Meat is constantly in the middle of thorny controversies these days.
- Cows belches contributing to global warming: check.
- “Probably carcinogenic to humans” per the WHO: check.
- An intensive production system that treats animals inhumanly: check.
To many, the case is big enough to make it the perfect enemy. But even for those who want to tread carefully on the debate, it’s hard to deny one very simple thing: the world consumes too much meat.
The way to convince people to eat less of it is to offer valid alternatives. In some cases, pointing at other protein sources (such as legumes and dairy) will do. For many people however, meat (and red meat in particular) is more than a source of protein, it’s an intense food experience.
In Nature’s catalogue there’s no valid plant-based substitute for that, which means someone will have to create it. Two start-ups, Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, are doing exactly that, without taking any shortcuts in the process.
Their mission is to make a vegetarian burger, that has “the sights, sounds, aromas, textures and flavors” of real meat, as the Impossible Foods website says. That’s no small feat, and understandably there is a lot of research involved. The challenge here is less about technology per se, than combining ingredients and flavors in a new way. Judging from the picture above of an Impossible Burger, it sure has got the looks of a real one.
Taste-wise, the reviews of those who tried them range from “I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference in a blind test”, to “very close but not quite the same.” In any case, the results so far are way better than your standard veggie patty.
And it couldn’t be otherwise, considering the amount of money that is being invested in these two ventures: Beyond Meat raised $17M so far, while Impossible Foods received ten times as much ($182M), with notable investors such as Bill Gates (for both start-ups), and meat giant Tyson Foods (for Beyond Meat).
Another way to recreate the experience of meat is by making it in vitro. This way, the animal is out of the equation, and so are emissions, depletion of resources and slaughtering.
Although there is less hype around it, the idea of cultured meat is not brand new. The first prototype of a cultured beef burger was developed in 2013 by a team based in Maastricht University. More recently, two start-ups took up the challenge.
One is California’s Memphis Meats. Instead of shooting for burgers, earlier this year they revealed their first cultured meatball. You can see it in action in the video below.
The other one is SuperMeat from Israel which recently closed a crowdfunding campaign raising over $200K, 200% of its initial target (the presentation video sure helped).
Plant-based and cultured meat are two different approaches, with the same goals: satisfying the demand for sustainable meat, conquering the palate and the heart of carnivores, and convincing vegetarians and vegans to come along for a dinner out at the hamburger place.