The introduction of meat analogues in diet has been well prevalent since the 1960s mainly in the form of soy being the main substitute. However, since the past decade meat analogues have started to gain popularity and have become more mainstream. Past couple of years there has been a substantial increase in research and development in the alternative protein space. Taking into consideration climate change and decrease in lifespan of human beings, there has been an increase in awareness with respect to adopting diets which are healthier and more sustainable.
However, despite the potential benefits, consumer acceptance of these diets remains low, primarily due to the low sensory properties of meat analogues. Nevertheless, the development of meat analogue involves heavy reliance on artificial flavors to get a similar taste as that of traditional meat. Hence, making it difficult to get a clean label.
Using the right fat can improve the sensory properties of meat alternatives. The existing fats such as sunflower oil, canola oil and coconut oil have certain drawbacks. Sunflower oil and canola oil fail completely to provide animal fat like properties. Coconut oil remains one of the most commonly used fats. However, it has several setbacks such as low melting point, aftertaste, high saturated fat content and over-reliance on one type of plant oil with projections suggesting that 16% of the global supply chain may depend on it by 2030 (Good Food Institute).
Addressing these issues necessitates the development of innovative and eco-friendly alternatives for use in alternative meat products and beyond. It is also important to improve sensory characteristics like taste, texture, mouthfeel and appearance of plant based meat as compared to that of existing traditional meat.
To tackle this concern some of the recent developments in this sector include precision fermented fat and cultivated fat. Even though these approaches remain promising and have great potential with respect to producing fat with the composition similar to animal fat but there remain certain challenges such as high cost, scale up and product recovery in today’s date.
Hence, there remains a gap in the market with respect to providing affordable, nutritious, tasty and sustainable alternative fat.
Fattastic Technologies, a Singapore-based company has developed an Oil Structuring Technology which has the potential to provide a better, healthier, and quality fat alternative. Their technology can turn any plant-based oil into a solid with animal-fat-like characteristics, without hydrogenation. The technology is not only cost effective but also scalable in the long run.
Fig 1: Fattastic Technology: Ability to convert plant based liquid oil to solid fat with animal fat like characteristics.
In addition, Fattastic Technologies can produce fat with customisable melting temperature and texture and can encapsulate both hydrophilic and lipophilic bioactive molecules, hence enhancing the flavor, aroma, and nutritional properties of the product. As a result, Fattastic Fat’s technology can enrich the flavor of alternative protein products, increasing their appeal to consumers and accelerating their adoption in the market.
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Most asked Questions
Does plant based meat taste exactly like traditional meat?
90% of the food we eat in Singapore is imported. In order to have better food security, the Singapore Food Agency aims to achieve their “30 by 30” goal which is to produce 30% of our nutritional needs locally and sustainably by 2030.
Currently, many start-ups in the food tech industry, such as the ones under Innovate 360, are using new and innovative ideas to achieve this goal.
Food tech is an emerging industry that uses technology to find innovative solutions for food related needs. Through their inventive spirit, consumers can enjoy products that are not only healthier but are also good for the environment.
In Singapore, food tech start-ups are one of the ways we can enjoy locally produced food!
Innovative 360 is a food accelerator that helps food tech start-ups to successfully grow by providing them with necessary skills, facilities, and fund-raising to help scale their business.
Additionally, these start-ups are exposed to Innovate 360’s vast network and experience.
ISawTheScience was privileged to have a peek at the development of Innovate 360 and its start-ups from its founder, John Cheng. He is also the director of Cheng Yew Heng, a sugar manufacturing company in Singapore, and a key driver in Singapore’s food innovation ecosystem.
What was it like for you as a kid growing up exploring the sugar factory?
When I was growing up, trying to explore the sugar factory was like a wonderland. Basically, it was fascinating visiting different processes and understanding how we manufacture (sugar).
I never really knew much of the processes until I got into the business when I was much older. Before that, it was really just very interesting to see and smell. When you come to our factory, you can actually smell the sugar.
