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Since the rise of veganism, many good production companies aim to make going vegan a pleasant experience by providing alternatives to many of the foods one would have to give up. The biggest sacrifice for most new vegans is meat. It took long for any establishment to create a worthy rival but nevertheless the movement is picking up traction with brands like Beyond meat and the impossible burger that have received mostly positive reactions.

But just how do these companies get plant based items to taste like meat?

When one says taste most people immediately think of flavour. Although they are not wrong, they are still missing the bigger picture. texture, smell, sound and appearance play an important role in how humans ‘taste’ food.

So let’s start with texture. The texture of meat is often described as firm yet tender. Meats have this texture due to their proteins which bind strongly with each other while still providing a ‘spring’ to the entire structure. This means meat doesn’t immediately crumble after you bite into it. Plant proteins do not possess these same factors. In response, scientists use a method called high-moisture extrusion that involves frequently heating and cooling plant proteins to form a fibrous texture like that of meat. Although the exact process of this method is unclear to most, it is thought to work by hydrating plant proteins like soy proteins. This makes it lose its shape a little. Heating the protein then makes it lose its shape further. Then they shape the protein to make the desired structure that is similar to meat. Further heating ensures the plant protein doesn’t lose its new shape.

Another way to get plant proteins to behave like meat is by using shear-cell technology. This method also involves heating and cooling to change the structure.

Another aspect of meat’s texture is that juicy-when-bitten-into factor. Animal fats are the culprit behind this notion as they only melt when the meat is cooked causing ‘juices’ to spill out of the meat when it is bitten into. Animal fats also coat the mouth much better allowing the flavour of food (usually meat) to be evenly distributed across the tongue. To recreate this, companies are using coconut oil in their pretend meat as it has a high melting point just like animal fats. This means the coconut oil in the plant patty will also only melt when it is cooked, resulting in juicy mouth-feel when biting into a patty.

When it comes to copying the flavour of red meat, most companies are actually not required to reveal that much information about the ingredients they use. However, when copying white meat like chicken, companies disclose much more about their ingredients which often include a slew of spices commonly used with chicken. One particular ingredient of note is yeast extract which is often used in many chicken dishes like broths and soup. Using it, will help recreate a similar flavour profile to chicken. Sugar is also amongst the ingredients as it is said to also play a role in the way imitation chicken browns while cooking.

Last Updated on October 11, 2021

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