Research partnership paves way for next-gen meat substitutes

Research partnership paves way for next-gen meat substitutes
Image courtesy of Wageningen University and Research

Plant Meat Matters, a four year public-private partnership paving the way for a new generation of meat substitutes, is launching this spring.

With partners covering the entire chain, the research partnership 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.

The keystone of the partnership is the shear-cell technology developed by Wageningen University and Research.

The 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.

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,” said 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.”

The partnership 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.

“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,” said Niko Koffeman, Manager of Marketing & Communications at De Vegetarische Slager —closely involved in the creation of the partnership.

He added: “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 partnership 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.