Scientists create steak from vegetables

30 Oct 2015

A meat replacer based on legumes that is not inferior to steak in taste or texture is possible, according to a team of researchers from Wageningen University.

Scientists create steak from vegetables

A meat replacer based on legumes that is not inferior to steak – that’s the promising future and interim result of extensive research into sustainable meat replacers, based purely on vegetable ingredients, conducted by a team led by Professor Atze Jan van der Goot of Wageningen University.

Food technologist Van der Goot and his group developed a new technology that fabricates ingredients from legumes, such as soy beans, in such a way that a ‘meat structure’ develops with the fineness and fibre structure of steak, they say, providing the basis for the development of a vegetarian steak. The product makes animal ingredients, such as egg or whey, unnecessary and does not have any limitations size-wise, the team said.

Researchers from Wageningen, together with colleagues from TU Delft, were building a working prototype for the production of vegetable pieces of meat. With the device, it is possible to mimic meat-like structures from soy proteins, in a piece of a few kilograms (60x30x3 cm); which is too large to fit on two plates. The structure is finer and the method is said to be much more energy efficient compared to existing production methods for meat replacers.

With so-called Shear Cell Technology, it is possible to deform vegetable proteins, resulting in a desirable fibre structure. Initially, this method was used to make fibres out of dairy proteins. But, to be genuinely sustainable, the focus should be on vegetable proteins, according to Van der Groot.

“One needs to take into account the whole production process and analyse all ingredients based on their sustainability,” he said. “Then, it turns out that way less energy gets lost when producing with vegetable proteins.”

The processing and structuring of vegetable proteins is more complex compared to dairy proteins, the researchers said. Nevertheless, the research team led by Van der Goot was able to make meat replacers from vegetable proteins which are as large as stir-fry cubes.

“Now, we understand via which mechanisms vegetable proteins form structures,” said Van der Goot. “Due to this scientific insight we can develop a pure, vegetable-based, wholesome meat replacers, which the structure from meat.”

Van der Goot is unable to say how much time it will take before the new, sustainable meat replacer reaches the market, noting that the prototype needs to be developed further up to a full production facility.

The research was achieved by the ISPT (Institute for Sustainable Process Technology) facilitated public-private collaboration between Wageningen UR, TU Delft, the Vegetarian Vegetarische Butcher and The Peas Foundation.