There are two main players in the plant-based meat frenzy. Although meat alternatives have been around for years, nothing has come this close to mimicking the look, flavor, and texture of meat like Beyond Burger and Impossible burger has. With its magical ability to appear like meat it makes me wonder, what is plant-based meat made of?
Plant-Based meat is made of plant proteins, fats, binders, and flavorings that are processed with heat, cooling, and pressure. These carefully selected ingredients and processes are used to create plant-based meat that is similar in texture, appearance, and flavor to traditional meat.
How Is Plant-Based Meat Made?
Plant-based meat is created by separating and isolating specific ingredients from legumes and grains. The ingredients selected are chosen based on their levels of starch, protein, and fiber. The selected isolated ingredients are then combined to make the plant-based product.
The main ingredient in Beyond Burger is a pea protien isolate.
A fermentation process is used by Impossible burger to make a plant-based molecule called heme. The heme molecule mimics the juicy bite familiar in beef.
As you can see the new plant-based meat is a highly processed product that seems like a high-tech science experiment.
On a side note, the soy and wheat meat replacement products that we have been consuming for years are actually made from byproducts from the livestock and biofuel industries.
How Do They Make Plant-Based Meats Look And Taste Like Meat?
In order for a plant-based meat replacement to mimic traditional animal-based meat, it needs to come as close as possible to meat in three specific categories. The appearance, flavor, and texture are the deciding factors if a plant-based meat product makes the cut. Let’s look at these three categories and see how close our plant-based meats are.
Plant-Based Meat Appearance
Beef has a distinct red color with bits of fat mixed in. Both companies have tried to mimic this appearance.
Beyond meat uses beet extract to mimic the red moist color of real beef.
Impossible Foods uses leghemoglobin, an oxygen transport molecule found in the roots of legumes, such as soy. According to Impossible Foods, leghemoglobin gives the plant-based meat its meaty flavor. Impossible Foods uses genetically modified yeast to help create leghemoglobin.
Both companies add coconut oil in small chunks to mimic the appearance of fat.
Plant-Based Meat Flavor
The flavorings used in plant-based meat products to get that familiar meaty flavor can be tricky to pinpoint. The FDA allows the umbrella terms “natural flavorings” or “artificial flavorings” to be used on products. Using these labels allows companies to keep proprietary information to themselves and not disclose the exact ingredients used in their products.
I’m not a fan of the labeling terms “natural flavorings” and “artificial flavorings”. Natural flavorings are misleading. It gives a consumer the impression that the ingredient is natural and therefore a healthy ingredient. It’s far from the truth. The ingredient can be originally from a natural source but, then can be heavily processed.
Plant-Based Meat Texture
It’s very difficult to achieve the texture of meat using plant proteins. Meat has a natural springy, chewy texture due to the natural use of muscles. The muscle needs to be able to move and flex. Plants have a natural firm and crunchy texture that ends up being crumbly or mushy.
For years researchers have been trying to find a type of plant protein with a similar springy texture, like meat. Over time researchers have discovered that wheat and pea proteins are able to mimic the texture of meat the best.
What about the fatty mouth feeling needed in order to replicate biting into a meaty burger. Animal fat melts at various temperatures and melts slowly over time.
Palm and coconut oils behave in the most similar way to beef fat. Although, coconut oil melts faster and at a much lower temperature than beef fat. Both of these fats are currently being used in our plant-based burgers.
Is Plant-Based Meat Bad For You?
On one side of the conversation, you can applaud and get excited about the fact that plant-based meat doesn’t have cholesterol while it still has high amounts of plant fiber. Plant-based meat companies are also able to infuse their products with vitamins and minerals. Also, plant-based meats are not treated with any growth hormones or antibiotics like animals can be.
On the other side of the conversation is the fact that plant-based meat is an extremely processed food. Many of the ingredients used in the Impossible Foods burgers are also genetically modified and highly sprayed with pesticides. Beyond Burger doesn’t use GMO ingredients.
Plant-based meat isn’t healthy food. It’s a food item to be consumed in moderation if you choose to do so.
Is Plant-Based Meat Good For The Environment?
According to a study commissioned by Beyond Burger done by the Center of Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan a plant-based burger generates 90% less greenhouse gas emissions, has 90% less impact on water scarcity, requires 45% less energy consumption, and has a 93% less impact on land use than a 1/4 pound meat burger requires.
Is Plant-Based Meat A Good Choice?
Plant-based meats are a more ethical choice compared to animal products. If the treatment of animals is important to you, choosing plant-based meat products may be a better choice for you.
Plant-based meats make a great transition food from an omnivore diet to a more plant-based vegetarian diet. These meat replacement products offer a great way to start weaning off of meat products.
It’s a personal choice based on your ethical and nutritional goals. There isn’t a right or wrong answer. You need to weigh out the pros and cons.
Where Can I Get Plant-Based Meat?
Plant-based meats can now be found in many grocery stores.
- Fred Meyer
Plant-Based meats are now being offered at many restaurants.
- Burger King
- TGI Fridays
- Burger Fi
- Carl’s Jr.
- Del Taco
- Dunkin Donuts
- White Castle
- Red Robin
- The Cheesecake Factory
Plant-based meat products have come a long way in recent years. It’s amazing that plant-based meat can come so close to replicating traditional meat. The science, innovation, and dedication that has been used to create these foods are impressive.
A plant-based meat product has been created that has no cholesterol and is full of plant-based fiber this is an opportunity to have a variety of nutritional choices in the meat replacement category.
Not all plant-based meats are made using the same ingredients and processes. Some plant-based products use genetically modified ingredients and ingredients that are heavily sprayed with pesticides.
What are your thought’s on plant-based meats?