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New project combines technologies to improve the texture of plant-based alternatives to meat

How can we improve the texture of plant-based alternatives to meat and thereby help make plant proteins a more attractive choice when consumers buy groceries? A new research project at Aarhus University aims to find answers.

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Mario’s NNF team from left to right: Julia Bechtner, Postdoc funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation - Plant Science, Agriculture and Food Biotechnology - Postdoctoral Fellowships 2022, ; Julia Spotti, Postdoc funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation - Plant Science, Agriculture and Food Biotechnology - Project grants 2022; and Mario Martinez, Associate Professor. All from the Department of Food Science, Aarhus University. Photo: Aarhus University.

A more plant-based diet is one of the ways to go if we are to successfully reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and use freshwater and agricultural land more efficiently. For this reason, researchers from the Department of Food Science at Aarhus University have just launched a new project that will help make the plant-based alternatives to meat more attractive to consumers.

"Traditional meat consumers represent the largest consumer segment targeted by the development of novel plant-based products. So it’s no surprise that plant-based alternatives with a similar taste and texture to processed meat have the best chances for replacing meat," says Mario M. Martinez, associate professor at the Department of Food Science. He continues:

"That's why we’re continuing our quest to engineer plant-based meat analogues. In this new project, we’ll be using a new approach involving polysaccharides and structuring technologies at different length scales, so we get a fibrous product that is more like the one we know from whole-muscle cuts."

New combination of known technologies
According to Mario M. Martinez, one of the major challenges facing researchers when developing protein-based alternatives to meat is the lack of scalability, which means that the products never reach supermarket shelves at a competitive price. Therefore, the new project will combine structuring technologies and process-intensifying technologies to explore a scalable development:

"By combining several approaches and knowledge areas, we expect to be able to improve the tenderness and fibrous-like appearance of the product dramatically, and make it resemble the structure of a steak, for example," says Mario M. Martinez

Besides Mario M. Martinez, Maria Julia Spotti, Postdoc at the Department of Food Science, will also be part of the project:

"The project could set the framework for getting a variety of textures that appeal to all consumer segments, from traditional meat lovers to those who have already adopted some of the many alternatives to meat," says Maria Julia Spotti and continues:

" We also hope that the project will expand the range of protein-rich alternatives to meat so we can disseminate them to areas of the world where people don’t have access to many different sources of protein."

About the project
The project, titled Thermoresistant polysaccharide-based reinforcing fillers for the scalable mimicry of the myofibrillar hierarchy (REINFORCE), has received almost DKK 3 million from the Novo Nordisk Foundation's Project Grants for research within Plant Science, Agriculture and Food Biotechnology. The project will run for three years.