Did your experience growing up in the factory influence how you see the food tech industry?
When I was growing up, I kind of watched how a lot of our processes were done very manually. Some of the things that I wanted to do when I went into the business was to try to modernise this business and that was through automation.
While automating, I met a lot of people in the industry who knew more than me. So, I tested with them and that kind of influenced how I went into the tech side, which, really, is all about collaborating with people.
You know, business is about people at the end of the day, but it’s also tapping on the scientific knowledge of the experts in the industry to be able to help my business.
With that knowledge at our accelerator, Innovate 360, we have all the expertise to collaborate and help start-ups.
What sparked your interest to start Innovate 360?
So, I started Innovate 360 in 2018 for the company to pay it forward, but also to find new products that we could sell through our distribution. So initially, it was really to find ways to help ourselves. At the same time, we wanted to look at innovation and create an impact through start-ups and that was one of the ways we see fit. That is how innovate 360 started.
Why do you think food tech start-ups are important to Singapore’s future development?
Food tech start-ups are important to Singapore’s food system and to Singapore’s future. They not only bring a very disruptive kind of business model, but also help to create new businesses or create some sort of new and bigger impact to what we are trying to achieve, which is a higher opportunity for more people in Singapore trying to create 30% of the nutritional needs by 2030.
In the future, do you see these new food products being used in local hawker centres?
For a lot of start-ups, when they create a new product, it tends to be limited in quantity. Because of that, they normally only focus on the premium market and because of that, people always have the conception that it’s expensive, but sustainability doesn’t need to be just for the rich.
Sustainability should be for everybody. I hope that our start-up products will be for the mass market eventually. Once the scale is reached, then we are able to lower costs as well.
I hope the start-ups quickly find themselves in the market. It takes a lot of consumer awareness, knowledge and demand that will help them to drive future demands and then production and that will lower their cost.
To answer your question, I guess it will eventually be at hawker centres. So maybe, the next time you have char kway teow, then it will be char kway teow with plant-based egg or even cell-based cockles.
With your experience in both business and innovation, what is your message to aspiring entrepreneurs in Singapore who are eager to start their own food-tech start-up?
My advice to aspiring start-ups is — always try it, go for it but know your consumers, know who you are selling to, know what you are trying to do at the end of the day and with that, improve Singapore’s food system and you would be able to be successful start-ups.
I really hope that aspiring start-ups think about getting into food entrepreneurship. They would think about their customer, what problems they can actually solve, and then, from there, they will have a very supportive ecosystem here. Chances are that they will be very successful as well.
And I think it is about today’s goal — it is really about collaborating with others. If you don’t have some knowledge on how, it’s always good to work with someone who has.
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There is no doubt about it – Metaverse is the next Internet and is here to stay for a couple of generations, if not more. It is also a natural evolution from today’s 2D Internet to be able to experience the Digital Universe in 3D! With today’s technology advancements and research, if we can plug 2 technologies into the Metaverse, it would be a limitless opportunity.
What are these 2 technologies, you ask? Sensory technologies involving Olfactory and Gustatory systems. In simpler terms, Smell and Taste, respectively. With the pandemic having affected many people with the loss of sense and taste and they having reported a loss of interest in life owing to the sensory loss, it makes sense to build these technologies for the Metaverse.
Why Sensory Technologies
You may be familiar with the reductionist philosophy. It’s the practice of analyzing and describing a complex phenomenon in terms of its simple or fundamental constituents, especially when this is said to provide a sufficient explanation.
Quoting few examples from Britannica1, the ideas that physical bodies are collections of atoms or that a given mental state (e.g., one person’s belief that snow is white) is identical to a particular physical state (the firing of certain neurons in that person’s brain) are examples of reductionism.
With advances in neuroscientific research in the last century, there is an existence of what is known as Cortical Homunculus. A cortical homunculus is a distorted representation of the human body, based on a neurological “map” of the areas and proportions of the human brain dedicated to processing motor functions, or sensory functions, for different parts of the body. A 2D representation of the sensory homunculus is shown below.
