Plant-based meat could soon contain animal fat — but not the kind you’re probably thinking about.
In recent years, meat alternative companies have debuted their products to acclaim and interest. And while the plant-based food market is growing, not all products are seeing the same kind of uptake with some companies’ stocks now trading at a fraction of what they once were.
Lab-grown meat and plant-based meat can have a lower ecological footprint and involve no animal suffering. However, it can be hard to replace the taste of meat.
A Montreal company says it has a solution to make the faux burgers and nuggets more palatable: add animal fat.
“It turns out most of the joy and flavour that we get from traditional meat products is coming from the fat,” Pooya Mamaghani said.
Mamaghani, co-founder of meat alternative company Genuine Taste, said they harvested cells from an anesthetized cow (who woke up afterwards) and now grow animal fat cells in a lab. Cultivated fat, he stressed, is “real animal fat without slaughtering animals.”
“We took a few stem cells from an animal and grow (them) in a bioreactor and end up with the same composition of real animal fat to enhance taste, texture, and flavour of alternative meat products,” he said, speaking from Montreal.
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He stressed there is no animal cruelty and told Global News they can engineer the cells to be healthier, creating good fats where there once were trans fats.
With nearly $100,000 from a Canadian government startup grant and with conversations underway with a handful of companies (though he declined to say which), he predicted his product will be on shelves in a few years.
He said he hopes it can unlock bigger conversations around alternative meat products, especially plant-based meats.
“That’s our biggest goal,” he said.
That kind of product won’t appeal to everyone. Using an animal product, even from a living animal, prevents vegans from eating it and potentially some vegetarians.
Mamaghani said flexitarians are their target market — people who might be described as semi-vegetarian.
Will people actually buy it?
Alejandro Marangoni, Health and Aging Canada research chair, said one of the biggest factors for consumers with all meat alternatives is price.
“We’re past the novelty stage now. We need real advances that will create a scalable product that people are willing to pay, maybe a 10-per cent premium, but not a 100-per cent premium,” he said, speaking from Guayaquil, Ecuador.
The meat alternative market has continued to grow, he noted, though not at the rate venture capitalists would like.
He said many people didn’t stick with the new burgers and sausages when they became wary of different products in them, like vitamins and minerals, binding agents and colours.
Marangoni said cultivated fat will likely make meat alternatives a more palatable product and less a vegan sausage where “you notice all that (added) oil leaks out.”
He predicted the mostly likely and best place for cultivated fat-injected meat alternatives is in fast food.
“I think that can be conquered,” he told Global News.
“But I don’t think that you’ll ever have somebody say, ‘Oh, this is better than a piece of steak.’”
With mounting environmental pressures and a growing population, he said alternative meats could present a very helpful solution. But it all depends on how cheaply makers can create them and how much consumers are willing to pay.
© 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.