ReNewFood: New project aims to enhance flavour of meat alternatives
Animal-based agriculture contributes a staggering 60% of the total greenhouse gas emissions from food production. Moreover, statistics from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation show that animal agriculture uses 40% of the world’s habitable land and a third of the total fresh water used by humans.
The increased awareness amongst consumers has led to the rise of the flexitarian. These traditional meat eaters are making the conscious transition to reduce their consumption of animal-based products, with near-vegetarian diets. Around 14% of the UK population identify themselves as flexitarians.
Catering to this growing demographic is the alternative protein market. These are plant-, fungal- or insect-based alternatives to traditionally animal-based products such as meat and dairy. This is a rapidly growing market, with more than eleven billion dollars in capital investments made over the past decade, over 8 billions of which having been invested in past two years alone.
There is still a disparity between consumer awareness and uptake of alternative protein. In the US, 2/3 of the population are looking to reduce their consumption of meat, but only 12% of the population are flexitarian. What is the barrier that is stopping these conscious consumers from making the change to alternative proteins?
In a word, taste. Taste is often cited as the most important driver of food purchases. Alternative foods are no different. This is a problem for the alternative protein industry. A 2020 report from the Good Food Institute states that “the majority of consumers do not perceive the current sensory properties of plant-based meat to match those of conventional meat”. There is an expectation from the consumer that alternative foods should match or beat the taste of the food they are replacing. This expectation isn’t being met.
ReNewFood is a project led by Matthew Hutchinson to commercialise the research outputs of Dr. Kang Lan Tee and Prof. Tuck Seng Wong. Based in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of Sheffield, this team of protein scientists are turning their experience in academic research to making novel protein-based flavour ingredients to enhance the sensory profile of alternative foods.
Proteins are key ingredients in all foodstuffs. They have a rather unsung role in imparting and modulating flavour. Some of the familiar savoury and umami flavours that consumers enjoy in meat and dairy are protein-derived, and these flavours are lacking in their alternatives. ReNewFood are looking to make protein-based ingredients to bring these missing flavours as well as proteins that can mask unwanted off-tastes, allowing alternative foods to match or beat their traditional counterparts in eating experience.
ReNewFood is also interested in the cross-section between flavour and health. Protein-based flavourings can address specific nutritional deficiencies in certain foods. Novel protein-based alternatives to sugar and salt can help food industries in their continual drive to reduce the levels of these unhealthy ingredients.
ReNewFood utilises a technology called precision fermentation, essentially using microbes such as yeast as miniature protein factories to produce different flavouring ingredients ReNewFood will offer. This process is not only cost-effective and low resource intensive, it is scalable, meaning ReNewFood can provide great taste to alternative foods without sacrificing price.
If you’d like to get in touch with the ReNewFood team, please visit their website: www.renewfood.org
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