Fig.1 A 2D Cortical Sensory homunculus
All signals are received by the primary sensory cortex in the brain. The amount of cortex devoted to any given body region is not proportional to that body region’s surface area or volume, but rather to how richly innervated that region is.
Areas of the body with more complex and/or more numerous sensory or motor connections are represented as larger in the homunculus, while those with less complex and/or less numerous connections are represented as smaller.2You’d notice that the significant amount of brain-processing is accorded to sensory functions, including those of taste and smell.
If we are to look at the proposition of Metaverse being an alternate universe and where you are expected to spend considerable amount of time, it has to be capable of attracting your attention not only visually or aurally (as is the case with the 2D internet of today) but as a multi-sensory experience involving haptics (touch), olfactory (smell) and gustatory (taste) technologies as well.
Hence, it is critical to understand and invest in these sensory technologies and ensure that the promise of Metaverse is realized in entirety.
A Sneak Peek into Multi-sensory Prototypes and Ongoing Research
A lot of research and development has gone into haptic (touch) technologies with many commercially available solutions as well. Since the solutions are fairly established, we will focus on research into olfactory and gustatory technology.
Olfactory Prototypes and Research
As far as olfactory technologies are concerned, considerable research is being performed on classification and extraction of scents so as to define the exact sense stimulus in the brain which then can be simulated using ergonomic hardware.
According to Judith Amores, a research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, whose work is focused on scent and virtual reality – “People don’t really appreciate the sense of smell,” she said. “It’s actually so important, it’s so unexplored, and it’s so powerful.”3
OVR Technologies, a Burlington, Vermont-based startup, is one of the few companies developing this technology for Virtual Reality. While reproducing real-world odors with chemicals is challenging, it opens up new possibilities in nostalgic experiences as odor is associated with memories. With earlier 5D systems, scent technology had certain issues, namely the mixing up and lingering of scents long after the experience. This is being fixed with AI-driven algorithms that trigger various odors and control their intensity, duration among other parameters.
Lastly, there is research on olfactory-powered deaddiction programs in Virtual Reality, which could prove to be a panacea in the Metaverse. Closer home, research into olfactory is ongoing at various institutes includingIIT, Jodhpur.
Gustatory Prototypes and Research
Research into gustatory prototypes is in its early days. The idea is to simulate taste in the physical world first and then look to replicate it in the virtual world. The “lickable screen,” called the “Norimaki Synthesizer,” uses five different gels, each corresponding to the five tastes the human tongue can distinguish between — salty, acidic, bitter, sweet, and umami.
By weakening and strengthening these five different tastes through the use of electrical currents, the device can reproduce any “arbitrary taste,” according to the research.4 “Like an optical display that uses lights of three basic colors to produce arbitrary colors, this display can synthesize and distribute arbitrary tastes together with the data acquired by taste sensors,” said Homei Miyashita, researcher atMeiji University, Japan.
In a recent development, A team at the Carnegie Mellon University, a private institution in Pittsburgh, US, have made it possible for users to feel the virtual world in and on their mouth, without making physical contact. What the user can feel are tactile sensations such as drinking from a water fountain, wind on the face.5 Project Nourished, a VR food start-up, has been experimenting with technology to trick taste buds and promote sustainability.6
Metaverse is here to stay and become an integral part of who we are. Multi-sensory metaverse, in its complete form, will not only make it real and immersive but will also open up new industry verticals hitherto unknown as of today. A paradigm shift is also possible in Hospitality, Travel & Tourism and Entertainment industries with such technologies.
There is huge potential to be at the forefront of research and commercialization of such technologies in India – Tasty food for thought for investors and research institutes across the country!
