If you are involved in the plant-based industry, chances are you are familiar with the term TVP or “Texturized Vegetable Protein”. As we know it today, TVP is a defatted soy protein isolate obtained through thermo-mechanical extrusion. This type of protein is the most commercially available in the plant-based meat market.
But when it comes to obtaining an analog that looks, tastes and feels like meat, TVP has some limitations. It is highly porous, but lacks the fibrous structure of meat. So, this type of protein is often served as a minced meat replacement in patties, meatballs or nuggets, rather than as a whole-cut meat like steak.
Researchers and food technologists are experimenting with new approaches and technologies to remedy this problem.
Photo credit: Meat.The End featuring their soy based burger with superior texture
First, within the TVP space itself, there are companies that are adapting their processes to develop end products with better texture. For example, Meat. The End, an Israeli-based company that was part of the Big Idea Venture’s 3rd accelerator cohort, performs a modulation of the texturized vegetable protein prior to the extrusion process to achieve a product comparable in texture to ground meat.
Others are looking at different mechanical techniques to achieve a more desirable protein structure. Currently, there are two types of technologies that stand out in achieving a fibrous plant-based protein.
- HMEC or High Moisture Extrusion Cook
The main difference between HMEC and the thermo-mechanical method is the addition of a cooling die before extrusion. This cooling die helps reduce the temperature of the protein mixture and also reduces the evaporation of water. These factors contribute to the formation of a fibrous protein structure. Haofood, a Shanghai-based startup that was also part of Big Idea Venture’s 3rd accelerator cohort, uses this technique to produce their alternative chicken from peanut protein.
Photo Credit: Haofood
2. Shear Cell Technology
The main difference between shear cell technology and extrusion lies in how the protein isolate is mixed and exposed to shear. In extrusion, the process of mixing the protein isolate with water and other components takes place at the same time when shear is applied and protein structure formation takes place. In Shear Cell Technology, the two phases of mixing and the addition of shear are separated.
The advantage of separating these two phases is the ability to more closely control the shear and heating conditions for protein structure formation. These factors allow for larger chunks of meat to be produced, similar to whole cut meats. But, it is good to point out that shear cell technology is a batch process and its output is limited by the size of the shear cell constructed. This means that it is not currently possible to use this technology commercially.
In summary, even though there are still some limitations with the most used plant-based protein today, there are already several players who are innovating and finding alternatives to create even better products. And that’s great news for all of us because food technology and innovation are key if we are to work towards our goal of feeding the planet sustainably.
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.