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Plant-based meat that matches steak for texture: 'The technology is unique in the world'

Niamh Michail

By Niamh Michail+

28-Oct-2015
Last updated on 29-Nov-2016 at 16:35 GMT2016-11-29T16:35:13Z

"It is expected that the global demand for meat and meat products will be doubled in 2050. The development of a new generation of meat replacing products may help to meet this increasing demand in a sustainable way," says Koffeman.

Using a unique manufacturing process, Dutch food technologists have developed a plant-based protein that can match the texture of steak and is the most sustainable of all meat alternatives, they say.

Developed through a public-private collaboration of food technologists from Wageningen University, TU Delft, the Vegetarian Butcher and the Peas Foundation,  the product is not yet ready for the market nor does it have a name – lead researcher Atze Jan Van der Goot refers to it as “the fibrous structure that can form the basis for a meat analog” – but major Dutch manufacturer of meat-alternatives, the Vegetarian Butcher, has already expressed interest. Van der Goot and his team are now looking for additional funding to scale up the prototype which uses shear cell technology to match meat fibres.

A catchier name may also follow.

Why is it better than what’s already on the market?

Aside from  the fibrous texture that resembles steak more than other alternatives, Van der Goot says a major advantage is that the material offers great flexibility in terms of both scalability – a local butcher could install a small machine in his or her shop to produce the material on site or it could be mass-produced in a factory -  as well as shape.

While other meat replacements are often limited to small mince-meat size pieces, the Wageningen technologists can produce pieces with a thickness of 3cm, meaning it could easily resemble a steak or chicken breast.

The manufacturing process is also much more energy efficient than other traditional methods of forming textured vegetable protein, such as extrusion - doubling their claim to sustainability. "We use a mildly refined plant ingredient and a mild [manufacturing] process." 

Taste and texture

Van der Goot is confident that the material is well suited for creating consumer products: “The Vegetarian Butcher concluded that the structure [of our protein] was a good starting point for NPD (…) and they have a lot of experience doing that”

Niko Koffeman, co-founder of the Vegetarian Butcher, said: “The texture is totally different from seitan. Seitan is softer and doesn't equal the muscle structure of beef. Seitan is just a chewy, gummy substance

and the wheat gluten gives it a bread-like taste. In the early stage of our Couette Cell we used a combination of soy isolate or soy concentrate combined with a small percentage wheat gluten, but now we are experimenting with different plant based ingredients without gluten.”

He says a variety of plant proteins could be used such as pea protein, lupin, soy, pectin, wheat gluten and vegetable fibres, and that the material can be easily flavoured with herbs, spices and flavour additives.

Targeting the meat-eaters

For Koffeman, one of the driving factors to develop a product similar to meat is to target meat-eating consumers and, in this way, offset the growing and unsustainable global demand for meat – but for this to work a resemblance to real meat is crucial.”A substantial part of the meat eaters will only choose for replacements if the preparation, mouth feel and overall experience are similar to the current meat products.”

“The shear cell technology is unique in the world.

"This technology can provide The Netherlands an additional competitive advantage in the area of meat replacing products – an area where The Netherlands has already been frontrunner for years.”  Niko Koffeman

Van der Goot also sees the plant material being sold not in alternative ‘ethical’ shops marketed to vegetarian or vegan consumers but in butcher shops sold alongside meat, adding that he knows butchers who have had requests for this from their meat-eating customers.

On 1 November, Van der Goot and Koffeman will present the shear cell machine and the plant-based beef at an open day of the Vegetarian Butcher's new manufacturing site in Breda, the Netherlands – dubbed the plant-based plant – which was partly crowdfunded. 

For more information on the technology used:

Source: Journal of Food Engineering

First published online 25 August 2015,    doi.org/10.1016/j.jfoodeng.2015.08.021

“On the use of Couette Cell technology for large scale production of textured soy-based meat replacers”

Authors: Georgios A. Krintiras, Javier Gadea Diaz, Atze Jan van der Goot et al.

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