Meat consumption is on the rise, and the demand for meat is expected to increase due to the growing world population. But the production of meat requires much land, water and resources. Moreover, large-scale production of meat adversely affects animal welfare. In collaboration with the TU Delft, Wageningen University & Research (WUR) developed a new, sustainable generation of meat substitutes with a real meat-like texture.
Through a new technology known as Shear Cell, Wageningen researchers successfully made large chunks of plant-based meat without the use of additives. ‘It is difficult to convince people to eat vegetarian or vegan because changing people’s behaviour is a challenge’, says Jan Atze van der Groot, WUR professor of Food Process Technology and the founder of the new generation of plant-based meat. A plant-based product with the same texture and flavour as meat may offer a solution.
The meat substitutes currently available are mostly small slivers of meat that mimic chicken meat or minced meat. Sometimes they are stuck together to form a burger, but this process requires additives. With new technology, Shear Cell, Wageningen researchers have managed to produce large chunks of plant-based meat without the use of additives. Thus, they can make a plant-based steak or pork fillet.
Animal meat consists of muscle tissue, in which the fibres are all aligned in one direction. The Shear Cell technology mimics this effect: the machine entwines soya protein and gluten. ‘This creates a delicate fibre structure, comparable to that of a steak’, says Van der Groot. This is important for the sensation in the mouth. Moreover, the new method is cheaper and simpler than its predecessors. With the same energy input, the researchers produce ten times the amount of plant-based meat.
Meat substitutes are not just about flavour and texture. Consumers want the same experience. That is why researchers attempt to reach the same baking sensation, such as the sizzling of the ‘meat’ in the skillet, says Van der Groot. This is achieved by adding colourants and ingredients that melt or release water when heated.