Eating meat is a choice in this sub-continent, not consumed daily, either due to medical or traditional reasons. A common concern about vegetarians and now the new fad vegan diets is that they may lack sufficient protein. Many experts opine that a well-planned meatless diet can still provide all the nutrients you need, including protein. That said, certain plant foods contain significantly more protein than others, and studies suggest that higher protein diets can promote muscle strength, feelings of fullness, and weight loss. Plant-based food sales grew almost 2.5x faster than total food sales from 2018 to 2020. Grocery sales of plant-based foods that directly replace animal products have grown 27 percent in the past year to $7 billion.
Growth of this type certainly gets the attention of food companies and academia, particularly of Dr. Sajid Alavi. He is a Professor in the Department of Grain Science and Industry, Kansas State University, College of Agriculture, USA. His team designs technology and R&D solutions for food, feed and pet food processors; according to Dr. Alavi consumers are on the lookout for protein sources that address their dietary needs and preferences.
In his lab, Alavi and his group of research students are studying new protein sources for use in plant-based meat products, also known as imitation meat or meat analogues. These new ingredients include yellow peas, chickpeas, fava beans and other legumes, and are intended to replace soy and wheat that are traditional protein sources in plant-based meat associated with concerns related to allergies and genetic modification (GMO).
Their work relies on creating products in Kansas State University’s extrusion lab, where specialized machines known as extruders are used to cook plant proteins, and texturize and shape them using custom dies to make plant-based meat products. The texture and feel of these products are studied vis-à-vis real meat products.
Dr. Alavi’s research team is studying the functionality of the ingredients for making these meat-like foods from plants. For example, part of their work focuses on the impact of fiber content in pea-protein-based formulations on the processing and texture of meat analogues.
Well, it’s easier said than done to mimic actual meat products in terms of chewiness and other textural attributes.
At the 2021 annual meeting of the Institute of Food Technologists, Dr Alavi’s team presented evidence to conclude that “balancing the protein, starch and fiber components in a formulation designed for plant-based meat can help target desired final product outcomes.” Alavi noted that this work involved the use of “several novel techniques developed in our lab to characterize proteins in plant-based meat applications.” The research team continues to study the functionality of plant proteins in terms of gelation (the ability of proteins to create a network on heating), flow, water absorption and other aspects. These are novel techniques, relatively unexplored in food science and garnering widespread attention from industry stakeholders.
“Food companies are extremely interested in the research and development work ongoing in our lab and we are in discussion with them for partnerships that will help to grow their business in plant-based meat applications,” he said.
“The team is gung ho about working in such a relevant subject area right at the cutting-edge of these food and technology advancements.” And food companies are wasting no time trying to simulate meat with plant products. Well, go ahead, it’s a balanced meat, oops no, it’s a balanced meal…..