Steaks for Veggies

(December 1st, 2015) Wageningen University researchers have developed a meat replacement product that feels like the real thing. At a recent media event, they presented their 7 kg giant beefsteak made out of soy bean protein.

Creating sustainable food for the future by replacing meat proteins with those from plants is a major goal of food research. One way to include plant proteins in human diet is through the manufacture of soy bean steaks, as this allows soy to be consumed directly instead of being fed to pigs to produce meat. There’s one drawback, though. Soy bean steaks don’t feel anything like real meat on the palate, and hence, it’s hard to convince the meat-spoilt public.

Atze Jan van der Goot, professor of Food Process Engineering at Wageningen University, however, wants to change that and recently, he made a big impression on more than 500 visitors, waiting to see a new device, standing in the factory hall of the Vegetarian Butcher in Breda, producing meat-like soy steaks from pure plant proteins on demand. “What we are doing is making a fibre structure from plant material. (…) We take soy concentrate and we discovered that if we supply well-defined information of the material, it can form a fibre structure, similar to meat. The fact that you can use soy concentrate to make a meat analog, that was already known. The discovery of our project is we can make large pieces at once,” he told Discovery News.

The steak-making apparatus looks like a small washing machine with an inner and outer cylinder. Through a mild heating process and rotation, a ‘meat structure’ is developed (through shear forces) with the fineness and fibre structure of a steak by mixing soy meal and water. At the kick-off event in Breda, van der Goot said that it’s possible to add different mixtures of plant-based ingredients with the same result – a tasty meat replacement product. To prove his point, van der Goot presented a giant (60x30x3cm) soy bean steak, weighing 7 kg, coloured reddish-brown to imitate real meat.

During the event, van der Goot responded to laypersons’ inquiries as well as to technical questions from experts, including how long the products can be stored in a refrigerator and how much protein plant steaks contain compared to a standard beef steak. He explained, in detail, how the mixture of soy proteins needs to be dissolved in water to achieve the right emulsion and how the temperature can be increased to 120°C, to produce fibrous structures for a green soy steak. One important challenge is to assure that the structuring processes remain consistent when other desired ingredients are added to the mixture, as there are ratio-effects of polysaccharides and soy proteins that need to be standardised, in order to achieve a perfectly stabilised microstructure.

At the same event, Jacqueline Berghout, one of van der Goot’s students, presented her research on a new alternative to soy beans: lupine seeds. Lupine seeds are similarly rich in protein and contain unsaturated fatty acids, making them brilliant candidates to become meat replacers. With her new water fractioning method, she obtained protein concentrates in their native form with similar functional properties to soy. Lupine proteins’ higher thermal stability gives them, however, many advantages and suggests lupine may become the new soy bean.

Wageningen University collaborates with a company called “The Vegetarian Butcher” (“De vegetarische Slager”) to bring these products to the consumer. Jaap Korteweg, founder of the Vegetarian Butcher, has been producing culinary plant-based meat since 2005, and since then has increased his turnover by more than six million euros. Through crowdfunding he has put more than 42 different vegetarian products on the market, including traditional sausages, hamburgers and chicken shawarma. With the so-called ‘new engine’, developed by van der Groot, the company will now also produce large plant-based beefsteaks.

The researchers and event organisers were amazed by the high attendance and keenness of the audience at their event but this, of course, only emphasises the immense importance of the topic. The development and wider adoption of meat replacement products like these will help to promote more sustainable land use worldwide, contributing to improvements of biodiversity trends and making it easier to feed the planet.

Jutta Wirth

Photos (2): Jutta Wirth

Last Changes: 01.11.2016