Vegetable meat: how to recreate the taste of beef?

IMG_1286.jpgAmericans consumed 11.2 billion tonnes of ground meat in 2014 (USDA). This is by far their main source of protein, especially in the form of hamburger. About half of the ground beef consumed in America is eaten in restaurants. The average American eats three burgers per week — the highest in the world. About 70% of all ground beef served in restaurants is served in the form of a burger. Taken together, the enormous consumption of ground beef is attracting  criticism from ecologists and leads to the development of plant alternatives (which we mentioned in the news of the n ° 356).

The major challenge for vegetable burger manufacturers is to develop products whose organoleptic characteristics are as close as possible to those of meat. Here, it is not a question of converting carnivores to the vegetarian diet but of proposing a vegetable alternative that does not have a “taste cost” for the consumer.

The company Impossible Food, which sells the Impossible Burger in 137 restaurants in the United States, opened its Research and Development laboratory last September to some Happy Few whose Cahiers were part of. The founder, Pat Brown, is a Stanford biochemist. His goal: to make meat without meat, by creating recipes that mimic the organoleptic characteristics of meat. The company is starting with the burger — but its goals extend to all types of meats.

The company’s laboratory is divided into two parts: a part that looks like a biochemistry laboratory and the other part, like a kitchen. These two laboratories interact constantly and more than 100 recipes are tested daily. The flavor of the meat comes from the interaction between the heme, the sugars and the vitamins present in the muscle. The “cuisine” therefore offers the “laboratory” recipes varying the proportions and nature of the various components, with the aim (at least for the moment) of recreating the flavor of ground beef.

This flavor varies depending on the degree of cooking, and the product developed must react in the same way as the meat. The researchers analyzed by gas chromatography and mass spectrometry the various volatile components of the beef during the cooking process. In parallel, a “nose” describes the flavor of these same components as would an oenologist. For each new recipe, a new analysis is performed in the laboratory.

But the flavor is not everything, the texture is also studied and conditions the recipe too. The important characteristics of beef meat are the protein structure and the protein / lipid ratio that will condition the firmness, the release of meat juices, which will condition the tenderness. The recipes that pass the different tests are then submitted to a panel of taster, trained in the tasting of burgers. The company has prototyped many animal flavors, including sheep, chicken and shrimp, but does not have commercialization planned in the near future.

I was able to compare the evolution of the taste of the vegetable burger between February and September 2017, and the improvement is sensitive… If you had a chance to taste it, or if you have any comment on this subject, don’t hesitate to share them here!

This article was first published in French in the Cahiers de Nutrition et de Diététique, Vol 52 – N° 6, P. 281-290 – décembre 2017

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