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New effort to develop meatless meat

UC Berkeley, Givaudan partner to make meat alternatives tastier

by Melody M. Bomgardner
August 28, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 34

University of California, Berkeley students taste plant-based fish alternatives.
Credit: University of California, Berkeley
Students at the University of California, Berkeley, taste their plant-based fish alternative.

A new lab at the University of California, Berkeley, aims to develop plant-based meat alternatives appealing enough to make meat lovers abandon their favorite steak. The university says it will make its innovations available for free to encourage more entrepreneurs to enter the market.

The lab will be part of Berkeley’s Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology. Ikhlaq Sidhu, the center’s founder, says meat alternatives are a big opportunity for start-ups.

Animal-free meat is also attracting investors. Last week, Bay-area-based Memphis Meats raised $17 million from investors including Cargill and Bill Gates. The company makes a variety of meats from animal cells raised in a bioreactor.

Berkeley jumped on the plant-based meat trend earlier this year, when it launched what it calls the world’s first course focused on the topic. Now 40 students will have the opportunity to solve both technical and business dilemmas facing the nascent industry. The team includes chemical engineering, liberal arts, science, and business students.

To improve the taste, texture, and smell of current offerings, the lab will work with the Swiss flavors and fragrances maker Givaudan. The company hopes the students can create an easy-to-manufacture product with intracellular fats and water that mimics the umami flavor of meat.

“We must collaborate to truly move forward,” says Flavio Garofalo, Givaudan’s business manager for protein.

Market research firm Mintel says buyers of meat alternatives want products made with natural ingredients—a potential challenge for lab-based businesses.

One leading contender, Impossible Foods, adds soy leghemoglobin to its plant-based hamburger. It produces the bloodlike protein from genetically modified yeast.

Earlier this month, Impossible Foods said it is responding to a request by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for more information to support the company’s determination that soy leghemoglobin is generally recognized as safe, or GRAS.



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