Fats: The Next Frontier for Alternative Proteins
By: Big Idea Ventures Team
In terms of taste and texture, there still remains a gap between alternative and traditional meats – a factor that is important to address in order to increase consumer acceptability. A key ingredient that influences taste, texture and the aroma of food is fat. Fats are able to dissolve aromatic compounds and hence are like a reservoir of flavour. Moreover, fats help the foods coat the inside of our mouths and help impart a distinct mouthfeel. Currently, players within the alternative protein sector use vegetable oil as a major ingredient, but due to the low melting point of many vegetable oils, a lot of these are lost during the cooking process and results in dry texture of the meat.
Because of these reasons, it is very clear that working on fat solutions that produce delicious, savoury products is essential for the alternative protein industry.
“Consumers can now enjoy a wide range of delicious meat alternatives on the market but they clearly want them to be even better – Tastier, tenderer, juicier. And this is exactly what fat brings to meat,” says Oskar Latyshev, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of Cultimate Foods, a Germany-based company that creates alternative fat ingredients for plant-based meat products. Their technological approach of growing fat cells on plant-based scaffolds allows them to create the structure of their ingredients while reducing costs.
Creating hybrid products which combine cultured fats with plant based proteins offer exciting opportunities for the industry. Apart from that, developing unique technologies to produce fat alternatives could reduce the reliance on plant-based fats and oils such as palm oil or coconut oil whose usage is unsustainable.
Swedish startup Green-On, has developed a process that creates saturated fat from three simple ingredients—carbon dioxide, water, and electricity. Their fat replaces fat coming from animal and tropical sources such as palm and coconut oil and can therefore help prevent deforestation.
Another company, ImpacFat, has successfully extracted stem cell lines from more than six species of fishes to produce healthy fish fat cells. This technology helps lower the impact on environmental pollution, is cruelty-free and helps produce products that are rich in nutrition such as antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids.
“Innovation in fat alternatives will open a new world of food products for consumers,” says Emily Farrar, co-founder at Genuine Taste, a Canadian company producing cultivated fats using a patent-pending technology that enables them to produce at scale.
“There is also a huge realm of possibilities in terms of the health and taste profile of fat. For example, by changing growth conditions and cell lines, we can customize the fatty acid composition (i.e., increasing the ‘good’ fats present). This offers enormous potential for increasing the health benefits of alternative protein.”
Since the main purchase drivers for plant-based foods are taste, texture and nutrition, the development of innovative technologies within the cultivated fats space could be the key in shifting consumer preferences and perceptions. However, contributing to the development of alternative meats is not the only application where fats can prove to be useful.
“With growing climate awareness, current fat innovations in food are no longer just focused on improving nutritional benefits, but will also focus on expanding functionality. People ought to seek products that are low in carbon footprint, that are sustainable, naturally sourced but without compromising functionality and quality,” says Michelle Lee, co-founder at Lypid.
According to her, this opens up doors to use fats innovation in many other industries including agriculture, personal care, nutritional supplements, cosmetic products, and animal feed..
Fats innovation still remains in a nascent stage at the moment, but it is evident that unlocking its potential could help bridge that vital gap of flavour and aroma that the alternative protein industry is grappling with today. It is promising to see many innovative players on the market today that are working towards producing these solutions at scale.
The Big Idea Ventures team is always on the lookout for innovative plant-based companies. If you are an early-stage startup looking for investment and support, reach out to us here. If you are a corporate or an investor interested in investing in the space, reach out to us here.