Formulating Better Meat Analogs

Beef consumption has declined 15 percent over the past 20 years, according to the USDA. What’s making up for this decline? Maybe it’s an imposter.

By John K. Ashby, Contributing Editor

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Although some think of the fried, steamed and processed tofu of a millennium ago as the beginning of meat analogs, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg's peanut-based "Nuttose," developed around the turn of the century, is the first modern example of directly attempting to imitate meat.

The first texturized vegetable protein (TVP) probably was produced in Italy, using casein in a spinning process similar to the way synthetic fibers are manufactured. In the U.S., Robert Boyer produced the first TVP from spun soy and received a patent for the product in 1954. Special Foods of Worthington, Ohio (now the Worthington Foods division of Kellogg's, www.kellogg.com) bought the patent in 1956.

In 1964 textured soy proteins (TSP) were first allowed into cooked sausages at a 2 percent level, bringing this ingredient to the attention of food technologists. When use of TSP was allowed into school lunch programs in 1971, the dam broke and soy burst onto the food scene.

Texturized vegetable proteins now most commonly are made by an extrusion process, starting with protein concentrates of 50 percent or greater. The protein concentrate is wetted and extruded at elevated temperatures and pressures. The result is a pellet that has undergone a change in the basic protein conformation resulting in a meatlike texture when rehydrated.

Textured vegetable protein is high in protein, calcium and fiber and low in saturated fat. The level of phytochemicals in TVP depends on how the soy protein ingredient used to make them was processed.

These highly advanced texturized proteins have enabled processors to develop a variety of forms for meat analog products. In fact, the current explosion of variety and availability of meat analogs that look and taste (some more than others) like actual meat is dependent on these advances.

One of the pioneers, Worthington Foods today is one of the three meat analog divisions of Kellogg, the others being Loma Linda and Morningstar Farms. In their own ways, all three were pioneers in this industry, setting standards for both quality and product selection. Under the Kellogg, banner all these products are prospering even as a bit of product-line rationalization occurs. Offerings range from breakfast sausages and "bacon," to soy burgers, soy dogs, "chicken" patties and pieces and "burger" crumbles.

Competing Meat Fakers

Lightlife (a division of ConAgra) and Yves (a division of Hain Celestial Group) offer competing lines of products plus meat analog deli slices. Veat, a division of Lightlife (a division of ConAgra) and Yves (a division of Hain Celestial Group), adds a fish analog product. The current high level of skill with meat analog development means there is coming to a store near you just about any variation you can imagine.

On the foodservice side, vegetarian offerings are just beginning to make inroads. One of the most visible examples might be the Veggie Burger (from Morningstar Farms), which Burger King is offering nationwide. This may be the only example of a nationwide vegetarian meat analog offering. Foodservice distribution giant Sysco Corp., Houston, is developing an entire line of vegetarian offerings under its MoonRose label.

Umami? Ooh, mommy!

The relation of mushrooms to meat is not unfamiliar. Both are part of what the Japanese call "umami" to describe the fifth flavor component, that of "meatiness." Nikken Foods Co. (www.nikkenfoods.com), St. Louis, has a line of mushroom powders used for meat analog applications to provide meaty aroma and flavor for vegetarian burgers.

A discussion of meat analogs would not be complete without the newest entry, Quorn, by Marlow Foods Ltd. of the U.K. Quorn is the umbrella brand for a line of meat analog products based on a protein derived from a member of the fungus kingdom (i.e., mushrooms). The organism, Fusarium venenatum, is grown in fermentation vats, then the protein is isolated and processed. After a number of years and petitions, Quorn was recently approved for sale in the U.S.

Whatever the outcome for Quorn's success, the outcome for meat analogs in general seems clear: Their healthy growth has attracted the attention of the food industry. Interest in vegetarian, meat-like products is exploding and shows no signs of slowing.

-John K. Ashby is general manager of ingredients for California Natural Products, a manufacturer of rice ingredients for the food industry.

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