (read: really good faux steak) and entice even more consumers to sample faux meat.
Even my picky pops might get on board.
Tapping into the Impossible Foods zeitgeist
Last week DoorDash unveiled a custom filter that users can click through to see all the restaurants in their area which serve the Impossible burger.
It’s clearly a bid by the food delivery company to edge out its food delivery competition by capitalizing off of a popular product that more and more consumers are ordering to be brought directly to their doorstep. And a smart move.
But DoorDash isn’t the only one profiting off of Impossible-mania. Restaurant Brands International (RBI), which owns Burger King, Popeyes, and Tim Horton’s, released its Q3 Earnings Report this week which showed that the Impossible Whopper is driving major traffic — the strongest uptick since 2015 — to the fast-food chain.
All this to say, next time you use a DoorDash filter to order an Impossible Whopper from BK, you’re at the intersection of a few big trends. Pat yourself on the back.
Protein ’round the web
- Diner chain Denny’s is adding Beyond Burgers to menus of all its Los Angeles locations.
- The Awesome Burger from Sweet Earth Foods, which is owned by Nestlé, is now available at Costcos in Texas and the Midwest (h/t Vegnews).
- Alternative protein company Shiru, which makes versatile protein that can be used in faux eggs, cheese, meat, and more, raised $3.5 million in funding, according to Business Insider.
- Agronomics invested $500,000 in Shiok Meats, the Singaporean startup developing cultured shrimp (and other crustaceans).
That’s it from me this week! Please tell me someone is dressing up as this for Halloween tonight.