The rapid increase in meat consumption shed light on the resource demand of meat production. Cattle are responsible for about 6.52% of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (3.19 Gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalents) and the production of 1 kg of beef causes 26.5 kg CO2 emission and needs 15,000 litres of water (equal to 50 days’ household water use per capita in EU). Many researchers suggest that meat consumption need to be decreased to protect and preserve the environmental resources.
So, let’s go behind the scenes to find out how the Plant-Based Meat Magic is done… Meat analogues are based on plant-based proteins and come in various shapes and sizes. But what does the production process look like? And what is the difference between Texturized Vegetable Proteins (TVP) and High Moisture Meat Analogues (HMMA)? Get a glimpse behind the scenes in the following infographic:
Even though meat substitutes are available in numerous forms and consistencies, they are mostly based on two types of plant-based proteins: Texturized Vegetable Proteins (TVP) and High Moisture Meat Analogues (HMMA).
TVP is known for its dry consistency and long shelf life when stored under normal ambient conditions. It is mostly offered as crumbles, flakes or even strips. As a result, it is suitable for several dishes ranging from the classic spaghetti Bolognese to vegan chicken breast. When preparing TVP-based products, they need to be soaked in water or liquid as TVP requires dehydration before use.
HMMA on the other hand is characterized by its high proportion of moisture. It typically consists of 50-80% of water which is about the same as lean meat. Therefore, it is used for many ready-to-eat meat dishes.
Shandi Global was born out of years in the research and development to fulfil the gap found in the plant-based meat market. The target market for plant-based meat includes vegetarians, vegans, non-vegetarians who are seeking to reduce their meat consumption. Shandi Global does not believe in changing human behaviour towards their diet, but instead offer a huge choice by providing a 100% plant-based meat which does not contain any artificial ingredients.
The founders Dr. Reena and her husband Dr. Gaurav both spend over a decade in the food tech and science industry and noticed that the emergence of Plant Based Meat had several flaws and missing elements with a limitation to what the end consumer could prepare as most companies were offering only mince products or burgers and sausages while some were offering soy products with lots of sodium, artificial flavours and additives. This made the couple to think and utilise their combined years of expertise in the food science industry to start deep research to identify the missing links through latest technology and discover each molecule found in meat and in pea protein to match 100% the meat analogue in texture, flavour and appearance.
They developed a complete amino acid profile: Each protein is different due to its precise composition of amino acids. Each amino acid has a very specific function in our body. Hence having high number of proteins is not enough to build muscles and repair body tissues. Right protein with right balance of amino acids is a must to be called as nutrition.
At Shandi, meat does not only contain high protein, but also right proteins with 90% of amino acids in same composition as meat. It has high digestibility like meat and dairy so that nutrients are quickly absorbed.
Today the company is the first in Singapore to have the latest state-of-the-art technology with a patented and custom-built extruder machine that is capable of producing whole slabs of meat like steaks, breast meat or our signature Chicken Drumsticks ™. Our technology differentiates us from the others, as a majority of producers are only “Texturized Vegetable Proteins” (TVP) while we are a step ahead of adapting both TVP and “High Moisture Meat Analogues” (HMMA). The difference in both methods is; TVP is released and directly cut at the nozzle plate, HMMA requires a special cooling die. In the cooling die the material is cooled down while being forced into a laminar flow. This way, a meat-like structure is created, and our custom-built machine does what we have designed it for.
To sum up, plant based meat analogue (i.e., plant-based meat alternatives or substitutes, or vegan meats) are becoming more and more popular. The consumption is also increasing while the primary role of meat analogues is to replace the meat component in meals where the appropriate nutrient content and hedonic value will be provided as well. Using micro biotechnology, it is possible to reverse engineer naturally found molecules in various legumes into a full-bodied muscle meat which looks, feels and cuts exactly like any meat product.
