Plant Proteins and Other Fake-Outs
Analogs of meat, dairy, and other foods make the center-of-the-plate the rule rather than the exception
The reasons animal protein analog manufacturers, such as Kellogg Co.’s Morningstar Farms, Beyond Meat LLC, and Garden Protein International Inc., are seeing sales growth at double-digit percentage rates per year have to do with more than some trend of vegetarianism/veganism. A combination of explosive popularity of plant proteins and rapidly growing demand for foods manufactured with a much smaller carbon footprint (or hoofprint, as the case might be) has given alternative proteins a big push, a constantly renewing cycle of Americans (especially younger folks) who eschew animal-derived foods.
Every generation draws attention to the values of a plant-only diet. The influx of new Americans with cultural and religious influences that might support alternative protein sources bolsters the numbers even more.
Recent economic developments make it ever more important to replace the pork shoulder or leg of lamb with a protein source that doesn’t cost the consumer an arm and a leg. Processors should well note the growth of nontraditional plant-derived protein sources as the perfect solutions for such foods.
The alternative/plant protein movement also benefits from some amazing food science and technology developments, creating that perfect storm needed to make a fringe category mainstream. New York Times reviewer Matt Haber asked, in a 2015 review of the current offerings, “How Long Before Silicon Valley Can Produce Fake Meat That Tastes Like Real Meat?” Whether his bar was set too high, or he simply had not come across some of the meat substitutes hitting shelves in recent years is anyone’s guess.
The truth is, a handful of the products (although only a handful) crowding the mock meat market probably could pass a blind taste test.
For example, the uncanniness with which Morningstar Farms and Gardein recreate such items as sausage patties and battered fried fish using textured and flavored plant proteins and starches is nothing short of stellar. Still, New York Times’ Haber was correct in pointing out the inability of many of the products out there to satisfy that carnivorous craving hardwired into humans. That’s where food science is accelerating efforts to recreate meat using plant-derived ingredients.
No Cattle Drive
The growth of vegetarian/veganism (and its more permissive flexitarian associate promoting a sometimes-vegetarian lifestyle) definitely has had an impact on the American diet. US consumers are eating less red meat per capita, with more than a third of Americans confessing a conscious decision to eat less beef. In fact, red meat consumption has been on the decline in the US for a decade. More than one in 10 Americans have said they make an effort to eat vegetarian at least once a week, according to WHO (Hello, Meatless Monday.)
In 2013, Mintel Group Ltd. food and drink analyst Beth Bloom reported: “Health perception plays a large role in use of meat alternatives. One third of consumers indicate using products in the category because they are healthy, higher than any other reason measured in the report (including the reduction of meat consumption).”
The drive to eat less meat and more plant-derived protein is reflected—somewhat—in the new USDA Guidelines, released at the beginning of the year. While the last-minute efforts by the meat industry quashed original language recommending Americans “eat less meat,” cautions to men and boys about eating too much animal protein did land in the new guidelines. And, while taking care to engage sustainability, too, ended up on the Guideline’s cutting room floor, the fact that it made it into the finals indicates a universal awareness and concern for environmental issues.
According to multiple polls, approximately one in 14 Americans are vegetarians for health/religious reasons; they are joined by increasing numbers of people who, faced with near constant recalls of meat and poultry products, reach for viable meatless options simply to reduce some perceived risk. These, and the population concerned with animal welfare and the environmental impact of meat production, have pushed the meat analog business toward the billion dollar sales mark.
Analysis by Lux Research Inc. predicts that in the next 35 or so years, the combined forces moving alternative proteins to the center of the plate will result in one of every three forkfuls of protein worldwide coming from non-animal sources. (See “Alternative Proteins to Claim a Third of the Market by 2054,” at bit.ly/1LseP9m.)
According to the Lux research findings, “Soy will dominate the alternative protein space over the next 10 years.”
