Plant-based meat products are made to mimic properties found within natural meats and are considered to be meat substitutes. Compared to meat products, plant-based meats— for the most part — offer consumers a more sustainable and environmentally friendly line up of meat alternatives. They are made using plant and other non-animal products to look, taste, and feel like meat products. Examples include: seitan, falafel, tempeh, Tofurky, Beyond Meat burgers, and Mock duck. Plant-based meats are made to resemble meat products in texture, flavour, and appearance. The primary ingredients in plant-based meat substitutes are typically soybeans (and other legumes), wheat gluten, lentils, and tofu, yuba, tempeh, and a variety of nuts.
Plant-based meats present a variety of advantages and trade-offs to traditional meat products. For example, most plant based meats end up being grey in colour which is unattractive to some consumers and has been labeled the "cosmetic colour problem". Another problem with plant-based meats is that on top of requiring colour additives, they are often highly processed foods with a lot of additives in them compared to traditional meat products.
There are companies working to solve the cosmetic colour, processing, and additives problems of the plant-based meat industry. For example, Naturex is a company working on solving these problems by manufacturing specialty natural food colouring additives, and Impossible Foods is using cellular agriculture to make heme, a product that is found in blood, and include it in their plant-based burger products. Both Naturex and Impossible Foods are working to improve the attractiveness of plant-based meats to the average consumer.
Plant-based meat products in this category are specifically made to replicate features of meat such as texture, flavour, and aroma. Creating plant-based meat alternatives that mimic every characteristic of a chosen meat product is difficult due to the molecular complexity of meat . There are many molecules interacting with each-other that form the structures and chemicals found within meat products. Plant-based meats made to mimic meat deal with the problem of complexity by attempting to push the boundaries of what is considered to be "meat" based on molecular structure and composition instead of where it came from; be it plants or animals. Products that fall within this category include: the Beyond Burger, the Impossible Burger, Ahimi, and others.
Due to the difficulty of replicating the unique characteristics of meat, many companies have made products meant to be plant-based meat alternatives that are not made to mimic meat products. Plant based meat alternatives that fall into this category include: veggie burgers, veggie sausages, veggie hot dogs, tofu, tempeh, and others.
There are many meat products that are consumed for their textures, or used as binding agents, that are added to products such as prepared foods. Plant-based meats in this category place most importance on texture instead of flavour. They are frequently used to achieve price parity with meat products, increase shelf life; and retain their shape and flavour after freezing, thawing, and cooking. Typically both meat and plant-based meat products in this category are not the main feature of the dish being served. Products in this category include a wide range of fresh and frozen prepared meals .
Products within this category are found in nature and are commonly used as meat substitutes. Examples include: a variety of mushrooms (ex. portobello, oyster, white button, etc...), pulses, jackfruit, and others. These naturally occurring plant-based meat substitutes mimic properties of meat by being similar in texture and/or protein content. The texture similar to meat products produced by some plants and mushrooms is through structure of fibrous material found within them, creating a "fleshy" appearance and feel. For example, the jackfruit is often used as a replacement for pulled pork.
There are ~350,000 accepted plant species on earth, and only 150 out of approximately 30,000 edible plant species are cultivated for food production around the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) 90% of calories around the world come from only 30 plant species. Plant-based meat products benefit from having the ability to draw upon hundreds of thousands of plant species for new and improved ingredients. There is a lot of opportunity to discover plant proteins with desirable properties for plant based meat products such as: desirable amino acid profiles, denaturing temperatures, textures, tastes, and shelf lives. Innovation opportunities within the plant-based meat industry include:
- Discovery of plant proteins with desirable properties
- Development of techniques for efficiently isolating desired plant proteins
- Formulation of plant derived proteins with other ingredients
- Manufacture and processing of specific plant proteins
- Distribution of plant-based meat products
Mintel's report on meat alternative use reported that the sale of meat alternatives was $553 million in 2012 (8% growth from 2010); and that only 7% of surveyed consumers identified themselves as vegetarian, but 36% said they ate alternative meat products. Based on information gathered by Mintel in their report, future growth of the meat alternative market will be heavily influenced by companies delivering on general consumer foods interests — such as food texture, taste, and appearance.
In November, 2010 the Cornicopia Institute releases their report Toxic Chemicals: Banned In Organics But Common In 'Natural' Food Production titled "Soy Protein and Chemical Solvents in Nutrition Bars and Meat Alternatives". In the report the Cornicopia Institute details how non-organic soybean processors are contaminating soybean based products through the improper handling and removal of the solvent hexane during soybean oil extraction.
Burger King becomes the first major fact food company to begin offering the veggie burger. Their veggie burger was made to be free of soy in order to avoid allergy concerns and was made available at over 8,000 of their locations.
Fusarium venenatum is a fungus containing high levels myco-proteins that was discovered by British scientists in the early 1960's. Shortly after the discovery of F.venenatum, scientists began to research the biological properties — and safety — of Fas an alternative protein source for human consumption. In 1984, after over 12 years of research, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the United Kingdom approved the commercial sale of myco-proteins found in F.venenatum. After approval by the British government fungal myco-proteins began to be approved by governments and included in plant-based meat products around the world.
In the 1950's, Worthington foods became the first company to release a line of frozen plant-based meat alternatives. Before Worthington's line of frozen meat alternatives, the only meat alternatives available with long shelf lives were canned products.
The first soy-bean based meat alternative product is made by Madison Foods in Nashville, Tennessee. This product influenced the majority of plant-based meat alternatives to use soy as a major ingredient in subsequent meat alternative products.
Journalist Helen Keith was the first to use the term "meat free" in an article she wrote in Scientific American writing "The general conclusion to be drawn from the scientific evidence is, therefore, that the meat-free diet is not as safe as the diet containing meat."
Dr. John Harvey Kellog invented the category of commercial meat alternatives and pioneered two of the first American plant-based meat products; Nuttose (1896) and Protose (1899).
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- Clean meatClean meat is a term coined by The Good Food Institute representing meat products made using cellular agriculture and tissue engineering techniques. Other terms for clean meat include: cultured meat, in-vitro meat, and synthetic meat.
- Cluster: Cell-based and plant-based meatA cluster of topics related to cultured meat, plant-based meat, and cellular agriculture.
- Impossible FoodsImpossible Foods is a plant-based meat company making meat and dairy products that are made to look and feel like animal products by manufacturing heme, the oxygen binding molecule found in blood, using engineered yeast grown in bioreactors.
- Beyond MeatBeyond Meat makes plant-based meat alternatives such as burgers, sausages, chicken strips, and ground beef. Beyond Meat was founded in 2009 by Ethan Brown and is based in Los Angeles, California.
- New Wave FoodsNew Wave Foods is a biotechnology company developing plant based alternative seafood products. The company is based out of San Francisco, California and was founded in 2015 by Dominique Barnes and Michelle Wolf.
- Just, Inc.Just, Inc. (formerly known as Hampton Creek) is a food technology company developing and selling plant based food products around the world.
- Prime RootsPrime Roots (formerly Terramino Foods) is a food company located in San Leandro, California, founded by Kimberlie Le and Joshua Nixon in 2017 producing a salmon meat substitute made from fungi.
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