Global Meat consumption continues to perceive an upward surge as demand is driven by population growth, individual economic gain, and urbanization. However, meat production would have a severe environmental impact and high ecological footprint due to increased land and water resources used during livestock rearing. Moreover, a shift in consumer preference has been observed towards consuming plant-based products due to awareness about health hazards associated with red meat. This created a significant break for food industries to develop a plant-based meat analogue that contains similar textural and nutritional attributes present in meat. According to the report published by Mordor Intelligence, the market for meat substitutes is expected to grow at a CAGR of 7.91% up to the year of 2026. The term “meat analogue” is defined as a meat-free food product resembling texture, flavour, haptic experience, and nutritional status to original meat products. The result obtained from life cycle assessment studies depicts that meat analogues could be proved as a sustainable alternative to animal-derived meat as they have considerably lower environmental footprints. Different types of Plant protein currently employed in manufacturing meat alternatives are soy protein, Wheat gluten protein, and pea protein. Many nutritional components like high-quality protein (egg protein and whey protein), vitamin B12, calcium and iron have been incorporated in meat analogues to compete with original meat nutritive value. However, manufacturers have to depend on extensively processed ingredients or/and genetically modified (GMO) material in endeavoring meat-like texture and other sensory characteristics. Leg hemoglobin is a legume protein that carries heme molecule. This molecule is produced from GMO yeast and governs meat analogs’ color, texture, and flavour. Based on the study of Egbert and Borders (2006), the given formulation produced meat analogue having improved sensory qualities.
Plant- based Protein
Non textured Protein
Texturization of plant protein is an important step in achieving similar texture, appearance, and taste as like original meat products. Plant-based proteins need several transformational changes to achieve the fibrousness of meat muscles. The native globular shape of plant protein is converted to the linear shape of textured protein by applying different texture profiling techniques (e.g., extrusion technique, electro-spinning, proteins hydrocolloid blends, high temperature conical simple shearing, freeze structuring, and 3D Bio-printing). The standard method of modifying plant proteins are electro-spinning and extrusion.Electro-Spinning produces thin fibers of plant protein by using a blend of protein solutions assembled into meat analogues through binding materials. Due to its complexity and high manufacturing cost, this method was not suitable for large-scale production.
The extrusion technique is predominant because of its robustness and versatility to produce different kinds of products. This technique involves modifying the protein configuration by undergoing several changes in its structure like (denaturation, unfolding, crosslinking, and alignment). The viscoelastic mass of plant protein is extruded in one or twin-screw extruders and involves various operational steps like (compression, shearing, heating, and cooling) to impart meatiness. This process offers several advantages like high product yield, affordability, and is energy efficient.
Bio-printing and freeze structuring are some of the emerging techniques to modify plant protein’s structure. Bio-printing is also known as 3D printing, which involves digital modeling of food formulation. Paste of Plant protein is filled in the cartilage that builds the structure of meat analogue. The major drawback faced by the Bio-printing technique is its high cost of production, complexity in spatial structure, and scalability. On the other hand, freeze structuring produces meat analogues that mimic the original meat product by freezing the protein solution, followed by the formation of ice crystals that produce porous, well-aligned and interconnected fibers of plant-based protein.
The primary requisite of a plant-based meat analogue is the proper textural profiling which mimics the texture of muscles fibre and is responsible for the characteristic meaty flavour. The intended applications of meat analogue and type of plant protein determine the technique used for texture profiling. The ongoing research has already overcome many challenges of meat analogues products like (improving microstructure, taste, and healthiness) and affordable product price and increased product convenience. However, certain technological barriers and devoid of regulatory measures are some of the sectors that need improvement.
Boukid, Fatma. (2021). Plant-based meat analogues: from niche to mainstream. European Food Research and Technology. 247. 10.1007/s00217-020-03630-9.
Kyriakopoulou, K., Dekkers, B. and Van der Goot, A.Z. Plant-Based Meat Analogues. Sustainable Meat Production and Processing, Chapter-6, 103–126. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-814874-7.00006-7
Sun, C., Ge, J., He, J., Gan, R., & Fang, Y. (2020). Processing, Quality, Safety, and Acceptance of Meat Analogue Products. Engineering.7(5): 674-678