In the past decade, soy consumption has risen at twice the rate of meat and three times that of seafood. Soy also will comprise “more than 80% of the alternative-protein market by 2024,” although protein from other plant sources, such as peas and rice, are predicted to “grow at a tremendous rate, poised for greater market adoption in the coming decades.”
The study also forecast rapid growth of up–and-coming novel sources of proteins derived out of everything from “novel plant sources naturally high in protein, insects, algae, and synthetic biology sources.” Lux predicts these and other novel plant protein sources (potatoes, mushrooms, nuts) “could make up over 50% of the alternative protein market by 2054,” and “rice and canola will be the fastest growing protein crops in terms of acreage planted.” (See “New Plant Protein Powerhouses,” bit.ly/1QQXCcb.)
“We start with the same plants that you would buy at your local farmers’ market or grocery store – vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes,” explains Lance Ignon, of Impossible Foods Inc. “Then, we extract proteins from each one, selecting those that give a specific meaty texture, flavor, or aroma to our finished product.” He says Impossible Foods’ current burger prototypes “involve proteins from six crop plants and fats from several others, as well as minerals and nutrients.” The finished burgers, made entirely from natural plant ingredients, contain no cholesterol, hormones, or antibiotics.
According to Impossible Foods, it’s the first time a meat analog developer created a formulation by extracting specific plant proteins and combining them with amino acids, vitamins, and fats. The result is a raw meat entirely from plant ingredients that matches “all the irresistible taste, texture, and aroma of conventional beef.”
Impossible Foods’ first product is a raw, ground beef mimic that sizzles like meat when cooked and contains the same flavors and aromas of hamburger. Impossible Foods received funding from multiple sources, including, according to the company, Khosla Ventures, Bill Gates, Google Ventures, Horizons Ventures, UBS, and Viking Global Investors.
Ignon notes that, for founder and CEO Patrick Brown, MD, PhD, “Developing an entirely new way of making meats and dairy products from plants was not a trivial task and required an unusually talented team of scientists and food professionals. Once prototype development was complete, the biggest challenge in making the formulations work when production shifted from viable bench items to large batch was simply ensuring adequate production capacity.”
From a technical standpoint, the greatest hurdle was “determining the medium in which to produce the heme, a critical component in the flavor profile of our burger,” says Ignon. “There were numerous challenges in getting the burger not only to taste like conventional meat, but to give it the aroma, sizzle and mouthfeel of conventional meat,” he adds. “In essence, it boiled down to selecting the right proteins from a surprisingly diverse selection of vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, and legumes. For example, one of our proteins comes from melon, which would not be an obvious source for an ingredient for a plant-based burger.”
With such unusual protein sources, ingredient sourcing can be tricky. Ignon also notes, “In cases in which we had difficulties with supply sources, we transitioned to different food stocks. The beauty of our approach is that we can make our products with ingredients from a variety of different kinds of plants.”
One unusual plant proved just the ticket for Upton’s Naturals Foods Co., too. The Chicago-based company has a line of products made with seitan (a type of cooked wheat gluten that has been used for 15 centuries in vegan Asian cuisines as a fill-in for soy-derived tofu or meat, especially duck). However, it obviously cannot serve the juggernaut trend that is the gluten-free movement. But Upton’s recently launched a line of products made with unripened jackfruit.
Jackfruit is a tropical Indian fruit the size and shape of a rugby ball. It is the largest tree fruit, with some varieties weighing as much as 100lb. Its starchy pulp is slightly sweet, aromatic, and fibrous. Upton’s uses it in chunks and shreds with only a few spices, onions, vinegar, and natural sweeteners, such as molasses or evaporated cane juice. The formulations use no soy, GMOs, or oil.
The company’s key challenge was sourcing the highly perishable, difficult-to-process fruit. Founder Dan Staackmann and company vice president Nicole Sopko partnered with a network of family farms in Thailand that could provide the company with consistent-quality, pre-cut, unripe jackfruit ready for use in their formulations.
Neat Foods LLC markets its soy-free meat substitute mixes based on a combination of garbanzo beans, pecans, certified gluten-free whole-grain oats, organic whole-grain cornmeal, sea salt, and spices. Another vegetarian burger deviating from the soy-based commoners is Sunshine Burger & Specialty Food Co. LLC’s Sunshine Burger. Billed as certified-organic, non-GMO, vegan, and free of gluten and soy, it’s made with cooked brown rice, ground raw sunflower seeds, carrots, spices, and sea salt, and it comes in eight flavors.
Using plant proteins to create dairy fakes has seen slow but steady improvement. While Tofutti Brands Inc. helped pioneer soy-based, non-dairy “ice cream” with its line of high-quality milk-free products, the liquid milk analog market grew at an accelerated rate. It began with offerings made from soy, rice, and almonds; in recent years, it has added milks derived from every seed and nut possible, including coconut.
Last year, in its “Dairy and Dairy Alternative Beverage Trends in the US” report, market research group Packaged Facts Inc. reported, “More and more refrigerators nationwide are being stocked with almond milk and other assorted dairy alternatives.” As a result, there has been clear a shift in the US beverage market with momentum clearly favoring milk alternatives.”
David Sprinkle, research director for group, wrote that, “Sales of plant-based dairy alternatives, especially almond milk, show no signs of slowing, and new alternative sources are expected to drive the alternative segment even faster and higher over the next several years.”
Based on its study, Packaged Facts estimated domestic retail sales for dairy and dairy-alternative beverages hit $24 billion in 2014, an increase of 4% over the previous year, with the dairy alternative sector “increasing its share of the overall market to now account for 20% of the industry, up from barely 14% in 2010.”
Again, Packaged Facts identified the almond milk category as biggest market trend in the dairy and dairy alternative beverages market. From 2013 to 2014, almond milk product dollar sales rose 40% with accompanying unit volume gains just slightly below that number. Packaged Facts found that coconut milk also experienced double-digit sales growth.
While the report identified plant-based dairy alternative beverages “will inevitably be driven by more than the growth of almond and coconut milk sales,” it also noted that “leading marketers [such as] WhiteWave Foods Co. had released alternatives from nuts and seeds, such as cashews and hemp.”
Green Eggs and...Nuts
Early attempts at ersatz cheese, most often from soy, only had color going for them, usually from annatto. Their texture and melt differed little from the plastic wrapping they came in. But the use of novel plant proteins, such as from rice and almonds, now allow for cheeses that approximate the “meltiness” of real dairy cheese.
A new entrant in the non-dairy case is Sioux Natural LLC’s “Veggan” plant-based egg substitute. Promoted as “matching the nutritional and functional properties of whole eggs in baking,” the product is directed at more than vegans and consumers with egg allergies. The company’s marketing material references sustainability and food-safety concerns, as well as avian flu and bacterial risks from such microbes as salmonella.
The plant-based, allergen-free egg alternative is made from starches and gums, and “offers a 1:1 volume and weight substitution…eliminating the need for additional allowances or reformulations.” In addition to the advantage of stable pricing in a climate that currently is seeing a temporary roller coaster of retail egg prices, the product promises cost savings compared to eggs. It also is presented as a viable alternative choice to eggs in making such baked goods as waffles, donuts, breads, cakes, muffins, and cookies.
With a healthy percentage of the growth in plant-based dairy milk alternatives powered by the need to serve a significant population of persons with sensitivities or allergies to dairy/dairy ingredients, it’s important to note that nut allergies are prevalent enough—and severe enough—to warrant being counterfeited, as well.
The most popular nut-free nuts are made in a dedicated plant, using a combination of ingredients and texturizing techniques to recreate nut substitutes for a number of nut types, with pecans and walnuts the most popular.
Nutritionally and organoleptically correct, the “nuts” are made from non-GMO wheat germ and wheat gluten, and expeller-pressed soy oil. They also contain sodium caseinate and caramel color; they have the appearance, flavor, texture, and even aroma to closely match tree nuts.
