Vegan food technology

05 March 2019

With the surge in veganism in recent times and 2019 poised to be “The year of the vegan”, it feels appropriate to examine some of the science behind vegan food production.

What better place to start than with Impossible Foods Inc., creators of the highly anticipated ImpossibleTM Burger 2.0, a plant-based alternative to meat that “delivers all the flavor, aroma and beefiness of meat from cows”.  How do they achieve this meaty feat?  European patent EP2943072B1 provides us with an insight, which discloses that haem-containing proteins can be used to generate meat-like flavours and/or aromas in a variety of food products.  Haem is an iron-containing molecule that is a key component in moving oxygen around the body, and is predominantly responsible for making meat taste like meat (Zhang, L. ed. 2017. Heme Biology: The Secret Life of Heme in Regulating Diverse Biological Processes. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing.).  One such plant-derived haem protein is plant leghaemoglobin, the haemoglobin found in soy, which is a variant of the haem produced by animals.  When a combination of a haem-containing protein and at least two flavour precursor molecules are heated together, a taste and smell of meat is given to the meat substitute during the cooking process.  The flavour precursor molecules are selected from a group of 39 specific compounds including sugars, amino acids and sulphur-containing compounds, known as the “magic mix”.  There’s no sorcery involved here though – it’s all backed up by science, using the compounds found in beef.

Another key component of a burger – cheese.  With the average cheese consumption per capita of the countries comprising the European Union at a whopping 18 kilograms per year during 2017, cheese production is a big industry.  Dutch company Coöperatie Avabe U.A. may have a solution to the lack of vegan cheese available on the market with patent application WO2017150973A1, which discloses a cheese analogue comprising water, a root or tuber starch, native potato protein and a fat component.  The invention disclosed in this patent application uses native potato protein, which leads to a cheese substitute with superior qualities over similar products; it has no off-taste, good body (mouth-feel) and exhibits good melt characteristics, so that the cheese in molten form has a stretch which is similar to molten dairy-based cheese.  Although this cheese analogue may not fool the cheese connoisseurs amongst us, hot food products for which it may serve as a good replacement include cheese burgers, pizza and lasagne, to name but a few.

A burger isn’t complete without a good dousing of mayonnaise.  We need not worry here either, as Just Inc., creators of Just Mayo, have this one covered.  European patent application EP2773223A4 discloses a method for manufacturing an eggless mayonnaise comprising yellow pea flour and modified starch derived from waxy maize.  The invention disclosed in this patent application includes the step of pre-hydrating the yellow pea flour by incubation with water for at least 24 hours, which, surprisingly, leads to a thicker and stronger emulsion even in the absence of egg, thereby preventing the various components of the mayonnaise composition from separating.  The egg replacement product used in this mayonnaise composition exhibits many of the other desirable characteristics of eggs such as achieving the desired crumb density, texture, springiness, coagulation, binding or mouthfeel of a food product, for example, in baking.

So, will the ImpossibleTM Burger be making an appearance at a burger joint near you anytime soon?  Perhaps your next pizza will contain dairy-free cheese.  Maybe your next mayonnaise will be eggless.  Are we one step closer to a vegan future?

Nicholas Davies

Nicholas Davies

Trainee Patent Attorney

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