As Farhad Manjoo recently reported for Slate, a new vegan meat substitute is slowly making its way to market.
The first time a vegetarian tastes Beyond Meat’s ersatz animal flesh, he’ll feel delighted and queasy at the same time. There’s something about the way these fake chicken strips break on your teeth, the way they initially resist and then yield to your chew, the faint fatty residue they leave on your palate and your tongue—something about the whole experience that feels a little too real….
The biggest problem with Beyond Meat is that most people can’t get it yet. After years of developing its meat, the firm is just starting to ramp up production, and at the moment its chicken strips are available only at Whole Foods stores in Northern California—and they’re only in salads, sandwiches, and other prepared food….
The process [of creating a more meat-like product] has moved along in fits and starts. “It’s a combination lock,” [company founder Ethan] Brown says. “There are three different parameters we’re working with—heat, cooling, and pressure.” To make the meat, the firm starts with a powdered protein—for the chicken strips, they’re using soy; for the beef, they’ll use a protein from a kind of pea—that they form into a liquid paste. The paste is heated, then it’s extruded through a machine that resembles a pasta press, and then cooled. “It was a process of trial and error to get all of those to align exactly right in the right sequence,” Brown says. “But if you do—if you get the heating and cooling sequence right, and you apply exactly the right pressure through the extrusion—you get the proteins to align in a way that makes them almost indistinguishable from animal proteins.”
It’s an interesting story, and well worth checking out the full piece. I support efforts to encourage folks to eat lower on the food chain, though I’m not sure an extruded concoction of conventionally grown (i.e., non-organic) soy and pea protein isolates and other ingredients like dipotassium phosphate and titanium dioxide is what my body really needs.
As I said in a previous post about fake meats, “while the food scientists may be after ways to create more appealing meat substitutes, I’m going to see if in our house we can we stick to things like organic legumes, whole grains, and tofu when we are looking for a substitute for local, pasture-raised meat.”