Plant-based meats need realistic meaty fats, as well as protein, if they are to convince customers to ditch animal products and eat more plant-based food. Fats give meat its unique taste, texture, and mouth feel. When diners feast on a juicy steak or succulent chicken, it is the fat that creates the indulgent experience. The challenge is to recreate that sensation using plant-based fat.
The Good Food Institute (GFI) has highlighted the importance of innovation and investment in sustainable plant-based fats if the alternative meat industry is to succeed. The sector currently relies largely on coconut oil because it is semi-solid at room temperature making it a fair substitute for animal fat. However, there are some drawbacks to coconut oil. while animal fat melts slowly when heated, coconut oil melts immediately, never achieving that semi-solid state that meat fat offers. In addition, a GFI report states that by 2030 there will be a global supply issue if demand increases in line with predicted growth. The other issue is health. Like animal fat, coconut oil is high in saturated fat. A Harvard University study found that coconut oil raised blood cholesterol, increasing the risk of heart disease.
The other ubiquitous fat is Palm oil, used in margarine, frying oils and baked goods, as well as cosmetics and cleaning products. It is used in plant-based meat as an animal fat substitute. Like coconut oil, it is solid at room temperature and melts when heated. The problem with palm oil is that its production in Southeast Asia causes deforestation and the destruction of wildlife habitats. This has inspired one food tech company to choose the name Sun Bear Bioworks after a species threatened by palm oil production. The company is using biotechnology to produce an alternative oil that can be made from waste products such as potato peelings from the crisp industry.
It vital that alternatives to coconut and palm oil are found if the plant-based meat industry is to grow sustainably and make delicious healthy food that people want to buy. Luckily scientists have found that while plant fats behave differently to animal fats, by changing their molecular structure or by adding other ingredients, they can be made to act in a similar way. Here are just a few examples of innovative fats that are already improving plant-based dishes, or will be in the near future.
The clever UK company that brought us This Isn’t Bacon and This Isn’t Pork Sausages has its own patent-pending fat. Known as Fat 2.0, the ingredient is based on olive oil and adds succulence, flavour, and meatiness. The resulting sausages have 75% less saturated fat than their animal-based equivalent.
Scientists at Spanish company Qubiq have developed new technology to create an alternative to animal fat. Qubiq has created a vegan smart fat that behaves like animal fat, for use in plant-based meat and dairy. With a melting point of 80 degrees, it avoids the tendency of vegetable fat to disappear during cooking and could potentially replace coconut oil in plant-based products. Qubiq offers offer three varieties: Go!Drop fat replacer, Go!Mega3 Omega-3 algae oil, and Go!Great cultivated animal fat. The company has recently formed a partnership with international distributor Cargill which will bring investment, co-development and marketing support to make the fats more widely available.
US food-tech company Shiru has created plant-based fat OleoPro as its first ingredient. OleoPro combines plant proteins and unsaturated oil. It is solid at room temperature and melts when cooked, giving a juicy mouthfeel to plant-based meats. Nutritionally it contains 90% less saturated fat than coconut oil and palm oil. It was made using the company’s patented Flourish technology platform which uses bioinformatics and machine learning to discover proteins that can be made into fat. These are combined with plant-based oil to make an ingredient that looks and behaves like animal fat.
In November 2022 Hong Kong-based Omni Foods launched its patented OmniNanoTM Vegan Fat. Their process involves emulsifying oil and water, which is then added to plant-based meats to mimic animal fat. Omni says the new fat improves the juiciness, flavour and texture of its plant-based meats. OmniFoods is using this in its new plant-based whole cuts, including Plant-Based Beef Cut and Tips, Plant-Based Chicken Wings and Plant-Based Pork cutlets. The new items will be launched later in 2023.
Australian food tech start-up Nourish uses precision fermentation to produce plant-based fat that is identical to animal fat. In October 2022, the company raised $2.6 million in investment and is working with science and government organisations to scale up production. It has developed a technique using microbes to make bioidentical animal fat without animals, to recreate the taste and performance of meat.
Swedish company Mycorena has created fat from fungi that mimics animal fat. The fat was first released in 2021 and is available for sale under the name Mycolein. It is the result of the development of a fungi-stabilised fat solution that behaves like animal fat. The product was tested with partner vegan steak maker Juicy Marbles, who were impressed with the juiciness and flavour it added. Unlike most fats, Mycolein is also a source of dietary fibre. It contains 85% less saturated fat than coconut oil.