The quest for vegetarian steak continues as a Dutch researcher produced commercial quantities of textured protein that looks, smells and feels like real beef.
The veggie steak was made from processed soy protein that put into a giant metal canister, baked at 266 degrees Fahrenheit, and then colored with a rice-based reddish dye.
"What we are doing is making a fiber structure from plant material," said Atze Jan van der Goot, professor of food technology at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. "We take soy concentrate and we discovered that if we supply well defined information of the material, it can form a fiber structure, similar to meat. The fact that you can use soy concentrate to make a meat analog, that was already known. The discovery of our project is we can make large pieces at once."
Van der Goot says his motivation is to replace beef with plant-based foods that extract less of a burden on the environment, as well as reducing the need to kill animals.
Van der Goot and colleagues developed so-called "shear cell technology" which allows them to deform vegetable proteins into a fiber technology. With the food processor device, the meat comes out in a slab bigger than two plates. It was presented this week at the opening of a new startup called "The Vegetarian Butcher" in Breda, the Netherlands.
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As for the taste, Van der Goot says flavor was not the goal of his research.
"We are still in the laboratory phase," he told Discovery News. "If the structure is good, and it seems to be suitable, then you can make a good tasting product."
Mark Post, professor of physiology at Maastricht University, and a leading developer of so-called "in-vitro meat" says the entire field is still many years from development.
"Cultured beef has a ways to go," said Post, who unveiled a lab-grown hamburger in London in 2013.
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"The texture of meat is most difficult to replicate with vegetable proteins," Post told Discovery News. "To be honest, I'm not 100 percent sure we will be able to achieve it. The animal proteins on a micro-scale in skeletal muscle are so well-organized and very specifically organized that the microscopic structures are difficult to mimic."
Several food technology firms in the United States are trying to develop food products that don't use animal protein, including Brooklyn-based Modern Meadow, which is using bioengineering to develop animal cells in the lab to make leathers and steak chips, or San Francisco-based Hampton Creek which is making dairy products like mayonnaise and cookies with plants instead of eggs.
Post said his in-vitro meat, which is made from cow cells, is just now entering the regulatory process and is several years away from a commercial product as well.