How plant science will shape a better future for vegetarians and meat eaters alike
Moving away from the idea that plant-based alternatives are solely for the niche markets of vegetarians & vegans, new technologies and food production techniques are giving us the power to create meat-free alternatives that are so close to the original we may soon not be able to tell the difference.
Start-up companies like Impossible Foods and New Wave foods are working in the lab to create high tech plant based and lab cultured products that look, taste and smell like meat. They study the molecular structure of the source to understand what gives it its texture, taste and smell, then replicate it using proteins from plants.
Impossible Foods have created a veggie burger that bleeds like a meat patty, based on looks, it's virtually impossible to tell it apart from the original. They use heme, a molecule found in the blood and in plants to replicate the taste and appearance of meat. It isn’t aimed for vegetarians, but rather for people wanting to cut down on their meat consumption but not lose out on the experience of eating meat.
Biotech start-up New Wave foods are combining plant proteins with red algae to create a plant-based shrimp with the same high-protein and low-fat content as real shrimp.
Taking it one step further, Chilean food-tech start-up, The Not Company, is using Artificial Intelligence to identify the molecular structure of different animal products and automatically identify plant-based alternatives that can imitate the taste and texture of the original.
We now have the technology to make plant-based foods that are close enough to the real thing to make them appeal to a mainstream audience, but more importantly, we're also now able to produce them on a large enough scale and at a low enough cost, to make them commercially viable for mainstream consumption.
What's more, these companies are bringing foods to the dinner table that not only have a lower impact on the environment, but also the same (if not improved) health benefits from plant based sources.
So what does this mean for the products we can expect to take over our supermarket shelves and fast-food menus? Will food labelling evolve to recognise a new wave of hybrid food products or will 'lab-grown' overtake 'organic' as the new badge for superior produce?