Food ingredient innovator Motif FoodWorks announced today it has struck partnerships with two universities to further research the properties of plant-based foods and develop technologies to improve elements like texture. For the research, Motif will work with the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana.
Today’s announcement comes on the heels of Motif forming a partnership with the the University of Guelph to research plant-based fats in order to make them more like the real thing.
Fat is a key part of what makes meat taste good. And so is texture and mouthfeel. Achieving better versions of those latter two elements in plant-based meat is the driving motivation behind Motif’s partnerships with the University of Illinois. As we’ve written many, many times before, texture is one of the keys to making plant-based meat more appealing to mainstream consumers.
In its press release today, Motif’s lead for food science, Stefan Baier, said that in order to get textures more precisely like those of actual meat, “we need to continue to evolve the way we approach food design” rather than relying on decades-old tools and technologies that might work for meat-meat but not so much for alt-meat.
Baier will lead the two-year-long project with UIC and UICU, working with the schools’ experts on advanced rheological techniques from the fields of mechanical and chemical engineering.
This isn’t the first time Motif has partnered with higher education to solve the texture riddle. In 2019, the company said it was working with the University of Queensland in Australia on improving texture of plant-based meats.
Motif’s quest to make plant-based meats replicate the properties of animal meat comes at a time when demand for plant-based meat is steadily on the rise. Many companies in the space are expanding in response. Impossible launched its direct-to-consumer site recently, and its chief rival Beyond has plans to launch a similar e-commerce store. And other companies are tackling the texture issue, too, from Redefine Meat‘s 3D-printed steaks to Ecovative’s mycelium scaffolding to Emergy’s fermented fungi steaks.
One thing Motif will need to consider in its research is just how closely consumers actually want their plant-based staples to replicate the real thing. Catherine Lamb, the Spoon’s former expert on all things plant-based meat, often said plant-based meat was too meaty. This nine-year-old concurs. But Catherine is a longtime vegetarian and the nine-year-old is, well, nine. Which is to say, adults who’ve been eating real meat for decades may prefer a more exact replication. At the moment there isn’t too much data out there on this subject, but it’s one Motif and others will most definitely need to tackle on the quest to make the perfect plant-based meat.