Large-scale research aims for a new generation of meat substitutes
Paving the way for a new generation of meat-substitute products, the ambitious, four-year, public-private partnership (PPP) Plant Meat Matters kicks-off this spring. The PPP - with partners covering the entire chain - is the first global initiative to study the appearance, texture, taste and sustainability benefits of vegetable alternatives to meat and will make industrial-scale, mild production processes possible. Its foundation is the innovative shear cell technology developed by Wageningen University and Research.
The shear cell technology transforms vegetable protein into layered, fibrous structures, which closely match the appearance and texture of meat. The raw materials are mildly processed until the desired structure is achieved. The technology, the result of 20 years of research by Wageningen scientists, provides a precisely controllable alternative to conventional production methods such as extrusion.
From research to industry practice
Until now, shear cell technology was only possible at lab and pilot scales. The Plant Meat Matters project is the first to upscale this to an industrial level. "In four years, we will have a first version of a production line that will allow companies to make excellent meat substitutes in large volumes, with a variety of textures. Imagine, for example, a 100% vegetable steak”, says Atze Jan van der Goot, Professor at Wageningen University & Research and coordinator of the PPP. "Our work will boost further growth of the market for meat substitutes - which currently constitute only one per cent of the meat market.”
From soy to rapeseed
The PPP is focussed on proteins from soy and wheat; common ingredients in meat alternatives. In addition, various other protein sources are being examined, such as peas, rapeseed and corn. For each ingredient, a detailed sustainability analysis is made. Alongside Wageningen Food & Biobased Research, the PPP includes partners from the whole food production chain: De Vegetarische Slager, Meyn Food Processing, Avril, Ingredion, Givaudan, saturn petcare, Nutrition & Nature and Unilever. The PPP is a long-term, public/private partnership within the Food & Agri Top Sector.
"Shear cell technology is a relatively simple, mild and energy-efficient technology that makes the production of meat substitute products accessible to a broad user group," says Niko Koffeman, Manager of Marketing & Communications at De Vegetarische Slager —closely involved in the creation of the PPP. "It is not only applicable to food manufacturers, but also to chefs and, in the future, to the consumer in their kitchen. The development of meat-identical plant products could cause a food revolution - essential as current methods cannot meet the enormous demand for (animal) meat.”
Besides applied research the PPP will oversee scientific research on the behaviour of plant proteins; this will be the focus of five PhD students. Their work will give the initiative a solid theoretical foundation and will provide the groundwork for innovations that go beyond replacing meat; new alternatives for cheese, for example.
The world population is growing, and with it the need for protein for human consumption – a demand that cannot be met with meat alone. Meat production is extremely intensive, consuming vast amounts of water, land and energy, and results in high greenhouse-gas emissions. Vegetable meat substitutes provide a sustainable alternative that will benefit food security, increase quality of life and help protect the environment. Emulating the taste, perception and nutritional value of meat offers opportunities to gain broad acceptance for vegetable meat substitutes.