How to research your way into plant-based steak?
For a sustainable diet, people should eat less meat and more plant-based proteins. Wageningen University & Research (WUR) has teamed up with the food industry to develop the technology needed.
When living standards rise, people eat more meat. With more people living a middle-class lifestyle, this correlation has had a dramatic impact on the environment. Producing meat is an energy-consuming process in which a lot of water, energy and food is used.
To make protein production more sustainable, WUR is working to develop textured plant-based meat replacements. The institute collaborates with eight companies from the food industry. They include British-Dutch food multinational Unilever, French ingredients supplier Avril and German pet food producer saturn petcare.
Shear cell technology
WUR researchers have developed ‘shear cell technology’, which makes it possible to combine plant-based proteins from, for example, soy and gluten to create a meat-like structure. Lab tests have shown that the process works on a small scale. To prove its scalability, a machine was built by Delft University of Technology that is capable of producing seven kilograms of plant-based ‘beef’ in a single batch.
For a robust and industrial production process, the technology requires upscaling, flexibility in ingredients and a good product quality. To achieve this, academics and private-sector food process engineers are working closely together.
Developing a marketable food production process isn’t the only goal. WUR researchers also want to improve the scientific basis for plant-based foods and prove that producing ‘steak’ with shear cell technology is more sustainable than growing livestock.
The five-year project is subsidised by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy.