Future of food
Meat is the centrepiece of so many meals; it is tasty, familiar and easy to prepare for busy families. For the growing number of people who are reducing their meat intake and seeking a new centre-of-plate protein, alternative proteins can provide the familiar, nutritious, convenient and culturally relevant foods they’re after.
Around the world, entrepreneurs, chefs and scientists are creating delicious burgers, meatballs and fillets using plants or cell-cultivating technologies, allowing us to enjoy our favourite foods without compromising our health or that of the planet. These options offer a new, expansive vision for meat, how it is produced and the footprint it has on our world.
A growing number of food start-ups and established industry players alike are harnessing plants and food technology to create plant-based meat that tastes, smells and cooks like conventional meat, with fewer adverse impacts. Beyond legacy products like Tofurky, which came about in the 1980s for people who follow a meat-free lifestyle, a new generation of hyper-realistic products has emerged in recent years, designed to satisfy even the most avid meat-lovers.
Fundamentally, meat is a combination of proteins, fats, trace minerals and water – nutrients that are also found in plants. Chefs and food scientists derive these same components from plants such as legumes, oilseeds and vegetables, and combine them to create the taste, texture and overall experience of meat that we’ve come to know and love. The result is plant-based meats that satisfy growing demand amongst meat-reducers for nutritious and sustainable protein in familiar, convenient formats.
Traditional meat alternatives
Meat alternatives have been around for millennia, with tofu being promoted as “mock lamb chops” in China as early as 965CE and products like Sanitarium’s Nutmeat launching in the 20th century. Traditional meat alternatives are typically composed of mostly whole ingredients, like whole grains, vegetables and legumes. These products are typically marketed to the vegetarian market and are not designed to replicate meat. This category includes foods long considered to be meat alternatives and made primarily of one ingredient, including tofu, tempeh and falafel, as well as products that combine whole ingredients, such as a lentil burger.
Various fruits and vegetables have naturally occurring characteristics that offer a meat-like appearance, texture or utility, making them simple alternatives to conventional meat. These wholefood mimics are becoming increasingly popular in culinary settings for their meaty characteristics. Jackfruit has become more widely used for its textural similarities to pulled pork, and banana flowers are gaining the attention of chefs and consumers for having a flaky texture not unlike fish fillets. Certain kinds of mushrooms also become firm and fleshy when cooked or dried.
For people who are seeking to reduce their meat consumption and increase their vegetable intake – and still wishing to eat conventional meat – blended meats offer a solution. Blended meats are hybrid products that begin with conventional meat as a base and then supplement in around 20-30% plant-based ingredients such as mushrooms, grains, or other vegetables. These products offer the familiarity and flavour of meat, boosted by the texture, fibre and nutrients of plants.
Pioneering scientific advancements are giving us a new vision for producing meat without farming animals, and it has researchers, environmentalists, businesses and conscious consumers excited about the future of protein.
Cultivated meat, also known as ‘cell-based meat’ or ‘cultured meat’, is cellular agriculture: growing animal cells instead of entire animals. Cells from a sesame-seed-size sample of flesh from an animal are placed in a cultivator and provided warmth and the basic elements needed to multiply and create muscle: water, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals.
The end product is the meat we’ve come to love, but free of pathogens and faecal contaminants, and with a smaller environmental footprint. Genetic modification isn’t required. At scale, cultivating meat looks less like a laboratory and more like a beer brewery, with meat grown in large steel cultivator tanks.
Cultivated meat represents an emerging sector that will expand the protein options available to consumers and help sustainably feed the growing global population.