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New Meat Substitute Has Great Texture and Consistency

Meat substitutes often contain soybeans

Meat substitutes have been improving gradually over the years, but they still tend to lack enough “meatiness” for many people. Now a team of researchers from various institutions and corporations in Europe have created a meat substitute that is pure vegetable, juicy, and with the consistency of a real meat cutlet.

A new recipe for meat substitutes has been developed

The quest for nutritious meat substitutes that will appeal to even the most ardent meat lovers when it comes to TAT--taste, appearance, and texture—has been the goal of numerous researchers and food producers from around the world, and for several reasons.

At the top of the list is the desire to help address the growing need for sustainable food production in a world with an ever expanding population, as current meat production methods are expensive and nonsustainable.

Thus, researchers with “LikeMeat,” a European Union project, have been experimenting with ways to produce a new meat substitute. “Our goal,” according to Florian Wild of Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV, who is heading the project, “is to develop a vegetable surrogate for meat that is both juicy and fibrous, but that also has a pleasant flavor.”

Perfecting the texture, juiciness, and flavor of meat substitutes has been a challenge for years among those trying to bring all-vegetable protein sources to the mainstream market. Part of the problem has been finding a processing technology that produces an acceptable product when mixing plant proteins with water and heating them.

A recipe for a great meat substitute
Wild and his team members have overcome the problem and developed a special process for making a meat substitute. What makes their process different from the conventional methods?

The conventional process involves mixing plant proteins with water and heating them under high pressure. When this protein mass is pressed through the machinery, the temperature falls, steam is released, and the result is a meat substitute with less than desirable texture.

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The researchers came up with their own recipe that involves boiling plant proteins (e.g., soy, peas, wheat, lupins) in water and allowing the mixture to cool down slowly, thus eliminating any sudden release of pressure or steam. The result is an all-vegetable product that looks like a meat cutlet and has a fibrous structure similar to that of meat.

A prototype of the processing system can produce 300 to 500 kilos (about 660 to 1,100 lbs) of meat substitute per day, and according to Wild, “consistency and texture are already superb.” And although the team is still perfecting the flavor of the meat cutlets, they predict that in one year, their meat substitute will be as good as “a genuine cutlet.”

A growing need for meat substitutes
Conventional meat production has a number of adverse effects on the planet as well as on human health. For example, growing vast amounts of grain to feed farm animals, who also consume enormous amounts of water and produce vast amounts of waste, is an inefficient use of natural resources and not environmentally or economically viable.

The manner in which farm animals are handled and the meat is produced is also associated with over-consumption of animal fats (unhealthy saturated fats), the rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria related to the use of antibiotics in livestock, inhumane treatment of farm animals, meat-borne disease-causing organisms, and pollution of water, soil, and air from farm animal waste.

Currently, consumers have a number of meat substitutes from which to choose, including those made from soy, wheat gluten, grain flours (e.g., kamut, quinoa, millet, amaranth), peas, beans, mushrooms, mycoprotein, and a variety of vegetables. These meat substitutes are available in the form of chicken (nuggets, cutlets, strips, wings, fingers), beef (burgers, ground), sausages, bacon, hot dogs, and deli slices.

For now, the new meat substitute will be presented at the Anuga FoodTec trade fair in Cologne at the end of March 2012. By this time next year, a great tasting, “superb,” and eco-friendly all vegetable meat substitute may be making its way to the marketplace.

New Harvest

Image: Courtesy Wikimedia Commons