As meat-eating continues to increase around the world, food scientists are focusing on ways to create healthier, better-tasting and more sustainable plant-based protein products that mimic meat, fish, milk, cheese and eggs.
In new research by renowned food scientist David Julian McClements, University of Massachusetts Amherst Distinguished Professor and lead author of a paper in the new Nature journal, Science of Food, that explores this topic says, “With Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods and other products coming on the market, there’s a huge interest in plant-based foods for improved sustainability, health and ethical reasons.”
In 2019, the plant-based food market in the US alone was valued at nearly $5 billion, with 40.5 per cent of sales in the milk category and 18.9 per cent in plant-based meat products, the paper notes. That represented a market value growth of 29 per cent from 2017.
“A lot of academics are starting to work in this area and are not familiar with the complexity of animal products and the physicochemical principles you need in order to assemble plant-based ingredients into these products, each with their own physical, functional, nutritional and sensory attributes,” McClements says.
Plant-based products need to be fortified with micronutrients that are naturally present in animal meat, milk and eggs, including vitamin D, calcium and zinc. They also have to be digestible and provide the full complement of essential amino acids.
McClements says that many of the current generation of highly processed, plant-based meat products are unhealthy because they’re full of saturated fat, salt and sugar. But he adds that ultra-processed food does not have to be unhealthy.