Reasons for developing alternatives to key foods and ingredients might vary, but the demand for such friendly phonies is proving to be strong and expanding. There always will be room at the plate for real meat, dairy, nuts, eggs, etc., but today’s flexible-eating consumers are just as likely to be attracted to replacement as to the real McCoy, enjoying the best of both worlds.
Rather than presenting finished product and prepared meal makers with an “either/or” choice, these artful analogs open doors and allow manufactures to offer side-by-side options for all purchasers.
Even Better Burger
Lance Ignon, of Impossible Foods Inc., points out another, rarely recognized advantage of a plant-derived burger substitutes: No slaughterhouse necessary. While the humane aspect of fake meat has long been a core objective, often forgotten are the ancillary negatives that can occur in beef production. These include microbial and nonbiological contaminants (from feedlot to shelf), and the risks to the workers within the slaughterhouse industry.
Very Alternate Protein
It’s not vegetarian, but is it meat? Prepared Foods and other media sources have been covering the trend to encourage US consumers to consider the advantages of protein from insects (see “Two-Minute NutraNews Break: Edible Insects,” “Keeping Kosher,” “Trends from the 2016 Winter Fancy Food Show,” and others at www.preparedfoods.com). There currently are about eight boutique processors using cricket flour in bar formulations, and three in cracker and chip formulations. But it is likely still years away from insect protein making even a flea-sized dent in the American diet. A quick yes/no poll on Prepared Foods’ website asked, “Will cricket flour be more widely integrated into mainstream product formulations within the next two years?” More than two thirds of respondents—69%—said “No.”
While plant proteins make the best of the meat fake-outs, a side trend in the substitute game is that of using one animal product to sit in for another. The “bacon in everything” trend left many consumers who do not eat pork by the sidelines. Kellogg Co.’s Morningstar Farms Inc. makes a soy protein bacon analog. For decades, turkey bacon has been readily available, while General Mills’/Betty Crocker Inc.’s Bac-Os fake bacon bits have been around twice as long. When it comes to the satisfying texture and flavor of bacon, neither these (nor recent arrivals duck bacon and lamb bacon) act as true mimics. While outstanding products in their own right, they are still only substitutes.
Kayem Foods Inc., however, has hit many of the right buttons with its new Al Fresco brand of uncured chicken bacon. The fully cooked, all-natural product has the smoky-sweet, meaty flavor and a crispness that, although more like the meaty part than the fatty part of true bacon, caters well to its inspiration. Impressively, Al Fresco’s success was created with only four ingredients, plus water: skinless chicken, raw sugar, sea salt, and celery powder (a natural preservative—see “Food Science Meets Food Safety,” http://bit.ly/1RgP3l0). The product is completely free of added nitrates and nitrites, another reason many people choose not to eat traditional bacon.
Although Kayem Inc. is a leading maker of kosher food products, the chicken bacon is not yet certified kosher or halal. Still, for those consumers who, for religious reasons, do not eat pork but are not so strict as to require kosher or halal certification, the product is a satisfying replacement. After testing disclosed trace amounts of other meats in some processed turkey products last year—prompting a recall—Kayem Inc.’s product is a good alternative.
On the certified kosher front, bacon substitute Schmacon calls itself “Beef’s answer to bacon.” The all-natural, smoked, and uncured glazed beef slices are nitrate free and use a proprietary process to recreate the “crispy finish that rivals that of traditional pork bacon.” True, they’re fake-outs of a decidedly non-plant-based variety, but sometimes, just a little faking out is all you need.
Some meat analogs serve a different demographic, replacing one animal product undesirable to certain groups with another animal product designed to mimic it.
SOURCE: Kayem Foods Inc./Al Fresco Products (www.alfrescoallnatural.com)
Originally appeared in the July, 2016 issue of Prepared Foods as Plant Proteins and Other Fake-Outs.