Meet the new meat

Bad news for carnivores
In January the National Institutes of Health reported that eating red meat daily can triple the presence of a chemical linked to heart disease, which affects nearly 610,000 people in the US each year and remains the number-one cause of death. Trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), a byproduct of the digestion of choline, which is abundant in red meat, egg yolks, and dairy products, along with L-carnitine, which is found in red meat, may increase cholesterol deposits in artery walls and combine with platelets in the blood, raising the risk of heart attack or stroke. When research participants stopped consuming large amounts of red meat and switched to a white meat or completely non-meat diets, their TMAO levels decreased significantly.

Consolation for carnivores
Gregory Sams
, whose London-based vegetarian restaurant SEED catered to the likes of John Lennon and Yoko Ono in the late ‘60s, launched the pseudo-meat movement 37 years ago by combining wheat gluten, sesame, soy and oats with herbs, tomato and onion. It was called the original VegeBurger, which was originally sold in lumps that could be rehydrated by the customer and formed into patties. After years of perfecting the recipe, he created a frozen VegeBurger, which made its debut in commercial food markets in 1984 through a licensing agreement.

Capitalizing on the trend, Portland-based Gardenburger released their version of the product in 1992, followed by Boca Burger in 1993. By 2002, Boca’s estimated worth was more than $70 million annually.

Out for blood
Intentionally avoiding the “veggie-burger” stigma,  Foods is producing a hamburger-like product that even “bleeds.” They boast that their product, made from wheat and potato proteins, coconut oil and Leghemoglobin (a soy-based substance genetically engineered to resemble heme, which is found in meat), “delivers all the flavor, aroma and beefiness of meat from cows.” Their creation won Engadget’s “Most Unexpected Product,” “Most Impactful Product,” and “Best of the Best” awards at the Consumer Electronics Show this year. The company targets consumers who may occasionally opt for a more sustainable, plant-based alternative. Notably, one hamburger costs about $19.00.

This year, rival company Beyond Burger was marketed by Carl’s Jr. during the Super Bowl, becoming the first ever plant-based meat commercial to run on the most sought-after advertising platform. The Beyond Burger is made from water, pea protein isolate, coconut oil, cellulose from bamboo, potato starch, yeast extract, beet-juice extract (for that “authentic” bleeding appearance), and other ingredients. Health benefits are up for debate, as the Carl’s Jr. version is higher in calories, fat and carbohydrates than a regular hamburger.

Test-tube tenderloin?
For those who won’t give up meat but are environmentally conscious, scalable cultured-meat products like those made by Just might be the answer. With $310 million in funding, an amount that far exceeds the capital of other “clean meat” startups, they’ve developed a process for proliferating muscle cells in bioreactors, hoping to create an actual cut of meat. Just claims that their procedure will be 10 times more efficient than a high-volume slaughterhouse, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, land and water use, as well as eliminating the need for antibiotics. By year-end, Just aims to produce lab-grown meats from humanely acquired animal cells (a chicken feather, for example) that would be the first ever to reach the consumer market.

Researchers from Penn State and University of Alabama may have figured out a way to help Just in their mission. Using LEGOs, the scientists were able to create a starchy “backbone” that could be used as the growing scaffold for muscle cells. Their method was to quickly rotate a solution of starch shot from a nozzle, spinning it into long fibers and forming mats. These scaffolds could be used as a structural support for lab-grown protein cells to create an actual steak. When cells grow without such support, they tend to resemble ground beef. With millions in funding, Michelin-starred chefs ready at the cutting board, and research support from top-tier universities, we could see a lab-grown meat relatively soon.

Something to chew on
Researchers have also found that L-carnitine, an amino acid found in animal protein, is responsible for creating bad bacteria that inhibits the removal of arterial cholesterol. But it also helps improve mood, learning and memory, in addition to fighting cancer fatigue.


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