Food of the future

Mock meat made to feel like the real deal

Imagine a thick juicy beef steak made completely out of plant proteins but feels just like the real thing.

That has been made possible by Dutch food technologists who have developed a unique manufacturing process that gives plant products the same texture that muscle grants meat.

The process involves putting a mixture of soya protein, wheat gluten and water into a cylinder, where it is placed under mild pressure and smashed together using rotating plates.

Gluten and soya are like oil and water and do not mix, but the strands of soya and gluten are forced to wrap around each other, which creates a firm fibrous structure with the texture of meat.

Once out of the machine, the 3cm-thick plant-based meat has a texture like that of steak.

With a growing global population in need of more protein to survive but faced with a pressing need to reduce the environmental impact of meat consumption, this technology could be invaluable in reducing the reliance on meat, said Wageningen University and Research (WUR)'s Professor Atze Jan van der Goot, the lead researcher behind the project.


The production process involves getting the strands of soya and gluten to wrap around each other to create a firm fibrous structure with the texture of meat. PHOTO: COURTESY OF WAGENINGEN UNIVERSITY AND RESEARCH

WHY PLANT PROTEINS ARE SAFER

It is difficult to be poisoned by plant proteins because if something turns bad, there is more spoilage material so you can see the changes.

PROFESSOR ATZE JAN VAN DER GOOT, lead researcher of the team that developed the mock meat made of plant proteins.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, over a billion animals are slaughtered for food each week.

Sustaining the growth of animal farms will drive up greenhouse-gas emissions, water pollution, deforestation and biodiversity loss, as well as cause health complications for people who eat too much meat, said Prof van der Goot, who is from the department of agrotechnology and food sciences.

He noted that plant proteins are also much safer than animal proteins. "It is difficult to be poisoned by plant proteins because if something turns bad, there is more spoilage material so you can see the changes," he said.

The WUR team has formed a consortium with eight companies, including a flavour house, ingredient producers and a machine manufacturer, and the group will be developing the plant-based meat further over the next few years. This includes getting it to taste like authentic meat.

The consortium, which started work in January, has already received millions of dollars in funding.

Samantha Boh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 10, 2017, with the headline 'Mock meat made to feel like the real deal'. Print Edition | Subscribe