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Konichiwa! Greetings from the muggy, beautiful city of Tokyo, where we’ve set up camp this week in preparation for SKS Japan. I’ll be leading a panel on alternative proteins with speakers from JUST and Integriculture/Shojinmeat, so keep an ear to the ground for coverage on that conversation.

Tokyo really does seem to be a city of the future — especially when it comes to food. From sushi burritos delivered in cubbies to ramen via vending machine, the dining experience here is always incredibly thoughtful and efficient.

My time here has got me thinking about what sort of simple, elegant solutions might be out there for our food system right now that are right in front of our face.

One that comes to mind is Kiverdi. The San Francisco-based startup feeds carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen to special single-celled organisms to create edible proteins.

It almost sounds too good to be true. Since neither Kiverdi nor other companies turning air into protein (yes, there’s more than one!) have a product to market, it’s too early to tell if they’ll be able to deliver on their goals of creating affordable, super-sustainable protein from the air around us. But the timeline isn’t too distant: both Kiverdi and Finnish gas fermentation startup Solar Foods are hoping to bring a product to market in two years.

At that time, we’ll be able to see if Kiverdi and others can indeed make a neutral-tasting protein from carbon dioxide in a cost-competitive manner (which they claim they can already do). If so, it could rock our food system.

It could be used as an ingredient to make high-protein pastas or breads. It could become a sustainable vegan protein powder. It could be mixed with burgers or chicken nuggets to make blended meat products, further cutting down on emissions by reducing our meat consumption.

That’s just the start. Climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing our society today, and one of its biggest causes is the amount of carbon trapped in the atmosphere. If there’s a technology that sucks up excess carbon and not only sequesters it, but transforms it into something that can help feed the planet, I’d call that the future of food.

Photo: the Impossible Whopper at Burger King.

Vegan… ish?

If you’re grabbing a plant-based Impossible or Beyond burger at one of the many fast-food restaurants that now serve the burgers, you probably expect that the food you receive will be vegetarian.

Except not really. While the burger itself may be 100% free of animal products the finished combo meal might still have traces of meat due to the restaurant’s cooking process.

Most fast-food joints don’t have the space to carve out a special area just to cook plant-based meat. Burger King has admitted that the patties for its Impossible Whopper are flame-grilled in the same broiler as its chicken and beef products. Likewise, when I tried the Beyond Famous Star burger at Carl’s Jr. earlier this year the manager told me that the burgers are in fact cooked on the same grill as typical beef burgers. (Interestingly, White Castle has a completely separate grill surface to cook the Impossible sliders.)

I’m guessing it’s the same story at most fast-casual restaurants that serve meatless meat. Rare is the restaurant that has the capacity to designate a completely separate area to cook vegan items, unless that place already caters specifically to vegan diners. In fact, last year I went to a Seattle burger chain to try the Impossible burger for the first time (memories!!) and was told that the chefs try to prep the burger on a separate area of the grill, but when it gets busy that doesn’t always happen.

There’s also the fact that many plant-based meat options at fast-food aren’t inherently vegan: they’re dressed up with cheese and mayonnaise and served on egg-based buns. All of which makes sense, since QSR’s aren’t targeting vegans with their newly-adopted Beyond and Impossible products. Instead, they’re hoping to capture the curiosity of flexitarian diners looking to cut down on their meat consumption without sacrificing on flavor.

In the end, I can see how vegans might be annoyed to learn that they can’t really eat plant-based burgers. But I imagine to many, the end result — more people eating meatless meat — justifies the means. Perhaps if meatless meat gains enough popularity fast-food chains will create designated vegan cook areas.

Photo: Subway

Eat Fresh (Plants)

For a limited time this September, Subway will be testing out Beyond Meatball Marinara sandwiches in 685 locations in the U.S. and Canada. That’s a relatively small fraction, as Subway is the largest and fastest-growing fast-food chain with over 25,000 locations in the U.S. alone.

Then again, Beyond has now forged a partnership with the largest and fastest-growing fast-food chain globally. Forget McDonald’s (though they definitely haven’t) — this partnership indicates, as if we didn’t already know, that plant-based meat is becoming more and more of the norm.

Interestingly, the sandwiches feature Beyond meatballs developed specifically for Subway. It looks like more and more plant-based meat companies are developing unique products specifically for their fast-food partners. Dunkin’s new sandwiches contain Beyond breakfast sausages developed specifically for the chain, and Impossible created plant-based sausage specifically for Little Caesar’s.

This move tightens the screws on other QSR’s dragging their feet on adopting meatless meats. I think we’re one step closer to seeing a plant-based McGriddles sandwich.

Photo: Tyson Foods.

Protein ’round the web

  • eat.life, a food delivery app that only has vegan dining options, will launch in London in 2020 (h/t VegNews).
  • Tyson announced it will start selling its Raised & Rooted plant-based chicken nuggets (which contain egg whites) in 4,000 stores, and roll them out in foodservice this September.
  • FoodNavigator wrote a profile on FUMI Ingredients, a Dutch starting making a vegan egg substitute from yeast.

That’s it for this week! I’m off to eat my body weight in 7-11 Egg Salad sandwiches (yes they are actually *that* good).

Eat well,
Catherine

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